Located in southern Albania, Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking a historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains. This ‘city of a thousand steps’ comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with charestone 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.
The city of stone is an important UNESCO heritage site of Albania, as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate.” Known as Argyrocastro, as part of the Byzantine Empire, later fell into the ruling of the Ottoman Empire for five centuries.
Gjirokastra preserves intact its urban scheme. It consists of several neighborhoods built on rough terrain, which surround the castle. Each building in the city has special features associated with the terrain on which they are built. By categories, are distinguished the castle, the bazaar, religious buildings and residential homes.
The castle, which is the core of the city, had military functions and control all of the Drina valley. It was built in the 13th century, from 1811 to 1812 and further expanded by Ali Pasha when he built some roads and developed a water system for the time. It used to supply with drinking water from a natural source.
The castle has three main gates and is kept in good conditions.
The Bazaar, located in the city center, on the side of the castle, preserves the best features of a traditional bazaar with consecutive buildings and paved with black stones. It was originally built in the northeastern side of the castle. A bonfire of the 17th century destroyed it completely, but was later reconstructed. Solid constructions made in stone are located in the form of parallel arrays, a pattern commonly found in the entire Balkans region.
Houses of Gjirokastra show a special typology of Albania and Balkan of the late Middle Ages. They have played an important role in the physiognomy of the city. These houses witness the evolution of the city from the time they were built. Special protection features resemble to “Kulla” (Tower) and some examples and variants are found. In the first floor the family resides during the cold season. The second floor is inhabited during the warmer months of the year.
In order to adapt to the rocky terrain, Gjirokastra’s houses expand in volume from one floor to another, which creates an uneven structure between floors. The walls are decorated with floral ornaments and decorations (flowers, weapons, etc.). These houses are distinguished mainly for the perfect connection to the land on which they are built, the functional differentiation between floors, highlighting their defensive characteristics and functional settings. These contructions have stone roof tiles, in perfect harmony with the rocky landscape of the territory where they rise.
Gjirokastra is the birth town of the former communist dictator, Enver Hoxha and several times Nobel-candidate, the writer, Ismail Kadare. The latter has written many books, novels and short stories about the city, capturing the magical feeling of it.
|Languages spoken||Albanian, Greek, English, Italian|
|Currency used||Lek, Euro, Dollar|
|Area (km2)||469.25 km2|