Berat

BERATI – ALBANIA

GENERAL INFORMATION

Berat city (2)

Apart from being one of the oldest cities in Albania, Berat (Berati) is also one of the most attractive cities. Berat is located near the Osum River  in Albania, Berat is the commercial center for the surrounding agricultural  region in which tobacco, grapes, and fruits are grown. The town of Berat, overshadowed to the east by mount Tomorr (2400m), is built on an ancient Illyrian dwelling site, which goes back to the sixth century B.C. Its innumerable monuments and beautiful and characteristic architecture of its houses have proclaimed Berat, a museum town. Much of the city is built on terraces in the steep hills overlooking the Osum. The city has many historical monuments, including mosques dating from the 15th to 19th centuries and an 18th-century seven-arched stone bridge. A 13th-century citadel built along a ridge high above the river gorge houses a museum and several old churches.

Berati has a population of 37,000 inhabitants. The hills and the mountain slopes around Berat, are planted with fig trees olive trees and other fruits.

Berat city in Albania (17)It is easy to reach Berat from almost any area in Central and Southern Albania. There is a good bus connection with Vlora, Durres, Elbasani and Tirana. Buses depart from Tirana, every 45 minutes from 4.30 a.m. until about 14.30 in the afternoon from the area of Kombinati, which is located on the western side of Tirana, you can catch an urban bus from Skanderbeg square to get to Kombinati. The journey from Tirana to Berat is about 2 hours and the bus fare is 300 lek. Once you arrive in Berat, the bus terminate is about 1 kilometer before the center of the city, for this reason, there are local buses and taxis that will take you to the center.

The view of the white houses climbing up the mountain to the citadel is one of the most popular images of Albania. The citadel walls themselves, encircle the whole of the top of the hill. Within these walls are eight medieval churches, one of which houses an outstanding collection of icons, that have been painted in the 16th century by master Onufri. There is also an ethnographic museum in Berat that is very interesting and several other buildings including two of the oldest mosques in Albania. Due to the historical value of these buildings, these religious buildings, located in Berat, were protected from the worst ravages of the atheism campaign (See the history of Albania)  and in the year 1976, the government designated Berat as a historical “museum-city”, which saved the town center from the communist urban planning.


 

ACCOMMODATION IN BERAT

It is usually easy to find accommodation in most areas of Albania, what we have tried to do is to give you the many many options but to also give our own personal advise of the goods and the bad, as well as the exact location and the facilities of each accommodation choice. We would appreciate it if you would reserve your accommodation via this website and we will be there either in person or with a representative of ours to personally assist you while you are on  your holidays in Albania. 

The Tomori hotel is located in the center of Berat. It offers 46 en suite rooms and two suites. Each room has a television, Wi-Fi, hot water and air conditioning! An elevator that operates can take you up to the high floors of the building and some members of the staff speak English.

Mangalemi hotel is a family run hotel in the area of Mangalemi in Berat. It offers 20 en suite rooms with televisions and Wi-Fi and also helpful, friendly staff.

 


 

ACTIVITIES IN BERAT OF ALBANIA

Albania is qualified today as one the most attractive holiday destinations in the whole of the Mediterranean. The wonderful nature, the land, the museums, the ancient monuments are all places that must be explored. The natural environment of Albania gives you the opportunity to exercise many kinds of sports. More than the two thirds of the country are mountainous terrain and in these areas in the autumn and winter, sports like skiing, mountaineering, climbing, trekking etc. can be exercised.

We have listed some of the best tours and activities that you should try, while you are spending time in the city of Berat. When you arrive in the narrowest point of the city of Berat (where the castle and Gorica are closest to each other), take a deep breathe because after this point, the “magic screen” will become wider and wider. Two days are not enough to see the whole city of Berati from various escalated corners. We suggest that you try to get lost through the paths of the “Mangalem” neighborhood, – which is a true labyrinth. We assure you that it will be an unforgettable walk, especially if you combine it with the contemplation of the town from one of the thousands of windows that you have seen from the outside but are unaware of the great tableau that they offer from the inside of the house. The citizens of Berati are friendly and welcoming

SIGHTSEEING IN BERAT

Berat castle of AlbaniaBerat Castle (Albanian: Kalaja e Beratit): The main castle of Berat, locally known as the kalaja, was fortified for the first time in the 4th century BC by the Illyrian Parthini. At the same time, they also fortified the hill opposite, on the left side of the bank of the river Osumi; the remains of the tall walls there are known as the Gorica castle, and they can still be seen. The two of these castles, built up on the tops of the hills, ensured that the whole river valley could be controlled and defended.  Accessing the castle easily can only be done from the Southern side. Many people who continue to live in the castle enter and exit the Southern entrance as the Northern is a drop off to the Osum River, over 100 meters. If entering by foot, a 200 meters walk up the steep cobble stone hill from downtown Berat will be rewarding. Many residents of the castle prefer to take an afternoon bus that departs from the opposite side of the city, straight through town, and up a back route. The easiest way to reach the castle is to walk up the steep, cobbled street, that is called Rruga Mihal Komneno and also known as the castle street or Rruga e Kalase, the road is one of the protected museum – zones of the city of Berat. It is possible to drive along this street. Another way of reaching the castle by car, is to take the main road that enters into Berat from the northern side, the road turns around the back of the castle hill, there is a sign in Albanian and in English that reads Kala or Castle. There is a parking area just outside the entrance to the castle. There are many short cuts from the town to get up to the castle, but as they are hard to find, it is advised to try and find a local guide. There is a kiosk, just next to the vaulted inside entrance, where the admission fee of 100 Lek is payable. This kiosk also sells audio guides of the castle in various languages, including English.

Kalaja e BeratitThe castle, is still inhabited, by hundreds of people. The castle has recently been under restoration, due to its part in the UNESCO World Heritage Site acknowledgement. (This is a welcome “gift” for the residents of the castle who have been forgotten, as the city center, below had taken up most of the attention). The main entrance, on the north side, is defended by a fortified courtyard and there are three smaller entrances. The castle of Berat, in its present state, remains a magnificent sight even though parts of it are quite damaged. The area that the castle encompasses made it possible to house a considerable portion of the cities inhabitants. The buildings inside the fortress were built during the 13th century and because of their characteristic architecture are preserved as cultural monuments.

Just by the outside entrance to the castle, next to the archway, you will see a cross with the initials MK on it, this dates back to the re fortification of the castle in the 13th century, under the reign of Micheal II Comnenus Ducas, the Despot of Epirus (See  history of Albania).

Berat castle in AlbaniaThere is a guided tour of the castle, that lasts for about an hour, it usually begins in the naos, which is the main section of the castle. The ornate icon stasis (the altar screen) at the far end was carved out of walnut wood and decorated with gold leaf by master craftsmen from the school of Berat. The three main icons of the church were the work of Onufri and were placed inside the church at the time that it was built; the other icons were completed in the 19th century by the artist Joan Katro from Korca and placed in the church. The two manuscripts known as the codices of Berat were discovered in 1968, buried behind the altar – the Purple Codex from the 6th century is one of the oldest manuscripts ever found, and is now kept in the State Archive in Tirana.

Berati othoman buildingsThere are many Byzantine churches in the area and Ottoman mosques. The castle has been built upon a rocky hill on the left bank of the river Osum and is accessible only from the south. It’s situated at an altitude of 214 meters. After being burned down by the Romans in 200 B.C., the walls were strengthened in the fifth century under Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, and were rebuilt during the 6th century under the Emperor Justinian I and again in the 13th century under the Despot of Epirus, Michael I Komnenos Doukas, cousin of the Byzantine Emperor. The castle was under the rule of John Komnenos Asen in the mid-14th century. The population of the fortress was Christian, and it had about 42 churches (most built during the 13th century) and only one mosque, for the use of the Turkish garrison (of which there survives only a few ruins and the base of the minaret). Out of the 42  churches which the castle once contained, only eight remain and, with an exception, they were locked up following the atheism campaign of the late 1960’s. The excepton was the Church of the Dormination of Saint Mary (Kisha e Fjetjes se Shenmerise), a three-naved basilica which was built in 1797 on the foundations of a 10th century church which today houses the Onufri Museum.  The churches of the fortress were damaged through years and only some have remained. Inside the castle of Berat, many historical elements have been housed. A Mosque, “Red Mosque”, which can be identified by it’s lonely minaret (a staircase inside provides access to the top), more than 20 Christian churches, and a central museum which surrounds one of the largest Orthodox churches with many 16th century paintings, by “Master Onufri”, and a decorative alter inside. (Many churches in Albania were destroyed during the Communist years as an “Atheist State” was declared during Enver Hoxha’s reign.)

Balibardha Castle: Balibardha Castle or Balibardhe (also Balibardha) is a medieval citadel in the town of Berat in Albania. The castle is located at quite a long distance to the main town of Berat, however it is still considered to belong to the municipality of Berat. The closest large settlement to the Balibardha Castle is the small village of Lapardha. At the time of its construction (in the medieval years), the castle of Balibardha was a well protected citadel with several buildings within its walls that were intended to be for military and civilian residents. Until today, however, the castle has not been reconstructed or maintained in a good state, most of the buildings that used to exist within the castle walls have disappeared. For many years, due to poverty in Albania, the castle was used by the locals as a stone quarry, so that they did not have to buy stones to build their own private properties, little of the castle remains. You can use your imagination to recreate the layout of the castle with the help of the remains of the lowest layers of the stones that derive from the outside walls of the castle.

The Ethnographic museum of Berat: A visit to the ethnographic museum of Berat is the best way to learn about the architecture of Berat and to find out many things about the citizen’s life style in Berat until just a few decades ago. The museum is located just off the Rruga Mihal Komneno, and used to be a large, beautiful, traditional house that was transformed into this Ethnographic museum in the year 1979. The entrance fee to the museum is 200 Lek, the opening hours of the museum are usually 9.00 a.m. until 16.00 and there is a guided tour in English included in the price. The museum contains original furniture and a number of household objects, wooden case, wall-closets, as well as chimneys and a well. Near the well is an olive press, wool press and many large ceramic dishes, revealing a glimpse of the historical domestic culture of Berat’s citizens. The ground floor has a hall with a model of a medieval street with traditional shops on both sides and on the second floor is an archive, loom, village sitting room, kitchen and sitting room.

The mosques of Berat: There are many historical mosques in Berat that are located close together near the town center. The Bachelor’s mosque (Xhamia e Beqareve), on the main boulevard, was constructed in the year 1827 for the use of the city’s (unmarried) shop assistants, and its external walls are beautifully decorated with wall paintings. The Leaden Mosque (Xhamia e Plumbit), has been named like this, form the covering of it;s dome, dates from 1555. The oldest of the three – and one of the oldest mosques in Albania – is the King’s mosque (Xhamia e Mbretit), behind the market, just at the foot of the street “Rruga Mihal Komneno, this is the street that goes up to the castle. It has a magnificent carved, painted, wooden ceiling and a large women’s gallery. It is possible to see inside the mosque immediately after prayer times; at any other hours, the mosque is usually locked.

Berat city in Albania (15)The Gorica bridge in Berat (Ura e Goricës): There are three different areas of the city of Berat that have been considered as “museum-zones”, the first area is the castle of Berat, the second area is Mangalemi and the third is the area of Gorica, which is located on the opposite side of the Osumi river. The Gorica bridge is 129.3 meters in length and has a width of 5.3 meters. It consists of seven arches connecting the neighborhood Gorica with other parts of Berat. The bridge is one of the oldest bridges in Albania, it was built in the 18th century. Origianally, it was made of wood, and in 1780, during the ruling of Ahmet Kurt Pasha, it was rebuilt with stones. The Bridge of Gorica had a complete reconstruction during the years 1920-1930. Additionally, local folklore tells a tale that Gorica Bridge used to house a dungeon in which a girl or woman was trapped without food for sacrifice to appease spirits which protected the bridge.

THE HISTORY OF BERAT, ALBANIA

Berat city in Albania (22)The town of Berati is said to have been inhabited since the Bronze Age, which means, more than 4,000 years ago. The great Tomorri Massif, which rises behind the city of Berat, was a sacred mountain, even from the early times and it still hosts a huge Bektashi festival, every August. The first traces of building on the citadel, date back to the second half of the 4th century BC, when the Illyrian Parthini used to control the area.

Berati thrived in the Middle Ages, thanks to its strategic location at the point where the trading routes from the south met the lowland plain. This made it an appetizing conquest for successive invaders. The Bulgarian Empire took over the city in the year 860 AD and held it – barring a 40 year period, during which, it was re-conquered by Byzantium – until 1018. Berati’s second return to the Byzantine fold lasted longer, despite a determined attack by the Angevins, who besieged the citadel for seven months in 1280 – 81. By the mid 14th century, however, as Byzantium’s power waned, Berati and most other towns and cities of Albania became part of Stefan Dusan’s “Empire of the Serbs and the Greeks” (See the history of Albania).

After the death of Stefan Dusan, in the year 1355, the whole of the southern east side of Albania, reaching as far as Kastoria (now, located in Northern Greece) fell into the control of the Muzakaj family of Berat, one of the most powerful Albanian families, which emerged as the only functioning authorities in the period before the Ottoman conquest. The citadel of Berati fell to the Ottomans in the year 1417 and, despite the attempt to retake it, led by Skanderberg in 1455, it remained in their hands for almost 500 years. The mountains of the region of Berat were a hotbed of partisan activity during the World War II, and the city was the first seat of the Interim Government, which came into power in October 1944, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha.

The name of the city, could possibly derive from the Turkish word berat, meaning an order conferring a decoration, a sort of royal warrant; or it may derive from “Beligrad” the names that the Slavs gave the city, although there is a debate about whether this is philological possible. Berati won a recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2008.


 

USEFUL INFORMATION FOR BERAT IN ALBANIA

It is easy to reach Berat from almost any area in Central and Southern Albania. There is a good bus connection with Vlora, Durres, Elbasani and Tirana. Buses depart from Tirana, every 45 minutes from 4.30 a.m. until about 14.30 in the afternoon from the area of Kombinati, which is located on the western side of Tirana, you can catch an urban bus from Skanderbeg square to get to Kombinati. The journey from Tirana to Berat is about 2 hours and the bus fare is 300 lek. Once you arrive in Berat, the bus terminate is about 1 kilometer before the center of the city, for this reason, there are local buses and taxis that will take you to the center.


 

UNIQUE CULTURE OF ALBANIA

The Albanian culture is an exotic blend of traditions that have evolved over thousands of years. From the ancient Illyrians and Greeks to the Romans and the Ottomans, the language, music, arts, and cuisine of the Albanian people are a rich and vibrant mix of many civilizations. Once you discover our culture, you are bound to fall in love with this new destination on the Mediterranean.

Hospitality is in our nature. Welcoming guests and ensuring their comfort is a hallmark of Albanian heritage and is epitomized by our very own Nobel Peace Prize recipient: Mother Teresa. The spirit of cooperation and friendship thrives in Albania, and it is not uncommon for guests to be invited to eat and drink with curious locals wishing to learn more about you.

Besa is a concept related to the Albanian code of honor and is an idea that is very important to the Albanian people. In the Kanun (a set of traditional Albanian laws), Besa is described as the highest authority, so essential to personal and familial standing as to be virtually a cult. Besa has been the subject of some stories and novels by Albania’s foremost modern novelist, Ismail Kadare, a Nobel Prize Candidate for Literature and winner of several international prizes. Kadare’s work has been published in over forty countries and translated into more than thirty languages, making Kadare the best ambassador of Albanian literature worldwide.

If we are speaking about the food and drinks of Albania, then we must mention the country’s deliciously-unique cuisine. It has many similarities to Turkish and Greek dishes, but offers a healthier, Mediterranean twist. Come try our wide variety of phyllo dough delicacies, including a melt-in-your-mouth sensation called byrek, or the original sweet treat known regionally as baklava.

Albania also has a long tradition of wine craftsmanship, which is lately being revived to its former glory. While you’re here, taste a sampling of our wine, produced from a rich soil that has been under cultivation since the ancient Greeks and Romans. Regardless of your culinary inclinations, we guarantee that our rich history and culinary traditions have created a menu of mouth-watering specialties for you to try.

Each region of Albania likes to specialize in its own brand of music, thus giving the music aficionado an incentive to explore the entire country in search of each community’s sense of style. For example, UNESCO has classified a type of music from southern Albania, known as Iso Polyphony, to have tremendous cultural value to humankind. Our music has even given rise to a few prominent artists of global acclaim, including opera lyric soprano, Inva Mula, and the distinguished violinist, Tedi Papavrami.

In regards to style, when you arrive in Albania, you will notice that the men take great pride in their appearance and will often don a suit and tie when in public. Even if their errands only involve a short trip to the grocery store, the men will dress to impress.

Depending upon the type of festival or time of year, you might even catch a glimpse of Albanian men in traditional folk attire. The National Folk Festival held in Gjirokastra is a prime example. This special autumn event is held once every four years and attracts artists from around the world.

The women of Albania also share a flair for style, especially at traditional Albanian weddings. At these events, the families of both the bride and groom will gather together in their finest dress and celebrate with great fervor. Weddings are often the ideal opportunity to witness the best of Albanian culture all in one event, and if you’re invited to one, the experience will undoubtedly be extraordinary.

Albanian culture is unique in many ways and we hope you’ll visit us to see it firsthand. We say ‘yes’ by shaking our head from side to side, both men and women greet each other with a kiss on either cheek, and our conversations are loud and passionate in an effort to entice others to join in. Visit Albania and discover why our culture is a new Mediterranean love.


 

MAP OF ALBANIA

map of Albania

PHOTO GALLERY OF BERAT

MAP OF BERAT