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Đerzelez Alija

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Đerzelez Alija

Đerzelez Alija or Gjergj Elez Alia (also spelled Djerzelez Alija) is a popular legendary hero in epic poetry and literature in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in northern Albania (where he is known as Gjergj Elez Alia[1]). Muslims from Bosnian Krajina modeled the poetic image of Alija Đerđelez after the image of Christian Prince Marko, based on the historic person Ali Bey Mihaloğlu. Songs about Djerzelez Alija were transmitted by bilingual singers from South Slavic milieu to northern Albanian milieu where Djerzelez Alija was renamed to Gjergj Elez Alia.


  • Name 1
  • Historical background 2
  • South Slavic folklore and literature 3
  • Albanian folklore 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


There are many different variants of his name, such as Serbo-Croatian: Đerđelez Alija, Albanian: Gjergj Elez Alia or Djerdjelez Alija; Turkish: Gürz Ilyas (rendered in Hungarian: Gerz Ilyas).

His name is derived from the Turkish word gürzi (mace) and means warrior with the mace.[2][3]

Historical background

Some historians believed that epic figure of Alija Đerđelez was inspired by Ali Bey Mihaloglu[4][5] an Ottoman military commander in 15th century and the first sanjakbey of the Sanjak of Smederevo. According to Ottoman census of 1485 he was in charge for nahiya of Dobrun near Višegrad as his timar.[6] There is a turbe (mausoleum) in village Gerzovo (near Mrkonjić Grad, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina) which according to the legend is burial place of Gjergj Elez Alia.[7][8]

The first written record of epic figure Gjergj Elez Alia (in form of Ali beg) was a form of South Slavic epic and ballad poetry bugarštica The Marriage of Vuk the Dragon-Despot, recorded by Đuro Matei at the end of 17th or beginning of 18th century.[9] In songs recorded in Erlangen Manuscript Djerzelez is mentioned in form of Balibeg.[10]

Alija Djerzelez was an epic hero of the Bosnian Krajina (frontier region) from the end of 15th century.[11] Songs which emerged in South Slavic milieu were transmitted by bilingual singers to Albanian milieu.[12] Djerzelez Alija from Bosnian songs had become Gjergj Elez Alia in Albanian song.[13] He is one of many Muslim heroes of South Slavic poetry who exists in Albanian poetry.[14]

South Slavic folklore and literature

Gjergj Elez Alia is legendary hero of South Slavic folklore and literature where his name is used in form Djerzelez Alija. Turkish historian and chronicler Ibn Kemal (1468—1534) wrote about his popularity in folk songs in Bosnia.[15]

Some of the poems which have the name of Djerzelez Alija in their titles are:[16][17]

Djerzelez Alija is one of the main characters of many other poems without his name in their title, like:[19]

  • Porča of Avala and Vuk the Fiery Dragon
  • The Marriage of Vuk the Dragon-Despot

Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina modeled the poetic image of Djerzelez Alija after the image of Christian Prince Marko Kraljević.[20] According to the legend, Djerzelez Alija also have epic horse (sometimes called Šarac, like horse of Prince Marko) and he is a good friend of fairies who help him when he is in danger.[21] Legend says that he was killed during his prayer (salat) because he did not want to interrupt it although he was aware that he would be killed.[22]

Ivo Andrić, the 1961 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, wrote Put Alije Đerzeleza [The Journey of Alija Đerzelez], published in 1920, after two fragments (Djerzelez at the Inn and Djerzelez on the Road) were published in 1918 and 1919.[23]

One of the oldest houses in Sarajevo, The House of Alija Djerzelez, is named after Alija Djerzelez.[24] There are streets in several towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bihać, Gračanica, Zenica,...) named after Alija Djerzelez.

Albanian folklore

In Albanian folklore, Gjergj Elez Alia was a great warrior of Albanian tradition. The song Gjergj Elez Alia was recorded by Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti in Nikaj (Tropojë District) and published in Tirana in 1937.[25] The song is usually sung in lahute, or occasionally in Çiftelia by Albanian rhapsodes.[26] The song is part of the larger cycle of the Albanian Songs of the Frontier Warriors (Albanian: Këngë Kreshnikësh or Cikli i Kreshnikëve) that crystallized in the 17th and 18th centuries and recorded in written form in first decades of 20th century by the Franciscan priests Shtjefën Gjeçovi and Bernardin Palaj.[27] Although they were transmitted from South Slavic milieu of Bosnia they are not simply translated from Serbo-Croatian, but they independently evolved in northern Albanian highlands.[28]

Gjergj Elez Alia had nine wounds on his body and lay suffering for nine years in his house and everybody had forgotten him. Only his sister took care of him night and day for nine years. Then news came that another enemy, Balozi i Zi (black knight) had come from the sea and was killing people and destroying villages every day.

One day Gjergj felt some drops of water on his face and thought that his house had become so old that the rain was coming in. His sister told him that it was not the rain, but her tears on his face. She told him that Balozi had requested her and sooner or later would come to get her. Gjergj then told her to take his horse and make it ready for war, as he was going to fight against the horrible Baloz. He met Baloz the next day and had the fight; Gjergj was victorious. He returned home to his sister and as they hugged with joy, both their hearts stopped beating and they died instantly together. They were then buried in the same grave and the place was never forgotten. Everyone that passed by stopped to remember his great actions.


  1. ^ Fishta, Gjergj; Robert Elsie (2005). The highland lute: (Lahuta e Malcís) : the Albanian national epic. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 402.  
  2. ^ Norris, H. T. (1993), Islam in the Balkans : religion and society between Europe and the Arab world, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, p. 159,  
  3. ^ Velikonja, Mitja (2003), Religious separation and political intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, College Station: Texas A & M University Press, p. 86,  
  4. ^ Škrijelj, Redžep (2005). Alamanah 31-32 (PDF) (in Serbian). Podgorica. p. 156. Retrieved 22 June 2011. Istoričari Stojan Novaković i Milenko Vukićević su postavili hipotezu da je Đerzelez Alija u stvari Ali-beg, prvi sandžak-beg Smedereva (Semendere) i Srbije po padu Despotovine (1459). 
  5. ^ Hadžijahić 1934, p. 8
    Aleksej Olesnički tvrdi...da je Đerzelez Alija identičan sa Mihal-oglu Ali begom...[Aleksej Olesnički claims ... that Djerzelez Alija can be identified as Mihal-oglu Ali beg]
  6. ^ Norris, H. T. (1993), Islam in the Balkans : religion and society between Europe and the Arab world, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, p. 159,  
  7. ^ Mujezinović, Mehmed (1974). Islamska epigrafika u Bosni i Hercegovini: Bosanska krajina, zapadna Bosna i Hercegovina [Islamic inscriptions -- Bosnia and Hercegovina]. Sarajevo: Veselin Masleša. p. 12. ĐERZELEZOVO TURBE NA GERZOVU Na Gerzovu Polju, kojih tridesetak kilometara od Mrkonjić-Grada idući prema Šipovu, nalazi se turbe koje narodna predanja pripisuje legendarnom junaku Aliji Đerzelezu. [Djerdjelez's turbe on Gerzovo. On Gerzovo Polje, some thirty kilometers from Mrkonjic Grad to Sipovo there is a turbe which peoples legend attribute to legendary hero Djerdjelez Alia. ] 
  8. ^ Tomašević, Nebojša (1982). Treasures of Yugoslavia: an encyclopedic touring guide. Yugoslavia public. p. 305. The mausoleum (turbeh) at Gerzovo is traditionally attributed to epic ballad hero, Alija Djerzelez. 
  9. ^ Hadžijahić 1934, p. 10
    Prvi spomen Djerzelez Alije u narodnoj pjesmi sačuvao se je kod Bogišića, u bugarštici br. 13, koja nosi naslov "Kad se Vuk Ognjeni oženio". Pjesmu je zabilježio Đuro Matei pri koncu XVII ili početkom XVIII stoljeć Đerzelez pominje pod imenom Ali beg...[The first mention of Djerzelez Alija in peoples poetry was preserved at Bogisic, in bugarstica num 13, which has the name "The Marriage of Vuk the Dragon-Despot". Song was recorded by Đuro Matei at the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th century.... mentioning Djerzelez under name of Ali beg...]
  10. ^ Hadžijahić 1934, p. 11
    U Erlangenskom rukopisu,...nalazimo našega junaka pod imenom "Turčina starca Balibega"...[In Erlangen manuscript we can find our hero under name of old Turk Balibeg]
  11. ^ Buturović, Đenana (1976). Studija o Hörmannovoj zbirci muslimanskih narodnih pjesama (in Croatian). Sarajevo: Svjetlost. p. 88. Retrieved 25 November 2011. Upravo je Đerzelez Alija bio junak Bosanskog krajišta sa početka 15. vijeka. 
  12. ^ Elsie 2004, p. xi
    ... it would seem evident that we are dealing with the body of oral material which, probably after centuries of evolution, cristallized in South Slavic milieu and which was transmitted by bilingual singers (some would say back) to Albanian milieu.
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Elsie 2004, p. xiii
    We found out that there are some songs common to both Serbo-Croatian and Albanian tradition and that a number of Moslem heroes of Yugoslav poetry, such as...Đerđelez Alija are found also in Albanian.
  15. ^ Elsie 2004, p. 369
    Gjergj Elez Alia.... the Turkish chronicler and historian Ibn Kemal (1468—1534) ... mentions his popularity in folk verse in Bosnia.
  16. ^ Popović 1988, pp. 164, 166, 200
    "Djerzelez Aliya" in Moslem Heroic Songs by Frndić, p. 9—20..."Djerzelez Aliya, the Emperor's Champion" in Matica Hrvatska 3..."Marko Kralyević and Djerzelez Aliya" was written down by Nikola Voynović, on July 24, 1934, in Novi Pazar in Serbia
  17. ^ Hadžijahić 1934, p. 45
    Đerzelezovo bolovanje
  18. ^  
  19. ^ Chadwick, Munro; Nora K. Chadwick (1940). The Growth of Literature. Cambridge [Eng.]: The University press. pp. 322, 323. Retrieved 25 November 2011. Djerzelez-Alija 
  20. ^ Popović 1988, p. 164
    A close comparation of epic songs about Djerzelez Aliya and Prince Marko confirm that the poetic image of Djerzelez Aliya was modelled after that of Prince Marko. The Moslems in Bosnia made him hero...
  21. ^ Popović 1988, p. 164
    Djerzelez Aliya's epic horse is similar to Prince Marko's Šarac, and in some Moslem songs is also called Šarac. Like Prince Marko, Djerzelez Aliya is friendly with fairies who help him in times of danger.
  22. ^ Velikonja, Mitja (2003), Religious separation and political intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, College Station: Texas A & M University Press, p. 86,  
  23. ^ Hobdell Jackson, William Thomas; George Stade (1990). European Writers. New York: Scribner. p. 1753.  
  24. ^ "sarajevothroughhistory". Sarajevo-tourism web site. Archived from the original on 24 November 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011. THE HOUSE OF ALIJA DJERZELEZ One of the oldest preserved authentic Bosnian houses. It is located on Sagrdzija Street in the old part of town. The house was named after an epic character – Alija Djerzelez. 
  25. ^ Elsie 2004, p. xi
    Gjergj Elez Alia, recorded in Nikaj (District of Tropoja). Published in Visaret e Kombit, Vol II, ed. Bernandin Palay and Donat Kurti (Tirana 1937)
  26. ^  
  27. ^ Elsie 2004, p. xi
    There is general consensus nowadays that The Songs of the Frontier Warriors crystallized in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Songs of the Frontier Warriors were first recorded in the early decades of 20th century by Franciscan priests...
  28. ^ Elsie 2004, p. xi
    Despite transmission from a Bosnian Slav milieu, the Songs of Frontier Warriors are by no means simply translations of Serbo Croatian epic verse. They have undergone continuous and independent evolution...and are...a product of the creative genius of the northern Albanian highlands


  • Elsie, Robert (2004). Songs of the frontier warriors. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.  
  • Popović, Tanya (1988). Prince Marko: the hero of South Slavic epics. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.  
  • Hadžijahić, Muhamed (1934), Narodne pjesme o Djerzelez Aliji [Folk songs about Djerzelez Alija] (in Croatian), Sarajevo: Št. O. Šehić,  

Further reading

  • Olesnički, Aleksije (1932), Tko je zapravo bio Djerzelez Alija? [Who was in fact Djerzelez Alija?] (in Croatian), Zagreb: Nadbiskupska tiskara,  
  • Simović, Živomir (1991), Ko je zapravo, bio Đerđelez Alija - junak narodnih pesama i vanredna ličnost muslimanske tradicije? [Who was actually Djerzelez Alija — the hero of national songs and exceptional person of Muslim tradition], Mostovi (in Serbian) 23, pp. 81–87,  
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