Gjirokastra (alb. Gjirokastër) - situated in southern Albania, Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking an historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains.This 'city of a thousand steps' comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive stone 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. Its old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as "a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate."
Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing centre for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time. A visit to the vast 13th-century castle brings the adventurous tales of medieval rulers and communist atrocities alive. There is much to see in Gjirokastra and the surrounding areas, and a stay in bed and breakfast accommodation in one of the converted Ottoman houses can make an excellent base for exploring the region.
Gjirokastra is an ancient city with traces of human habitation dating back to the 1st century BC. It is located on the slopes of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjer), overlooking the Drinos river. The city was probably founded some time in the 12th century AD around a fortress on the hillside. Under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, it developed into a major commercial centre known as Argyropolis (Silver City).
The city was part of the Byzantine Despotate of Epirus in the 14th century before passing to the Ottoman Empire in 1417. It was captured in 1811 by the Albanian-born Ali Pasha, who carved out his own semi-autonomous fiefdom in the southwestern Balkans. In the late 19th century, when the city was the capital of the sandjak of Ergiri in the Yanya vilayet, it became a centre of resistance to Turkish rule. The Assembly of Gjirokastra, a key event in the history of the Albanian liberation movement, was held there in 1880.
What to see
Streets: The old main street climbs the hilly terrain towards the old bazaar, where the paved roadways and stepped sidewalks are lined with coffee houses and restaurants.
Gjirokastra Castle: One of the biggest castles in Albania, which represents magnificent and well preserved constructions in the country. Its origins go back to the 4th century AD and it was greatly extended by Ali Pasha in order to protect the growing town. Raises high on the top of a hill, it provides the possibility for visitors to cast a glance on the most interesting landscape of the city and the nearby area and Drinos valley. The Festival of the Folkloric Arts from all parts of Albania use to be organized continually there.
National Museum of Armaments: (housed inside the castle) where various arms from the neolithic period until the Second World War are displayed.
Ethnographic Museum: In the home that was the birthplace of Enver Hoxha. The house has four floors, all of which are open to the public. The rooms are arranged as they would have actually been used and are decorated with numerous household items, folk costumes and cultural artefacts typical of a wealthy Gjirokastra family of merchants or Ottoman administrators living in the 19th Century.
Zekate house: The best surviving example of an Ottoman tower house in Gjirokastra.
Saint Sotire Church
Mosque in the Old Bazaar