GJIROKASTRA – ALBANIA
Situated in southern Albania, very close to the border of Greece, Kakavia. The austere and beautiful town of Gjirokastra started to grow, down the hill from the castle in the 13th century. The castle still broods on the hill above the city, overlooking the whole city and the river valley below. Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking an historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains. This ‘city of a thousand steps’ comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive stone roofs, wooden balconies and whitewashed stone walls. Gjirokastra is a large town, that aids many of the smaller towns like Permet and Tepelene.
The architecture and the beautiful atmosphere of Gjirokastra has been described well by one of the most famous sons of this city:
This was a surprising city, which seemed to have come out of the valley unexpectedly, one winter’s night, like a prehistoric being, and clambered up with difficulty, stitching itself to the side of the mountain. Everything in this city was old and made of stone, from the streets and the fountains right up to the roofs of its big houses, a century old, which were covered in stone tiles, the color of ash, like so many huge carapaces. It was difficult to believe that under these hard shells, the soft flesh of life thrived and was renewed.
Ismail Kadare, Kronike ne gur (Chronicle in stone), Onufri, 2000
Dominated by the sheer flanks of its vast castle, Gjirokastra is a magical city with a tumultuous past. From feudal stronghold to Ottoman jewel to Italian colony, the city has known many rulers and has inspired poets, authors and artists.
Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing center for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time. A visit to the vast 13th-century castle brings the adventurous tales of medieval rulers and communist atrocities alive. There is much to see in Gjirokastra and the surrounding areas, and a stay in bed and breakfast accommodation in one of the converted Ottoman houses can make an excellent base for exploring the region.
We hope this website will provide all you need to be inspired to visit Gjirokastra.
One of the best restaurants that is highly recommended by www.2-albania.com in Gjirokastra is the Ndrico restaurant.
Ndrico restaurant is located about 7 kilometers away from Gjiorkastra on the main road leading from Gjirokastra towards the Greek border of Kakavi in the area known as Dervican.
The service is brilliant!, the staff speak both Greek and English, the food is delicious and free, high speed WiFi is offered in all areas.
ACCOMMODATION IN GJIROKASTRA
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 bads 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 by a representative of ours to personally assist you while you are on your holidays in Albania.
Hotel Bleta in Gjirokastra: The hotel Bleta is located in the bottom part of Gjirokastra, close to the market and to all of the restaurants, banks, services, and shops. It is a clean hotel that offers rooms with WiFi internet, air conditioning a television and hot water.
The castle holiday house in Gjirokastra: This apartment is located in the main bazaar of the stone city of Gjirokastra in Albania. The apartment can accommodate 4-5 people as it offers one comfortable bedroom with two single beds that can be joined together to make a double bed, a living room with one sofa that transforms into a double bed and another single sofa that can be used as a single bed. The kitchen is fully equipped and the bathroom also! The windows look out at the town of Gjirokastra.
ACTIVITIES IN GJIROKASTRA
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 is 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 Gjirokastra.
Sightseeing in Gjirokastra: Gjirokastra is a city with many archeological sites and monuments. As you arrive to the upper part of Gjirokastra, opposite the main taxi station you will see the tourist information office which will offer you information and brochures about accommodation, the sites, the history etc. of Gjirokastra. You can go up the narrow hill behind the tourist information office, to visit the Cold Water Tunnel. When you face the tourist information office, on your right side, you will see the large statue of Çerçiz Topulli, who was a fighter from the town of Gjirokastra, this main square has been named after him. Now, take a few steps to your right, towards the old bazaar and on your right hand side you will see the statue of the two Partisan Heroines, this monument pays tribute to two teenage girls, Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokëdhima, who were partisans during World War II and were hanged by the Nazis in 1944. Now, if you follow the cobbled stone road, you will walk towards the center of the old bazaar of Gjirokastra. This is the area that is highly recommended for souvenir shopping (See below). Then, of course, you must not miss a visit to the famous and popular castle of Gjirokastra which you will come to if you take the cobbled stone hill that turns off on the right side of the bazaar. The main castle was built in the 12th century under the Despots of Epirus, then in the year 1490 the main improvements of the castle were made by Sultan Beyazid II, in the year 1811, the Ottoman governor, Ali Pasha of Tepelene added many elements to the castle. You can read all the details about the museum inside the castle and the castle itself in the following section “sightseeing in Gjirokastra” but a summary of what you should notice is: the Bektashi turbe (tomb) which is located 50 meters after the main entrance to the castle on your right hand side. The artillery gallery is also just 50 meters past the entrance, but on your left side.
The National museum of armaments, which opened for the first time in the year 1971 and today is located in the old prison of the castle, the prison itself and the many underground cells in various areas of the castle. The American airplane that is located in the back yard of the castle and the festival stage which is still used until today by the municipality on public holidays to present music and dance events. Beyond the stage is the clock tower, another of the improvements made by Ali Pasha for the castle, although it was restored in the 1980’s. Below the clock tower is the structure of a very very old church has recently been discovered, it is possible that it leads back to the Byzantine phase of fortification. The admission fee to the castle is 200 lek and there is an extra admission fee to the museum which is also 200 lek. The castle is open all year round but try to read the details of the monuments of the castle before you visit the castle as the staff does not speak much English and therefore they are not able to explain to you about each monument.
The ethnographic museum of Gjirokastra is also a place that you would not want to miss. The ancient site of Antigonea might be quite a journey from Gjirokastra, but it is worth visiting also! The Zekate house has no set operating hours – ask in the Tourist Information Center to arrange entry; admission is € 1.00. The neighbor has the key to let you in: the Zekate House itself is unoccupied. The church of Saint Sotire is a beautiful church to see, there are also some famous mosques that are worth visiting.
A visit to the lake of Diroj is definitely something that you should do! The calm atmosphere, the beautiful colors around and the peace and tranquility that the area offers is something that we do not easily find in any other country. There are two coffee shops upon the lake of Diroj that also offer some snacks. Accommodation choices are also available on the other side of the lake and the surrounding area is perfect for hiking and cycling.
Shopping in Gjirokastra: The center of the bazaar is the best place to go shopping in Gjirokastra. The city of Gjirokastra is one of the best cities in Albania for souvenir shopping and shopping for handcraft, traditional items. While walking up the cobbled streets of the bazaar, you will pass many shops selling traditional Albanian pies (burek), souvenirs such as postcards, magnets, flags, scarves, worry beads, small sculptures, items made by hand from wool and silk, jewelry and traditional Albanian food.
Organized tour around Gjirokastra: Some people like to explore the many areas and monuments alone, however for those that would prefer an organized tour, we have created a plan just for you! This tour includes transportation and entrance fees, however, it does not include food or drink! An English, Greek and Albanian speaking guide will meet you just outside the tourist information office in Gjirokastra (unless you request to be picked up elsewhere), first, he will take you to the cold water tunnel, he will show you the main statues and monuments in the main square, you will walk together through the Old Bazaar of Gjirokastra (shopping is allowed) up to the castle. The guide will walk around the castle with you and show you the various items and explain the history and all of the information about each part. The guide will then drive you down to the main city of Gjirokastra and to the lake of Diroj, where you will stop for refreshments. Leaflets and maps of the areas are included in the price and although the guide should leave you at the tourist information office once again, he is also willing to drop you off wherever you request within the city of Gjirokastra. The tour usually lasts for 5-6 hours and the cost is 35 000 lek per person (about 30 Euros).
Day trip to Tepelene and Permet from Gjirokastra: As the bus systems and departures are not perfect in Albania, we are giving you the opportunity to visit the historical town of Tepelene and the magical town of Permet in a one day trip! The duration of this trip is 7-8 hours and the price is 40 000 lek (35 Euros) per person. Our guide will pick you up in the city of Gjirokastra at the main roundabout (in the lower town) and drive you straight to the historical town of Tepelene. Before arriving into the main town, you will make a stop at the woodland park of cold water, where fresh, pure water comes out of the mountain and many people from all of the surrounding areas travel daily to the spot to fill up plastic containers with the pure, clean water as it is said that this water is the cleanest water in all of South Albania. Once you arrive into the main town of Tepelene, you will be able to visit the castle of Tepelene, walk down the main streets and admire the beautiful view, do some shopping or just stop for refreshments. Our guide will give you the necessary information about the monuments, the castle and the town. After about 2 hours in Tepelene, you will begin the journey from Tepelene to Permet. Permet is also known as the city of roses, you will stop off just beyond the bridge which is the main entrance to Permet. The guide will show you the large, city stone of Permet and tell you its story, you will then visit the famous, beautiful church of Saint Friday and also the church of Saint Nicolas. You will have the ability to visit the shops in Permet, to visit the mosque or the popular teqe of Alipostivan which is a small place of worship for those practicing the bektashi branch of Islam. You will be lead to a small tavern – cafe where you can get snacks, meals or just refreshments and enjoy the view of the town. After about 3 hours, our guide will take you to the small village of Kelcyre where you will spend 30 minutes, just to look around the square and the few shops. At around 6 p.m. you will arrive back in Gjirokastra and you will be given free leaflets with information that will remind you of all that you have discovered in the towns of Permet and Tepelene.
Day trip to Benja from Gjirokastra: Benje or Benja is located around eight miles away from the center of Përmet. At the very beginning of the street you will see the Katiu’s Bridge, that was built within the medieval period, it remains in good condition until today. There flow out a group of sources, from which are formed small lakes with water of different sizes.
Our day trip from Gjirokastra to Benje allows you to paddle in the therapeutic water, to eat or have some refreshments in the small cafe in Benja, to eat local meat in the local, traditional tavern that is close to Benja. Our guide will show you the beautiful Ottoman bridge of Benja with the natural thermal springs that is still in very good condition! If you walk to the middle of the bridge, you can take some brilliant photographs of the river and the surrounding countryside. This bridge is also known as The judge’s bridge (Ura e Katiut).
Each lake is used for treatment of a specific problem, for example, acne and other skin diseases, rheumatism and diseases of body, stomach, etc.. A more specific aspect is the existence of the basin with healing mud, which the elderly say it is a key to keep the skin fresh and young. In fact it is proved that the medicine has an effect on rejuvenate of the skin. In the waters of Bënja one can find visitors from all over Albania, coming to be cured. However there are many others who visit even just to get the sun rays. Warm water is always a magnet that invites to pass hours in total relax.
Rafting down the Vjosa river: Our passion for nature and sports has turned into our mission. This mission is to promote the development of tourism in Albania through developing rafting activities, according to the international standards, in full compliance with respect for nature and environmental protection. Through its activities, this rafting group has helped in developing sustainable outdoor tourism, attracting an increasing number of tourists to extend their stay in the virgin, remote areas of Albania.
Explore the canyon: The Canyon exploration tour is carried out on foot using all the required equipment and by trained professional guides. This hike will give you the chance to experience the natural beauties of the canyons such as the waterfalls, natural pools and trails.
Prices: Prices range from 25 Euros to 75 Euros per person depending on the package that you choose.
Rafting in the canyons of Osumi in Skrapar: Arrival in the morning – Departure towards Skrapari canyons. – River rafting through the canyons. While in the canyons, we’ll have a lunch break (sandwich). The adventure lasts 3-4 hours depending on the water flow. – End of the adventure and return to Berat.
Prices: Prices range from 40 Euros to 85 Euros per person depending on the package that you choose.
Rafting in the river Vjose in Permet: Departure from the town of Permet – Training and river rafting (2-4 hours) – Lunch break (sandwich) – Return to Permet.
Period: All year round
Prices: Prices range from 45 Euros to 85 Euros per person depending on the package that you choose.
SIGHTSEEING IN GJIROKASTRA
The castle is open all year round (April to September 09:00 to 19:00, October to March 09:00 to 17:00 ) with an admission price of 200 Lekë. A small bar is situated within the ramparts where refreshments can be purchased.
The castle, which is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent structures of the city, sits on a rocky bluff with the city stretching out around it. It offers spectacular views of the Drino valley and surrounding mountains. The castle has undergone various additions and changes over the course of the centuries: The first major fortifications were built under the Despots of Epirus in the 12th and 13th centuries. After the Ottoman conquest of the late 14th century the most extensive improvements were made around 1490 by Sultan Beyazid II. From 1811, the Ottoman governor Ali Pasha of Tepelena added many elements, including the clock tower on the eastern side. He also completed fortifying the full area of the bluff. In addition he built an aqueduct to bring water to the castle from distance of over 10 km from the surrounding mountains. Since Ali Pasha’s time the castle has fallen into disrepair. In the 1930s it was redesigned as a prison by the Italians at the request of King Zog, and was closed in the 1960s.
Things to see in the castle:
Bektashi Turbe (tomb): As you enter the main gate of the caste, if you look on the right side, around 50 meters from the entrance, you will see a small building tucked into the walls of the castle amidst a lovely garden. It contains the remains of the bodies of two Bektashi Babas.
The Artillery Gallery: Once again, if you walk through the main entrance to the castle, this time turn to the left, about 50 meters away from the entrance, you will enter into a long gallery that is lined with pieces of artillery. All of these guns and weapons were either abandoned by, or captured from, the Italian and German occupation forces during the World War II. Within this gallery there is also a small Italian tank that was built by the Fiat Company.
The National Museum of Armaments: This museum originally opened for the first time in the year 1971, the National Museum of Armaments is located in what was once the part of the prison of the castle. The current exhibitions of the museum cover the Albanian arms from their independence in the year 1912 up until the end of The World War II, and most of the museum is dedicated to the Partisan struggle against the Italian and German occupation forces from the years 1939 to 1944. The Tourist Information Center located in the main square of Gjirokastra offers alot of information about the museums and monuments of the area. Free leaflets are also given out to tourists.
The prison: The main entrance to the prison is in the first gallery of the National Armaments Museum. The prison was built and completed in the year 1929 in order to be used to accommodate the enemies of King Zog, then it was used by Wehrmacht during the World War II, in the summer of 1944, German soldiers were holding 500 prisoners in the 50 prison cells. The prison was used by the communists until the year 1968. The only part of the prison that is accessible to visitors was developed as a museum by the communist regime in the 1970s. The museum opened in the year 1971. A gruesome display case at the end of the prison cells shows the clothes that were worn by the two women Bule and Persefoni, who were hanged by the Germans in the year 1944. You may also gain access to the roof of the prison, by walking up the ramp that is located to the right of the main gate.
The American Airplane
The remains of a United States Air Force T33 Shooting Star are exhibited on the ramparts overlooking the city. The airplane was forced to land at Rinas Airport, near Tirana in December 1957 due to technical problems.
The stage was erected in the 1980s and has for some years been the home of the Albanian National Folk Festival, held every four years (last held in 2004). During the year the stage is used by the municipality on public holidays to present music and dance events. Beyond the stage is the clock tower, another of the improvements made by Ali Pasha for the castle, although it was restored in the 1980’s. Below the clock tower is the structure of a very very old church has recently been discovered, it is possible that it leads back to the Byzantine phase of fortification.
Ethnographic Museum: The Ethnographic museum is open all year round, April to September 08:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 19:00 daily and from October to March 08:00 to 16:00 Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) Admission is 200 Lekë.
The ethnographic museum is situated in the Palorto Quarter, which is the best preserved district in the old town of Gjirokastra. The Ethnology Museum nearby was in a converted traditionally built house on the site of the house where Enver Hoxha (communist dictator of Albania from 1944 to 1985) was born. The original building was destroyed in the fire in the year 1960 and was then rebuilt as a show case for the classic features of a triditonal Gjirokastra house. It has some lovely costumes and furnishings on display, and the rooms were laid out in a similar way to the Skandulli House, but it paled in comparison and lacked the soul of a house that is cherished by the family that lives in it. The museum building was constructed in 1966 after the original house was destroyed by fire. The reconstruction was designed as a model traditional Gjirokastra house with many classic features known to have been copied from particular houses around the city. From 1966 to 1991 the building served as the Anti-Fascist Museum. In 1991 the exhibits from the previous Ethnographic Museum were moved into this space. The house has four floors, all of which are open to the public.
The rooms are arranged as they would have actually been used and are decorated with numerous household items, folk costumes and cultural artifacts typical of a wealthy Gjirokastra family of merchants or Ottoman administrators living in the 19th Century.
Antigonea: Antigonea was an ancient city built in the third century BC . Its ruins are located in Albania, 14 kilometers from the town of Gjirokastra In 295 BC, the King of the Molossians, one of the three main tribes of Epirus, founded a city and named it after his wife, a princess of both the Macedonian and Egyptian royal families. The Molassian King was Pyrrhus, whose later battles against expansionist Rome would become known as “Pyrrhic victories”; his wife’s name was Antigone and the new city was called Antigonea. For more than a hundred years was a major economic and cultural center. Then, after Rome’s victory in the third Macedonian War (171 – 168 BC). Epirus was unfortunate enough to be on the route of the victorious army’s return home. Even though the Epirote State had not been involved in that phase of the war, 70 of its cities were sacked and 150,000 of its citizens were taken to Rome as slaves. Antigonea’s neatly planned streets and luxurious houses were reduced to rubble and its walls reduced in height.
In a beautiful and highly strategic setting, on a mountain side overlooking the Drinos valley, opposite Gjirokastra, Antigonea is one of the few archaeological sites of Albania which has been extensively excavated and which has good interpretive materials for the non-specialist visitor. Well designed information panels, placed at significant points throughout the the site, explain the history and function of the buildings.
The main things to see are the remaining of the city’s fortifications and the remains of several impressive buildings. The best stretches around the city walls are those around the acropolis, near the entrance to the site, and right at the other southern end, where you can see how the Romans destroyed the main gate to the city and pushed over the top of the wall. Near this gate house are the remains of a stoa (a covered walk way) which is a clear example of the Epirote dry stone building technique, using large polygonal stones. The path through the city takes the visitor past a group of houses. It was while excavating one of these houses, in the year 1968, that this site was identified as Antigonea, thanks to the discovery of a 14 bronze tessarae imprinted with the name of the city; these are thought to have been voting tokens, used in the city’s processes for making decisions. The path continues down some steps to the so called House of the Peristyle, with its colonnade which would have surrounded a garden or courtyard in the inside of the house. Note the large stone nearby with differently sized holes in it; this was for measuring out the accurate quantities of various types of food, such as oil, flour etc. – the Molossians’ Trading Standards Authority.
The city’s main street ran north – south from the acropolis to the main gate; part of it can be seen below the house of the Peristyle, while excavations in 2013 revealed another section, further to the south. In what was the center of the city – the agora – another stoa, nearly 60 meters long on two levels, was built upon an artificial terrace, above the line of the hill, so that it had a spectacular view and so that it could be seen from all over the area. Houses and workshops were built on a grid pattern around the agora, some of them with imposing columns which can still be seen. Almost at the end of the site is a palaeochristian basilica, triconch in shape with mosaic floors (normally kept covered, unfortunately), from around AD500.
Maps of the site of Antigonea are posted at the office of the archaeological park in Asim Zeneli and near the turn off in Gjirokastra, a useful leaflet, with the same map, site plans and information about the main buildings and fortifications, was produced some years ago and you might be able to get a copy of it in the tourist agency of Gjirokastro. It takes about half an hour to get to Antogonea in the car from Gjirokastra; the road sign reads “Parku Arkeologjik Antigone” from the main road, near the bus terminal. The road is asphalted all of the way to the entrance of the site. It is a beautiful drive, through beautiful scenery and past a couple of traditional villages with many attractive, small Byzantine churches. A footpath starts at the office of the site and leads over the hills to the archaeological site; at the other end, the path begins behind the site office and behind the old fountain. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to hike up to the park from Asim Zeneli.
Excavations at Hadrianopolis (Albania): The site of Hadrianopolis is located in the Drino River Valley near Gjirokastra in Albania. This city was known as Adrianopolis in Roman times and the site features a theater which could accommodate approximately 4,000 spectators. It was excavated in 1984.
The Settlement: The settlement of Hadrianopolis lies in the broadest section of the valley of the river Drin, 14km south of Gjirokaster, near the village of Sofratikë. It occupies a square area ca. 400 x 400m in size. Geophysical surveys have revealed that within this perimeter the city was planned following a regular grid pattern with streets crossing each other at right angles.
The most prominent archaeological remains uncovered so far are the theater (known from 19th century travelers’ reports, and excavated in the 70s) and a monumental public complex—including a bath with hot and cold rooms—located to the north of it. This was mostly brought to light by our team from the University of Oxford in the last two years of excavations. Remote sensing carried out by the University of Macerata has further located large peristyle houses organized around internal courtyards in the central plots of the town. A necropolis, consisting of stone-lined single graves, has been found to extend over a significant area beyond the urban limits and is presently under investigation. The buildings identified so far mostly belong to the Roman imperial and late antique periods. Pottery finds—and more recently structural remains—have nevertheless shown that the site was inhabited in the Hellenistic period.
The main phase of the settlement, which saw the construction of the theater and its adjacent buildings, can be dated to the period of Hadrian (AD 117-138). The emperor might therefore have been responsible for the promotion and embellishment of the city, within a larger attempt to organize and exploit the fertile valley of the Drin. The site enjoyed continuous habitation until at least the end of the 5th century AD, when the excavations reveal layers of destruction and a lack of archaeological materials. According to Procopius, in the course of his reorganization of the fortresses and fortified cities of the Balkans, Emperor Justinian (AD 527-565) “built the city of Justinianopolis, which formerly was called Adrianopolis” (de Aed. IV 1, 36). Since any such intervention has not been confirmed by the excavated remains, and the site is anyhow not naturally defensible, it is assumed that this Justinianic re-foundation led to the transfer of the city to a hillside location. Small scale habitation until the 7th century is still in evidence at the original site.
The name of Drynopolis and its bishopric continued to be attested throughout the Byzantine and medieval periods, and has left a permanent mark on the contemporary toponomy of the area.
In antiquity, Hadrianopolis was the main urban centre of a densely populated area, which extended along the valley of the river Drin. Extensive archaeological surveys have been carried out both in the immediate surroundings of the ancient city and further afield. Surveys in the extra-urban area west of the settlement led to the identification of an extensive necropolis. Subsequent excavations brought to light six single inhumation graves. They all consist of simple cist burials, stone-lined, covered with gabled lids. The deceased all rest on their back, with arms crossed on the chest, and are accompanied by a few modest objects. This could be due to the low status of the occupants or to the fact that the graves had been disturbed before being investigated.
In the wider surroundings of the settlement surveys brought to light a number of new archaeological sites. These new sites, together with a few previously-known settlements were all recorded in a scientific manner. Information on each site – including photographs and plans of the surveyed structures – fed a purpose-built database . GPS technology was used in establishing each site’s location and creating the baseline for a new archaeological cartography of the entire valley of the Drin.
Hellenistic settlements and habitation clusters seem to concentrate on the hills and the most elevated areas. They dominate the valley from above and control accesses and routes through the mountains and towards the sea. They are naturally well defensible and placed in strategic locations within the region. A good example is that of the city of Antigoneia, founded by Pyrrhus on an almost impregnable hill overlooking the settlements on the plain.
In the Roman period the focus of settlement shifts to the valley. Large and small centres are located along the course of the river, and ultimately mark the route of a major Roman road of the region, running parallel to the coast from south to north. The settlement at Hadrianopolis might
originally have been one of these centres located along the road. Probably by virtue of its favourable location it became the main centre of the area in the Hadrianic period. In the late antique period, while Hadrianopolis and all settlements along the valley are mostly abandoned, habitation returns to the uplands. This was probably an immediate reaction to the invasions of new populations from the north. The archaeological map of the Drin’s valley, where relevant information for all archaeological remains of the region is recorded, will constitute an invaluable tool which will facilitate the heritage management of the area by the Albanian authorities.
The monuments: The theater at Hadrianopolis was built in the first half of the 2nd century AD, on the basis of the archaeological finds and architectural features. It is therefore possible that its construction started at the end of the reign of Emperor Hadrian.
Among the ancient authors, Dio Cassius reports that the Emperor held an interest in buildings for spectacles, although not many theatres of the ancient world can be attributed with certainty to Hadrian. The building technique in stones and concrete, the fact that the cavea is built on an artificial structure and the structural connection between the cavea and the stage building, all belong to the Roman building tradition. The plan of the orchestra and of the cavea- larger than the semicircle – and the dimensions and shape of the stage building – narrow and almost detached from the cavea – find parallels in theatres of Greek- Hellenistic tradition in the eastern part of the empire. Elements from different architectural traditions, Greek and Roman, are mixed in the theatre of Hadrianopolis, following a pattern attested in other theatres of the region. The building underwent several modifications in its later history, and possibly was used in the Byzantine period as an urban stronghold.
In front of the theater, archaeological investigations have brought to light a large public building with a long history. On a site already in use in the last two centuries BC, a complex of rooms arranged around a courtyard was built in the 2nd century AD. Two of these rooms preserve traces of suspensurae, the piers of bricks that supported a suspended floor covering a cavity through which the hot air would flow (hypocaust). They were hot rooms of a Roman bath complex . This building opened onto an open area to the west, a large square in front of the theatre, possibly a porticus post scaenam. Thick destruction and spoliation levels mark the later phases. Onto these levels new buildings were constructed. In particular, at the turn of the 6th century, a large public building, perhaps a church , was placed in the open area in front of the theatre and the older adjacent baths underwent radical changes. This suggests a reorganization of the urban centre.
Later destruction and abandonment levels seal this brief moment in the life of the site, on top of which are to be found merely rural walls, perishable structures, and other transitory signs of life, all dating around the 7th century.
‘THE BEST SURVIVING EXAMPLE OF AN OTTOMAN TOWER HOUSE IN GJIROKASTRA’
(Prof. Dr Emin Riza, Institute of Cultural Monuments, Tirana.)
The Zekate house has no set operating hours – ask in the Tourist Information Center to arrange entry; admission is € 1.00. The neighbor has the key to let you in: the Zekate House itself is unoccupied.
The fortified tower houses – known as kullë (kullë is Turkish for tower) belonged to wealthy individuals such as administrative officials or merchants. They all follow a basic layout: a secure stone lower story topped by a wooden gallery where the principal rooms for an extended family are located. Embrasures are set in the walls to help defend against attacking enemies. The Zekate House is a particularly grand example of the typical kullë (tower-house). Constructed in 1811-1812 it has twin towers and a great double arched façade. The views of the town and the river valley below are spectacular.
There are three floors; the ground floor contains storage rooms, a high ceiling kitchen and the cistern. There is a central staircase which winds upwards through the building. The first floor has two rooms that were used as living quarters for branches of the family, while the third floor has a grand reception room and two other smaller rooms. The principal room is very typical of the grandest of these dwellings with frescoed walls, a carved ceiling and an ornate fireplace. This level would have been shared by the whole family. At the center of floor at the top of the staircase there is a wooden balcony overlooking the town. This has a raised section on which the head of the family would sit, meet his guests and watch what went on in the city below.
A leaflet giving further details on the Zekate house is available at the Tourist Information Center.
The Saint Sotire Church
The Church of St. Sotirë is open daily from 07:00 to 07:30 and 19:00 to 19:30. Sunday services are from 07:00 to 10:00. Visitors are welcome. Tours or visits outside of regular hours can be arranged through the Tourist Information Center.
Situated in the Old Bazaar district the basilica was built in 1784. The design is typical of the Orthodox style in its rectangular shape and east-west axis construction. The church, also called the Old Metropolitan, used to be the seat of the local Orthodox bishop. Typically Orthodox churches are built to represent the universe. The domed ceiling represents Heaven and is decorated with a large painting of Christ looking down upon the assembled congregation. The floor represents this world.
The main altar is raised from the floor at the top of a flight of steps as though suspended between Heaven and earth. Near the entrance, there is an icon housed in a hand-carved stand that symbolizes the divine transformation of Christ. The interior of the church was heavily damaged during the communist era. Little remains of the original murals on the rear walls. The framed icons on both sides of the altar and rear wall were painted recently by a local artist who specializes in religious art and restoration.
The hand-carved chair in the main part of the church (the nave) was originally intended for the Orthodox bishop. Decorative metal candle and incense holders, called censers, are suspended overhead. The third part of the church, the sanctuary, divides the nave by the ornately carved iconostasis. Its purpose is to restrict entry into the sanctuary by anyone other than consecrated officials of the Church. The screen has two tiers. Along the upper tier there is a collection of small framed icons, these are originals dating from the 18th or 19th century. Most of the icons in this church today are reproductions as the originals, removed during communist years, were never recovered.
The mosque in the Old Bazaar is open daily. Admission is free and visitors are welcome. The best time to visit is about 15 minutes after the five-times-daily call to prayer when the imam is present.
It is thought that the mosque was spared destruction by the communists in the late 1960s because of its status as a cultural monument. Twelve out of the thirteen extant mosques in Gjirokastra were destroyed during this period. Following the religious clamp down the mosque was used as a training hall for circus acrobats who made use of the high domed ceilings to hang their trapezes. Originally, the mosque was part of Memi Pasha’s plan for the New Bazaar that was built in the 17th century. It was destroyed by fire in the following century.
The octagonal-shaped building on the west side is used for the ritual washing of hands and feet before the faithful enter. According to religious custom women pray separately from the men and have their own entrance. The area underneath the entrance portico used to be occupied by shops. Money collected from the merchants was a source of income to support the maintenance of the mosque.
The largest room inside the main door is used for prayer. The indentation in the opposite wall is the mihrab, where the imam stands oriented towards Mecca, the direction to which Muslims turn when they pray.
The small staircase (Minbar) to right of the imam’s place is where he delivers his weekly message during the midday Friday prayers. Access to the minaret, which has 99 steps and represents the 99 names of God as given in the Qu’ran, it’s in the corner.
Nearby you will see a yellow building that looks a bit like a mosque with its domed roof. This two storey octagonal building, constructed in 1727, used to be a Bektashi tekke. It was closed down during the communist period. Today it is a madrasah (Muslim school).
Remains of Meçites Mosque, Hamam and the Seven Fountains
The Seven Fountains are built into the foundations of the Meçites mosque, originally known as the mosque of Hadji Murad (Murad the pilgrim). The sound of the running water can be heard at some distance and you will hear it as you approach. The remains of the minaret tower are immediately to the right of the fountain. Destroyed by the communists a house now stands on the mosque’s original foundations. Walk down the three steps to see the remaining fountains, some of which are still in operation, with their beautiful accompanying dedicatory inscription. In these fountains the faithful ritually cleansed themselves before attending prayers in the mosque. On the other side is a Hamam, a traditional Turkish bathhouse, currently closed and awaiting restoration. The roof of the Hamam has been recently repaired by the Gjirokastra Conservation and Development Organization.
Partisan Heroines: Situated in the main square is a stone monument depicting two young women standing heroically with nooses around their necks. The Monument pays tribute to two teenage girls, Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokëdhima, who were partisans during World War II and were hanged by the Nazis in 1944.
To the right of the Çajupi Hotel there is a monument recently built by the Municipality in honour of three renowned people from Gjirokastra, all of them have been awarded the status of Honorary Citizen. They are: Eqerem Çabej, the philologist; Ismail Kadare, the novelist; and Musine Kokalari, a writer and co-founder of the Albanian Social-Democratic Party in 1943. Musine Kokalari spent 37 years in prison during the communist regime and died a forsaken death in northern Albania.
Monument to commemorate Çerçiz Topulli: Situated in the main square (named after him) it was erected in 1934 and is by the great Albanai realist sculptor Odise Paskali. Çerçiz Topulli and his brother Bajo were from one of the best known families in Gjirokastër. In 1908, they were at the head of a unit of patriotic rebels who fought against the Ottoman occupation. Two of the members of their unit assassinated the Turkish bimbash, the Gjirokastra police chief. If you look closely you will see a bullet hole which was inflicted by an Italian soldier during the occupation of the 2nd world war.
The Obelisk: This monument, known as “Mëmëdheu ABC”, pays tribute to Albanian education in the 20th century. There are breathtaking views of the city from the Obelisk, especially of the old town districts of Varosh (below), Palorto (on the hill toward the right) and Dunavat (higher on the hill toward the left). The Obelisk is adjacent to the area in which the first Albanian school opened in Gjirokastra in 1908. Under the Ottoman occupation Albanians were not permitted to have their own schools, and so this was a very dangerous enterprise at the time for the teachers who dared to work there. This is also where one of the most remarkable sons of this city, Eqerem Çabej, used to live. Today the building houses the Gjirokastra Conservation and Development Organisation.
Libohovë is a town and a municipality in southern Albania. Libohovë is dominated by an impressive fortress, Libohovë Castle. In addition it has a pleasant and leafy main street with extensive views looking west across the Drino valley. To reach the town travel approximately 15 km south from Gjirokastra, take the sign-posted road to the east across the valley; this takes one directly to the town. Libohovë is nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The region forms also part of the Zagori Regional Nature Park located in Zagori region.
The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century. It is the home of a well-known Albanian noble family who share their name with the town. Prior to the communist era they held considerably sway over the country’s politics.The castle is a substantial fortress with four polygonal corner towers and a curtain wall surrounding a wide courtyard. The sister of Ali Pasha of Tepelenë, Shanica, married one of the most important members of the Libohovë family and the castle was the dowry that Ali Pasha presented to her. It is possible to visit the grave of Ali Pasha’s sister; you will need to ask in the town for directions.In the town centre is a beautiful old plane tree around which a bar-restaurant has been built providing a very pleasant place for refreshments. Also in the centre is the house of Myfit Bey Libohovë (1876–1927), a renowned politician, the first Minister of Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs serving on the new Albanian Government of 1912. The building can be easily identified as it is bigger and rather more impressive than the rest of the neighbourhood.
‘Ali Pasha’ Bridge
Known as Ali Pasha’s bridge, this is in fact is the only remaining span of what, in the early 19th century was an extensive network of aqueducts. Built by Ali Pasha of Tepelenë, the aqueducts fed the castle’s cisterns from springs under Mount Sopot over 10 km away. The hike up to see the bridge, which is high up in the Manalat district, will take you about two hours starting from the Tourist Information Center (where directions can be obtained). Although much of the walk is through the city’s lanes, there is a 10 to 15 minute stretch along rough mountain paths. It is recommended that you wear hiking boots or stout shoes and take a hat and sunscreen as there is little shade at any time of the day.
THE HISTORY OF GJIROKASTRA
The early history of Gjirokastra is relatively unknown. Due to the proximity of the Hellenistic settlement Antigonea (near Jermë) and the Roman city of Hadrianopolis (close to the village of Sofratike) it has frequently been assumed that the medieval fortress represents the first occupation of the site. However this has now been challenged by the results of excavations within the fortress that have revealed ceramics from four different phases of occupation before the Ottoman period: 5th -2nd-centuries BC, 5th -7th-centuries AD, 9th -10th-centuries and 12th -13th-centuries. The earliest of these phases also produced evidence of substantial block-built walls suggesting that there was a significant fortification on this side of the Drino valley in the pre-Roman period (before about 168 BC).
Gjirokastra first enters into Albanian history in the year 1336, in the memoirs of John Cantacuzenus. He was the son of the governor of the Morea, the Byzantine province in the Greek Peloponnese, and would later become Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus. In the 15th century it was besieged and then captured by the Ottomans, but unlike most other hitherto Albanian towns, Gjirokastro flourished under its new rulers. It was the administration center of a province (sanjak) covering the whole area that is known today as central and southern Albania, Gjirokastra became a major trading center.
By the 17th century, the city of Gjirokastra had 2000 houses, and the bazaar was also constructed in this period of time. Later, it was burned down by fire and the shops and the other buildings which remain in Qafa e Pazarit date from the early 20th century. Most of the large, traditional houses were built in the first half of the 19th century.
In the 20th century, the city of Gjirokastra produced two well known sons. Enver Hoxha was one of the leaders of the partisan resistance in World War II and continued to govern Albania for 41 years, until the date of his death in April 1985. The house in which he was born in 1908 is now the ethnographic museum, and also a brilliant example of the architecture of Gjirokastro. Ismail Kadare is the only Albanian writer who is at all well known in the English speaking world; he stayed in Albania until the late 1990, in this year, he left Albania and moved to France, where he still spends most of his time. Other local heroes are Cerciz Topulli, who led an uprising against the Ottomans in the year 1908 and whose statue stands in the middle of the square that has been named after him, and the two young women who are commemorated with a monument in the same square, Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokedhime, who were both hanged by the Germans on suspicion of being partisans.
Gjirokastra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2005. It had been awarded with the status of a “museum-city” by the Albanian government in 1961, which gave legal protection to its architectural heritage and kept new buildings out of the historical center. Thanks to this and no doubt to the steep cobbled streets, the city has kept its charming atmosphere.
‘It was a steep city, perhaps the steepest in the world, which had broken all the laws of town planning. Because of its steepness, it would come about that at the roof-level of one house you would find the foundations of another; and certainly this was the only place in the world where if a passer-by fell, instead of sliding into a road-side ditch, he might end up on the roof of a tall house. This is something which drunkards knew better than anyone.’
Ismail Kadare, Kronikë në Gur (Chronicle in Stone), Onufri 2000
USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT GJIROKASTRA
Situated in southern Albania, very close to the border of Greece, Kakavia. The austere and beautiful the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Gjirokastra started to grow, down the hill from the castle in the 13th century.
The castle still broods on the hill above the city, overlooking the whole city and the river valley below. Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking an historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains. This ‘city of a thousand steps’ comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive stone roofs, wooden balconies and whitewashed stone walls. Gjirokastra is a large town, that aids many of the smaller towns like Permet and Tepelene.
Travelling to Gjirokastra in Albania
Gjirokastra is located in the south of Albania, on the eastern face of the Mali i Gjere mountain range (See the mountains of Albania) It is located just 234 kilometers away from Tirana, the capital of Albania, 31 kilometers away from the Greek border of Kakavia; and just 56 kilometers away from the popular tourist destination of Saranda (the sea port that connects southern Albania to the Greek island of Corfu). The citizens of most European countries are not required to have a VISA upon entering Albania, an ID card or European passport is enough. For any information regarding VISAs or legal issues, please visit “www.mfa.gov.al“.
Arriving by air: All flights to Albania go straight to Rinas (the Mother Teresa) airport which is located just outside of the capital city of Tirana. An other way to fly to Albania is to fly to the Greek island of Corfu and then take the ferry to Saranda, then a bus or a taxi to Gjirokastra. You could also fly to Ioannina which is located in Northern Greece, just 90 kilometers away from Gjirokastra and then take a Greek taxi to the border crossing at Kakavia, then an Albanian taxi to the center of Gjirokastra. There is also a daily bus service leaving from Ioannina at 6.00 a.m. each morning. This bus leaves from exactly outside the main bus station (KTEL) of Ioannina and the fare to Gjirokastra is about 20 Euros.
Arriving to Gjirokastra by sea: There are many international ferry services to three Albanian ports: The port of Durres and the port of Vlora have every day, regular ferry services from Italy and the port of Saranda has regular connections with the Greek island of Corfu. From Corfu, there are various hydrofoils and ferry boats that regularly travel to Saranda in the summer, the ferry boats also travel in the winter time but the hydrofoils stop due to the winter weather in Greece. The tickets for the ferry boats or hydrofoils can be bought at the small kiosk inside the port of Corfu. For more information about the timetables and prices, please visit www.finikas-lines.com. There are buses from Saranda to Gjirokastra every hour during the day and the journey lasts for an hour.
Travelling to Gjirokastra by road: The location of Gjirokastra is right upon the main high way that leads from the north of Albania to the south of Albania and then to the Greek border of Kakavia. The highway from Tirana to Gjirokastra goes as follows: Tirana, Durres, Kavaje, Rrogzhine, Lushnje, Fier, Levan, Tepelene and then Gjirokastra. In your own private car, this journey will take about 3,5 hours to travel the 215 kilometers as the roads are not all in a good condition and speeding is quite dangerous. By bus, this trip will take 4-5 hours, depending on how many stops the bus makes on the way.
In the capital city of Albania, Tirana, the buses leave from a few different locations, depending on the destination, there are no main bus stops near the center of Tirana. Buses from Tirana to Gjirokastra depart from the “Shqiponja” square, which is on the exit road towards Durres. Our best advise for you is to ask a taxi river where the departure point is after you tell him where you want to go to. A taxi from the center of Tirana to the departure point will only cost you 300 – 400 lek (2-3 Euros) whereas the bus fare from Tirana to Gjirokastra is 1000 lek per person ( 9-10 Euros).
DISTANCES FROM GJIROKASTRA
Gjirokastra – – Vlora: 145 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Tirana: 215 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Tepelene: 32 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Permet: 62 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Shkodra: 302 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Saranda: 56 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Pogradec: 234 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Peshkopi: 393 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Korce: 195 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Fier: 108 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Berat: 110 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Erseke: 150 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Durres: 192 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Elbasan: 200 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Delvine: 45 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Tropoja: 415 kilometers
Gjirokastra – – Butrint: 75 kilometers
The tourist information office of Gjirokastra is located in the very center of the city, in the square of “Cerciz Topuli” (where the road to the castle begins) and the tourist information office can offer useful, free information on sightseeing and attractions in Gjirokastra, accommodation and hotels, restaurants, local events and entertainment, maps, guides and other leaflets about the UNESCO World heritage town of Gjirokastra.
Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing center for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time. A visit to the vast 13th-century castle brings the adventurous tales of medieval rulers and communist atrocities alive. There is much to see in Gjirokastra and the surrounding areas, and a stay in bed and breakfast accommodation in one of the converted Ottoman houses can make an excellent base for exploring the region. We hope this website will provide all you need to be inspired to visit Gjirokastra.
One of the best restaurants that is highly recommended by www.2-albania.com in Gjirokastra is the Ndrico restaurant.
Ndrico restaurant is located about 7 kilometers away from Gjiorkastra on the main road leading from Gjirokastra towards the Greek border of Kakavi in the area known as Dervican.
The service is brilliant!, the staff speak both Greek and English, the food is delicious and free, high speed WiFi is offered in all areas.
Taxi service in Gjirokastra: Taxis can be found at any point of the city. The cars are usually grey and have a taxi (light – sign) on top of the vehicle, however there are also many taxis that do not yet have this sign. Please agree on the price for the destination before you get into the taxi as to avoid misunderstandings or abuse of the price later on.
Car rental in Gjirokastra: The main car rental offices are located in Saranda, however they also cooperate with Gjirokastra and you can rent a car in Gjirokastra. Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org in advance, if you wish to rent a car in Gjirokastro.
Foreign currency exchange / money transfers: Various agencies in Gjirokastra offer many services such as foreign money exchange, money transfers and worldwide deliveries, these agencies can be trusted, but you can also find these same services at the various banks in Gjirokastra.
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
PHOTO GALLERY OF GJIROKASTRA
MAP OF GJIROKASTRA