Đerzelez Alija

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


The most popular spelling of the name is Đerzelez Alija, while there are many variants, such as Serbo-Croatian: Đerđelez Alija (Djerdjelez Alija), Albanian: Gjergj Elez Alia,[1] Turkish: Gürz Ilyas, and Hungarian: Gerz Ilyas.

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

Historical background[edit]

Some historians believed that epic figure of Đerzelez 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 (land grant).[2] There is a turbe (mausoleum) in the village of Gerzovo (near Mrkonjić Grad, Bosnia and Herzegovina) which according to legend is his burial place.[6][7]

The first written record of the epic figure of Đerzelez (in the form of "Ali-beg") was a form of South Slavic bugarštica (long form epic and ballad poem), The Marriage of Vuk the Dragon-Despot, recorded by Đuro Matei at the end of 17th or beginning of 18th century.[8] In songs recorded in the Erlangen Manuscript, Đerzelez is mentioned in the form of "Turk elder Balibeg".[9]

Đerzelez was an epic hero of the Bosnian Krajina (frontier region) from the end of 15th century.[10] Songs which emerged in South Slavic milieu were transmitted by bilingual singers to Albanian milieu,[11] Đerzelez from Bosnian songs became Gjergj Elez Alia in Albanian songs.[12] He is one of many Muslim heroes of South Slavic poetry who exists in Albanian poetry.[13]

South Slavic folklore and literature[edit]

Ottoman historian and chronicler Ibn Kemal (1468–1534) wrote about his popularity in folk songs in Bosnia.[14]

Some of the poems which include the name of Đerzelez in their titles are:[15][16]

Đerzelez is one of the main characters of many other poems without his name in their title, like:[18]

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

Bosnian Muslims modeled the poetic image of Đerzelez after the image of Serbian (Christian) ruler Marko Kraljević (Prince Marko).[19] According to the legend, Đerzelez also has an epic horse (sometimes called Šarac, as the horse of Marko) and he is a good friend of fairies who help him when he is in danger.[20] Legend says that he was killed during his prayer (salat) because he did not want to interrupt it despite being aware that he would be killed.[21]

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.[22]

One of the oldest houses in Sarajevo, "The House of Alija Đerzelez", is named after him.[23] There are streets in several towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bihać, Gračanica, Zenica, etc.) named after him.

Albanian folklore[edit]

In Albanian folklore, Gjergj Elez Alia was a great warrior. The song Gjergj Elez Alia was recorded by Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti in Nikaj (Tropojë District) and published in Tirana in 1937.[24] The song is usually sung accompanied by the lahuta (gusle), or occasionally with çifteli, by the rapsodi (performer).[25] 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 the first decades of 20th century by the Franciscan priests Shtjefën Gjeçovi and Bernardin Palaj.[26] Although they were transmitted from South Slavic milieu of Bosnia they are not simply translated from Serbo-Croatian, but have independently evolved in the northern Albanian highlands.[27]


  1. ^ Fishta, Gjergj; Robert Elsie (2005). The highland lute: (Lahuta e Malcís) : the Albanian national epic. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 402. ISBN 978-1-84511-118-2. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b 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, ISBN 978-0-87249-977-5, OCLC 28067651, retrieved 25 November 2011, ... They say that this is where his name originated, for Djurzelez means the warior with the mace ... with the epic Djerzelez. In a Turkish census defter [administrative register] of 1485 a timar [feudal property] of Gjerz-Eljaz is recorded for nahija [small administrative area] of Dobrun, near town of Višegrad 
  3. ^ Velikonja, Mitja (2003), Religious separation and political intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, College Station: Texas A & M University Press, p. 86, ISBN 978-1-58544-989-7, OCLC 53971200, retrieved 25 November 2011, ... his name means "the warrior with mace" 
  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. ^ 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. ] 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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 stoljeća....se 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...]

  9. ^ 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]

  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 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.

  12. ^ Skendi, Stavro (1954), Albanian and South Slavic oral epic poetry, Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, p. 185, OCLC 3794368, retrieved November 24, 2011, A similar example is Djerzelez Alija or Gerzelez Alija of the Bosnian songs — the blood-brother of Kraljević Marko — which in Albanian had become Gjergj Elez Alia. It becomes more apparent that we have to deal here with a loan from the Serbian heroic songs,... 
  13. ^ 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.

  14. ^ Elsie 2004, p. 369

    Gjergj Elez Alia.... the Turkish chronicler and historian Ibn Kemal (1468—1534) ... mentions his popularity in folk verse in Bosnia.

  15. ^ 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

  16. ^ Hadžijahić 1934, p. 45

    Đerzelezovo bolovanje

  17. ^ Milutinović, Sima (1837), Пјеванија Црногорска и Херцеговачка, сабрана Чубром Чојковићем Церногорцем (Folk songs of Montenegro and Herzegovina collected by Čubro Čojković Cernogorac) (in Serbian), Leipzig: Tauchnica, p. 269, OCLC 257765748, retrieved 16 January 2012, Odkud je Gerzelez 
  18. ^ Chadwick, Munro; Nora K. Chadwick (1940). The Growth of Literature. Cambridge [Eng.]: The University press. pp. 322, 323. Retrieved 25 November 2011. Djerzelez-Alija 
  19. ^ 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...

  20. ^ 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.

  21. ^ Velikonja, Mitja (2003), Religious separation and political intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, College Station: Texas A & M University Press, p. 86, ISBN 978-1-58544-989-7, OCLC 53971200, retrieved 25 November 2011, According to legend, he was slayed during prayer. He chose not to interrupt his prayers even though he was aware of his imminent death 
  22. ^ Hobdell Jackson, William Thomas; George Stade (1990). European Writers. New York: Scribner. p. 1753. ISBN 978-0-684-16594-3. Retrieved 24 November 2011. The first complete short story, "Put Alije Djerzeleza," was published in 1920, although two fragments, "Djerzelez u hanu" (Djerzelez at the Inn) and "Djerzelez na putu" (Djerzelez on the Road) had appeared, in issues of Knizevni jug in 1918 and 1919. 
  23. ^ "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. 
  24. ^ 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)

  25. ^ Elsie, Robert (2001). A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture. NYU Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-8147-2214-8. 
  26. ^ 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...

  27. ^ 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


Further reading[edit]

  • Olesnički, Aleksije (1932), Tko je zapravo bio Djerzelez Alija? [Who was in fact Djerzelez Alija?] (in Croatian), Zagreb: Nadbiskupska tiskara, OCLC 493451253 
  • 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, OCLC 442745889