A place to visit in Albania: Gjirokastër

Gjirokastër is a small town in southern Albania. It is the capital of both the homonymous municipality and the larger Gjirokastër County. Gjirokastër is located in a valley in the southern part of the country, close to the Greek border. The city was founded in the 14th century by local lord Gjergj Elez Alia, who had built a castle in the area. It became part of the Ottoman Empire in around 1478, and by the 15th century, it had established itself as one of Albania’s major cities. The Ottoman rule over Gjirokastër lasted for five centuries.

Located in close proximity to the Greek border, it has been inhabited since ancient times, one of the oldest cities in Albania, inhabited continuously since at least the Bronze Age. The city was mentioned by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD and was named “Argyrokastron” (Silver Castle). The city was the centre of a region where a uniquely Albanian written language developed during the 14th century. The Turkish name for Gjirokastër, “Gjirokastra”, derives from the Greek “Argyrokastron.

Gjirokastër was formally founded as a city in 1826 by the Ottoman Governor of Albania, Midhat Pasha, who had been commissioned by the Sultan to develop the city. The city is located at the foot of Mount Gjirokastër, where it is believed that Saint George slew a dragon.

There is so much history in Gjirokastër

It is also said that this was the birthplace of the Albanian flag. Gjirokastër is situated in a valley, surrounded by the mountains of Shëndelli and Pashtriku to the south-west, Sopot and Shebenik to the north-west, and by Mount Tomorr to the east. To the southeast, Gjirokastër is overlooked by Tertsi.

Unesco World Heritage Site from 2005, registered together with Berat as “rare examples of the typical architecture of the Ottoman period”, this city has a small historical centre with buildings with wooden facades and slab roofs of stone, many of which had been converted into guest-houses.

The city’s architecture is dominated by a number of historic buildings, including palaces, mosques, and churches. The most significant among these is the Gjirokastër Castle, which was built in the late 13th century by Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos. It was originally known as “Castelrosso” and was used as a summer residence by the Byzantine emperors. There are also fortifications on top of the hill and an incredible bazaar that is over 300 years old. 

With the pandemic, the success of the town has stopped in a country where tourism is such a large slice of the GDP is a disaster. It will be good to visit the narrow streets of Gjirokastër and this lovely place is really looking forward to having tourists again. 


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