Introducing the historic Albanian city of Gjirokastër.
Photo by ShkelzenRexha
Gjirokastër (alternatively known as Gjirokastra) is one of the highlights of the Great Balkan Ride. Located in Southern Albania, Gjirokastër offers a rich past, picturesque stone architecture, and fantastic views. Not only is the city a UNESCO world heritage site, but it was also the birthplace of two of the most famous Albanians ever. Here is what you need to know, and some great pictures too!
History of Gjirokastër
There have been people living on the site of Gjirokastër for thousands of years. Records show it was a Greek city named Argyrokastro, almost a thousand years ago, but it gained prominence during Ottoman rule. It was during this time that the famous stone houses were built.
Gjirokastër fortress looks over the town, and offers amazing views. Dating to before the 12th century, the castle was modernised by Ottoman rulers in the early 19th century, and then transformed into a prison by Albanian King Zog in 1932. There is now a worthwhile museum, informing visitors of the fortress’s use as a prison by both Zog and the later communist regime.
Buildings of Gjirokastër
The beauty of Gjirokastër lies in its location, cobblestone streets, and hillside houses. However, several buildings are worth mentioning, particularly the bazaar quarter. At the center of this is Gjirokastër mosque, pictured above, which was built in 1757. The old Ottoman tower houses are also worth visiting: the oldest, Zekate House, was built in 1812.
Gjirokastër is famous as the home for two of the most prominent Albanians of the 20th century. It was the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the leader of communist Albania from 1944 till his death in 1985. His connection to the town partly explains how well preserved it is. His brutal rule means that he is not commemorated in the town, but his former houses has been transformed into the Ethnographic museum. The second famous resident is Ismail Kadare, the prominent novelist, who wrote about Gjirokastër in Chronicle in Stone.