“Syri i kaltër” (Blue Eye) is the biggest out of 18 springs which surface from the earth some 25 km away from Saranda, in the south of Albania.
Its colour is deep blue in the centre where the water flows out, and light blue at the sides where the green vegetation creates an impression of eyelashes. People say that the spring was named by an engineer in a hydro-power station, who was reminded of the blue eyes of his beloved.
The Blue Eye is all about legends.
“The ancient legend tells that the waters sprung to the earth from a dragon that was burned by a clever peasant who had fed it a mule loaded with touchwood and cinder,” Fatos Demiri, head of a local travel agency Terini, told Southeast Europe: People and Culture.
Demiri shares with us another episode: “In October 2002, the spring was seized by an agony of death and felt disheartened. This happened when some Italian representatives came to Saranda to talk about the ways of exploiting the underground water of the Blue Eye”.
“All of a sudden, the spring dried up and turned into a blind eye of white colour. Many people said that divine powers were involved and this was a sort of a punishment against those who wanted to bargain with the Blue Eye,” Demiri said.
The local tourist board representative is happy and proud of this natural treasure. “Blue Eye is part of every tourist guide we provide. Tourists are spellbound by the Blue Eye. The contrast of the dark and light blue colours of the waters, the green vegetation and the shadow of the ancient oak trees make this destination very attractive; it's an oasis of coolness,” he said.
A large number of tourists, mostly German, Dutch, British and Polish, visit “Blue Eye” in the summer period. They usually participate in a one-day organised trip.
With a flow rate of 7.5 cubic meters of water per second, the Blue Eye spring has a 10-metre diameter. It feeds the Bistrica river, 25 km long, which produces electricity for the south of Albania. Its water temperature is some 13 degrees Celsius while its depth goes beyond 20 meters. Such facts could not be revealed if it was not for Xhemal Mato, once an Albanian environmental journalist and now the head of Ekolëvizja (a group of ecological associations).
“I was the first one to dive into Syri i Kaltër in 1984. I remember the current of the water coming out of a dark tunnel. Inside the current was so strong that my diving mask was swept away from my face, so I was forced to keep it with my hands. The deeper I went the stronger the current became until I reached a depth of 20 metres, where I felt I could not go further as the pressure of a strong river flowing out of the tunnel was unbearable.”
Mato is still impressed by the depth of this spring. He also paved the way for other divers to experience the waters of the Blue Eye. “I left a piece of rope which would help the other divers to plunge into the waters of this spring as well as a plastic notebook where the divers could sign. After two years, we noticed that a full page of this notebook was filled with signatures by various divers, thus encouraging underwater tourism,” Mato said.
However, this natural gift needs to be well-maintained.
For Shkëlqim Hajno, journalist of “Radio Saranda”, a local radio station which has been promoting tourism in the south of Albania since 2000, the Blue Eye is at the mercy of fate. He thinks that the spring risks becoming polluted. “People are using this place as a picnic spot and they are littering it. Too often, the “iris of the eye” is disturbed by plastic bottles or other objects,” Hajno said, calling visitors to treat this natural wonder with the respect it deserves.