Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra is a city located in southern Albania with a population of approximately 43,000. Its old town is noted on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, those of a citadel town built by notable landowners.” Gjirokastra is situated in the Drino river valley. The city is overlooked by the castel of Gjirokastra. This city is the birthplace of former Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha and notable writer Ismail Kadare. The city appears in historical record in A.D. 1336 by its Greek name, Argyrokastro (Argyrus), under the Byzantine administration of the Despotate of Epirus. From 1386 to 1418 it was the capital of the Principality of Gjirokastër under Gjon Zenebishi, before falling under Ottoman rule for the next five centuries. Taken by the Greek Army during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), on account of its large Greek population, it was eventually incorporated into the newly independent state of Albania in 1913 and was definitively awarded to Albania in 1921. As a fine example of Ottoman style architecture, this “City of a thousand steps” comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive “tule,” turret roofs, wooden balconies and whitewashed stone walls. 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 alike. Also known by many as the “City of Stone,” Gjirokastra is a developing center for cultural heritage tourism. A walk through its network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time. A visit to its vast 13th century castle brings adventurous tales of medieval rulers as well as providing context to Albania’s period of Communist rule. The castle contains a military museum featuring captured artillery and memorabilia of the Communist resistance against German occupation, as well as a captured United States Air Force plane to commemorate the Communist regime’s struggle against the imperialist powers. The northern part of the castle was turned into a prison by King Zog’s government (1928-1939) and housed political prisoners during the communist regime. Visitors can also visit the Ottoman bazaar and neighboring mosque, which dates from 1757.