Classical Tour of Albania

Day 4 - Gkirokastra


Gjirokastra is an Ottoman town dominated by its castle


Gjirokastra is dominated by the C13 citadel and surrounded by C17th and C18th Ottoman houses tumbling down the hillside, with later development round the edges. Many factories were built during Communist times and there was mass emigration after their closure at the fall of Communism. Many buildings were left empty to decay or even collapse.

 Gjirokastra   

Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra

The town flourished under the Ottomans became the administrative centre for the area and a major trading centre. It was a planned town with mosque, shops, houses and cobbled streets. The houses housed the extended family and reflect the wealth of their owners. They were built as defensive structures against the threat of bandits. Ground floor were for storage with living quarters above with white painted walls. The stone roofs glisten after rain, giving Gjirokastra the name of ‘Silver City”.

Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra

Much of the old Bazaar was destroyed by fire in 1872 and most of the buildings in this area date from the turn of the century. It was the birthplace on Enver Hoxha which ensured the survival of the old town which was awarded the status of a Museum City in 1961. It is now a World Heritage site and many of the old houses are being restored.

The road climbs steeply to the castle. Little is known about its early history although the area seems to have been settled from the C7/6th BC. The first records are from the C14th. The first stone structures are C13th with a circuit of walls around the eastern edge of the ridge, when it was the stronghold of a feudal war lord. It was extended to the south west by the Ottomans in the C15th when it had both a military and administrative function. A mosque was built for the garrison. The castle was captured by Ali Pasha in 1812 and he was responsible for building the clock tower as well as an aqueduct bringing fresh drinking water to the castle cisterns. After his death the castle housed a small Turkish garrison.

Around 1930 King Zog had a large prison built inside the castle which was used until 1963. It was expanded after the war by the communists who used the yard for executions during Enver Hoxha’s regime.

The castle prison is now open as a museum and the castle also houses the National Museum of Armaments.
 
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