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.
Photo credits: Wikimedia / Diego Galli
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.
Gjirokastër is principally a commercial center with some industries, notably the production of foodstuffs, leather, and textiles. Recently a regional agricultural market that trades locally produced groceries has been built in the city. Given the potential of southern Albania to supply organically-grown products, and its relationship with Greek counterparts of the nearby city of Ioannina, it is likely that the market will dedicate itself to organic foodin the future. However, currently trademarking and marketing of such products are far from European standards. The Chamber of Commerce of the city, created in 1988, promotes trade with the Greek border areas. As part of the financial support from Greece to Albania, the Greek Armed Forces built a hospital in the city.
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In recent years, many traditional houses are being reconstructed and owners lured to come back, thus revitalizing tourism as a potential revenue source for the local economy. However, some houses continue to degrade from lack of investment, abandonment or inappropriate renovations as local craftsmen are not part of these projects. In 2010, following the Greek economic crisis, the city was one of the first areas in Albania to suffer, since many Albanian emigrants in Greece are becoming unemployed and thus are returning home.
The Gjirokastër Castle dominates the town and overlooks the strategically important route along the river valley. It is open to visitors and contains a military museum featuring captured artillery and memorabilia of the Communist resistance against German occupation, as well as a captured United States Air Force plane, to commemorate the Communist regime’s struggle against the imperialist powers. Additions were built during the 19th and 20th centuries by Ali Pasha of Tepelene and the Government of King Zog. Today it possesses five towers and houses a clock tower, a church, water fountains, horse stables, and many more amenities. The northern part of the castle was turned into a prison by Zog’s government and housed political prisoners during the communist regime.
Përmeti is a town in Albania, capital of Permet District. The population is 7,717. It is flanked by the Vjosa river, which runs along the Trebeshinë-Dhembel-Nemercke mountain chain, between Trebeshine and Dhembel mountains, and through the Kelcyra gorge.
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In 15th century Permet came under Ottoman rule and became first a kaza of the sanjak of Gjirokastra and later of the Sanjak of Ioannina. During the 18th and the 19th centuries, a Greek school was operating in the town. After a successful revolt in 1833, the Ottoman Empire replaced Ottoman officials in the town with local Albanian ones and proclaimed a general amnesty for all those who had been involved in the uprising. The artisans of the kaza of Permet held the monopoly in the trade of ‘opinga’ in the vilayets of Shkodër and Janina until 1841 when that privilege was revoked under the Tanzimat reforms. The first Albanian-language school of the town was founded in 1889–90 by teachers who worked in the local Muslim madrasah and the Greek Orthodox school. Later the Ottoman authorities forbade Muslim pupils to attend it and the school was eventually banned. In 1909 during the Second Constitutional Era, the authorities allowed the Albanian language to be taught in the local madrasah. In May 1944 the National Liberation Movement held in the town the Congress, which elected the provisional government of Albania. During the Communist era, Permet held the title of the Hero City.
Photo credits: Wikimedia / Krzysztof Dudzik
In Permet you can be a rock climber because near to the center of the town, you will notice a big rock called the rock of town looking over the town and Vjosa river. Let’s say this is the point of observation of the town. There is a famous natural spa very near to Permet, in Benja, thermal water center, considered to be one of the most curative thermal waters in Europe.
Vjosa river near Permet
Photo credits: Wikimedia / Krzysztof Dudzik
Tepelena is one of the thirty-six districts of Albania, part of Gjirokastra County. It is the principal settlement in the eponymous Tepelena District of southern Albania. It is located on the left bank of the Vjosa river, about threekilometerss downstream from its union with the Drino River.
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Its location is strategically important and there is a ruined citadel occupying a point 300 metres above the river. Ali Pasha was born at the nearby village of Becisht. In 1847, the British writer Edward Lear visited the town and noted the devastated buildings.
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Tepelena district is home to a number of water bottling companies. It is also known for a visit by Lord Byron of Great Britain during the 19th century. Such was the impression made that he wrote the poem titled “Mother Albania” depicting the natural beauty of Albania and the loyalty and fierceness of its warriors.
Vjosa river, Tepelena
Photo credits: Wikimedia