Gjirokaster is the most important city in an area rich of Albania, in a variety of rivers, lakes, mountains and ancient monuments. It is a starting point for many expeditions to a number of impressive tourist villages, sites and locations. The city has certainly not changed over time, and it is now clearly divided into two parts: the old city up on the mountain slope, and the new city in the valley below. The magic emanating from the old houses and the citadel can hardly be challenged by anything else.
Gjirokastër is one of the most favorite tourist destinations in Albania. Its impressive Citadel full of stories and mysteries, its Old Bazaar dating back to the 17th century, its stone houses of rare architecture, its old typical neighborhoods, its tekkes and churches, and its museums and monuments make up the many-century-long and original context of a lifestyle and social structure that has been preserved to our days. Because of such values, Gjirokastër was inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List on 29 July 2005. Gjirokastra still remains a center of vivid cultural life and it is experiencing a balanced tourist development; where you can find hotels providing excellent services.2. Geographic position
Gjirokastër is in the south of Albania, on the east face of Mali i Gjerë (Broad Mountain), in a region called Southern Mountainous Region by geographers. It is 232 km from Tirana, the capital of Albania. Its nearest towns are Tepelenë to its north, Përmet to its northwest, Libohovë to its southeast, and Saranda to its south. It has a central commanding position over the Drino Valley. Gjirokastër is located right where the face of the Mali i Gjere starts to be a gentle slope over the valley.3. How to arrive
By Air: Through Mother Teresa Airport in Rinas.
By Sea: Through three ports: Durres, Vlora and Saranda.
On Land: If you come from Kosovo, you should follow this path: E-851 (Morinë-Kukës-Milot-Mamurras-Fushë Krujë-Vorë), which here, take the road to SH4 (Durrës-Kavaja-Lushnje-Fier-Ballsh-Memaliaj-Tepelenë-Gjirokastër ) [430 km]. If you come from Montenegro, you must follow this path: E-762 (Hani Hoti-Shkodër-Lezhë-Laç-Fushë Krujë-Vora), which here take the road to SH4 (Durrës-Kavaja-Lushnje-Fier-Ballsh-Memaliaj-Tepelene-Gjirokaster) [370 km]. If you come from Macedonia, could follow this path: E-852 (Qaf Thane-Librazhd-Elbasan-Peqin-Rrogozhinë) continuing after (Lushnje-Fier-Ballsh-Memaliaj-Tepelene-Gjirokaster) [230 km]. If you come from Greece, across the border in Kapshtica, must follow this path: SH3 (Kapshticë-Korçe-Erseke-Leskovik-Permet-Këlcyrë-Tepelene-Gjirokaster) [220 km]. If you come from Greece, across the border in Kakavi, must follow this path: E-853 (Kakavi-Gjirokastër) [28.4 km].4. History
It was a strange town, and seemed to have been cast up in the valley one winter’s night like some prehistoric creature that was now clawing its way up the mountainside. Everything in the city was old and made of stone, from the streets and fountains to the roofs of the sprawling age-old houses covered with grey slates like gigantic scales. It was hard to believe that under this powerful carapace the tender flesh of life survived and reproduced. Considerable volumes of walls built with big stones are evidence of important fortifications during the pre-Ottoman period. In 1419, Gjirokastër and its citadel, along with other important sites of Southern Albania, were seized by the Ottomans. In the same century, Gjirokastër became the center of an administrative unit, which included a great part of the current Albania and northwestern Greece, from Çamëria to the Mat River. The Ottoman fiscal register of 1431 shows that it then had 121 dwelling houses, which seems to have referred only to the population in the citadel. Sixteenth-century old sources mention 143 dwelling houses in the city. Their number doubled by the end of that century. The relative peaceful times within the Ottoman Empire in that period contributed to the increased number of houses to 302. Gjirokastër thrived in 1800-1830, with the construction of blocks of houses, which now have great architectural value. The Old Bazaar Quarter (Lagjia “Pazari i Vjetër”) and “Hazmurat” Quarter, erected on two almost parallel ridges, were the first characteristic traditional house ensembles. The New Bazaar was burned down in mid-19th century, and was rebuilt entirely with carved stones in harmony with the existing houses. In 1812, the city fell into the hands of Ali Pasha of Tepelenë, the famous Pasha of Yanina. Several fortification works in the citadel took place during that time, in addition to a masterpiece of engineering: a 10-kilometer aqueduct, which brought cookerable water supply from the Sopot Mountain in the southeast of the city. Following the independence of Albania on 28 November 1912, and the end of the Second Balkan War in 1913, unrests started between the Greeks, who wanted to annex the so-called Northern Epirus (Greek: Vorios Ipirios), and the autochthonous Albanians, who were defending their land. In 1961, Gjirokastër was elevated to the status of a Museum City, which basically meant that the rich architectural and cultural heritage of the city was protected by law. Entire quarters of the city were then restored and maintained.5. Population, Religion, Economy
Population The official population of Gjirokastër is 35,000, who live in a surface area of just over 4 square kilometers. Its population is a mixture of majority Albanians and minority Greeks, who live in the Drino Valley (Dropull region).
Religion The Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Bektashis live in harmony in Gjirokastër.
Economy After the political changes of the 1990s, various branches of the industry have been developed in Gjirokastër such as food processing and light industry, trade, services, agriculture, and in particular the tourism has started to be one important tourist centre for the South of Albania. And the trade, especially with Greec, plays an important role.6. Traditions and Customs
The District is famous for wood and stone processing, and stands out for the processing of dairy products and production of raki.
Tradicional clothes Women’s folk costumes are heavily decorated.
Dances In characteristic dances, dancers form a line and sing, accompanied by folk instruments.
Cooking In Gjirokastër, they have varied cooking, and serve delicious food, you will have a chance to taste the typical cooking of the area, including pashaqofte, a kind of soup with small meat balls, qifqi, a kind of cooking using rice balls cooked in a hollow frying pan. The cheese of Gjirokastër is quite famous and very tasty. In terms of drinks, the Gjirokastër people are masters of wine and raki production. The grapes raki, the delicious wine and the “Glina” mineral water provided from the water source bearing the same name – most famous among the Gjirokastër drinks, are quite remarkable.7. Place to visit
Citadel of Gjirokastër is a magnificently situated large fortress overlooking the city. It was built in the second half of the 8th. You should allow about two hours to visit it. To get there, you may start from “Qafa e Pazarit”, in the old town, and go up a winding cobble street. This is a very nice street, which has a magnificent view of the city.
The National Museum of Arms The Museum was inaugurated in 1971, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Albania. It houses a whole arsenal of weaponry used in a number of wars that were waged in these regions. The National Museum of Arms is housed in the Citadel. Opening hours: 09.00-19.00 (summertime), 09.00-17.00 (wintertime) Admission fee: ALL 100 lekë, or EUR 2 for foreign visitors.
From Gjirokastër to Libohovë Libohovë is one of the most interesting tourist attractions in the whole area. In order to get there, you will be going in the direction of Kakavijë. Nearly half way on the road leading up to the border check-point with Greece, you will be turning in the direction of the Glinë sources, on the side of the village of Nepravishtë. Libohovë is nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The archaeological finds make of it a very ancient settlement, which seemingly reached its highest development after the 17th century. The very scenic centre of the town is decorated by a 220-year old plane tree, which casts a very large shadow. It is 32 meters high, with a 220-centimeter diameter. The perimeter of the trunk is 6.9 meters, and the perimeter of the crown is as much as 80 meters. Luckily enough, the plane tree is still preserved in a very good shape. You will come to like the plane tree more after you notice a very strange phenomenon concerning the tree. The new leaves are intertwined with the old leaves, like lances aiming to pierce one another. The very cool water of the source under the crown of the plane tree makes the environment even more attractive and relaxing for any visitor.
From Gjirokastër to Tepelenë Tepelena city, is located 40 km north of Gjirokastra. You will first be driving past the popular Viro Lake, 3 kilometers north of Gjirokastër, very close to the edge of the road. The Viro Lake is a small and very attractive lake. Originally a karstic source, it was made use of to create this artificial reservoir. It is squeezed between a number of low hills and the course of the Drino River, and is surrounded by greenery. With the valley broadening out in a few kilometers, you will be able to admire the rich nature all along the river course. The Drino River waters join the Vjosë River flowing from the east, thus creating an out-of-the-ordinary broad basin. You will be driving past an area called “Uji i Ftohtë” (Cold Water) of Tepelenë. The numerous water springs coming down from the surrounding mountains add to the beauty of a forest of plane trees found there. After that comes the city of Tepelena. The castle dates back to Ali Pasha’s times and is the most important monument in Tepelenë. It was erected around the palaces that the Pasha built in 1789, and its construction was completed in 1819. In the shape of a square, it takes up a surface of 4 hectares and a half. It has two entrances, and two of its towers are still surviving. The Castle area is still inhabited by people.
From Gjirokastër to Përmet Located 60 kilometers away from Gjirokastër, Përmet and the surrounding areas may take a separate trip to visit. However, according to wish and possibilities, a quick trip may be taken following this itinerary. It is worthwhile enjoying the view of the Vjosë Valley, one of pearls of the Albanian nature. To get to Përmet, again the traveler has to take the road running northwards, in the direction of Tepelenë. Having taken to the right, the traveler has to cover the distance of a very big bridge across the river. Before doing so, you have first to cross the Gorge of Këlcyrë, a deep-running canyon covered by greenery. Next in line past this Gorge is the town of Këlcyrë, a small town with a rich history, and famous for its wine production and fruit processing. What strike the traveler once he has set foot in Përmet are the flowers. A garden taken good care of is the first sign of politeness typical of this town. Përmet is well-known across Albania for its hospitality, excellent cooking and very good drinks. A lunch by the Vjosë River and amidst flowers will be long remembered. However, if you have time and if you have the means to move around, then do ask the local people about the twelfth-century old Church of St. Mary of Kosinë, or about the eighteenth-century old Church of Leusë. You should only be self-restrained and not forget that, besides them, Përmet has also fifteen other churches, and four mosques. Of course, one day is not enough to see them all.