Driving to the coast you see tiny Hermann tortoises everywhere, trusting their lives to their shells as they slowly hunt grasses and berries along the busy roads. It is an unusual thing to see so many as in the rest of Europe they are pretty rare.
In 1848, the British Poet Edward Lear came to Albania to paint. He kept a journal and in it writes of the tortoises, adding that his Greek guide had told him:
“In Greece it is a well-known fact that they hatch their eggs by the heat of their eyes, looking fixedly at them, until the small tortoises are matured, and break the shell.”
It is a striking image, though unlikely to true. Lear drew lithographs for a Victorian book ‘Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles” considered to be the best illustrations of tortoises ever produced. He is best known for his poetry and his poem to the tortoise goes as follows: “T was a Tortoise, all yellow and black – he walked away slowly, and never came back.”
His journal is a great record both of Albanian culture of the day and his artistic observations:
“I drew the sublime view before me over the plain, and wide beds of torrents towards the bare, craggy, dark mountain of Krója, with the town and rocks glittering like silver aloft, below a heavy curtain of black cloud”.
More about Lear in Albania can be found here:
Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles (1872) James de Carle Sowerby and Edward Lear.
Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania (1851) Edward Lear.