Heading north from Butrint through Albania — and driving Albanian roads, or what the GPS thinks are “roads,” that’s an adventure in itself! — our next stops were at much less legendarily mysterious Ottoman-flavoured towns:
These two fortified historic centres are remarkably well preserved, and this is particularly true of their vernacular buildings. They have been continuously inhabited from ancient times down to the present day. Situated in the Balkans, in Southern Albania, and close to each other, they bear witness to the wealth and diversity of the urban and architectural heritage of this region.
Berat and Gjirokastra bear witness to a way of life which has been influenced over a long period by the traditions of Islam during the Ottoman period, while at the same time incorporating more ancient influences. This way of life has respected Orthodox Christian traditions which have thus been able to continue their spiritual and cultural development, particularly at Berat.
Gjirokastra was built by major landowners. Around the ancient 13th century citadel, the town has houses with turrets (the Turkish kule ) which are characteristic of the Balkans region. Gjirokastra contains several remarkable examples of houses of this type, which date from the 17th century, but also more elaborate examples dating from the early 19th century.
Berat bears witness to a town which was fortified but open, and was over a long period inhabited by craftsmen and merchants. Its urban centre reflects a vernacular housing tradition of the Balkans, examples of which date mainly from the late 18th and the 19th centuries. This tradition has been adapted to suit the town’s life styles, with tiered houses on the slopes, which are predominantly horizontal in layout, and make abundant use of the entering daylight…
The highlight of Berat is the Berat Fortress whose gate you see above — there’s actually a community still living within the fortified walls, along with great views of the valley, churches and various historical relics:
The town itself looks pretty much like any other Albanian town to our eyes, but we did pretty much just drive through on the way to the fortress and head straight to Gjirokastra (also known as Gjirokaster, anglicizations are flexible in these parts):
That’s got much more of a quirkily medieval feel to it, with the steep cobbled streets everywhere and the mosque reaching for the sky, doesn’t it?
The streets fill up with tourists and bazaars during the day, but if you wake early enough, you can get a shot of just one early riser walking the cobbles as the sun rises behind the town castle:
Definitely an interesting mix of Orthodox and Ottoman influences, these towns; absolutely make at least one of them a stop on your Albanian wanderings!