TIRANA, 9 September
Gjirokastra, in southern Albania, is an old city rich in culture, and history. It is mostly known as the city of cobbled-streets, castle or for its bazaar, but Gjirokastra has many museums too, worth-visiting. You could have a tour in the Museum of Weapons, where are displayed arms since the Age of Stone, or in the infamous prison-turned-museum, that served as such for four decades, before ceasing its function completely in 1967. Or, you could have a look in the house-museum, where the well-known Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare was born and raised. In this article, we will give you a guide to all of the museums that are in Gjirokastra, to discover more about the history of this beautiful city, which is listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
Museum of Weapons
The Museum of Weapons is unique in Albania. It was opened on 29 November 1971, with the status ‘national museum’. Its construction started in 1968, and in it, there are 750 objects, that present the historic phases of Albania. The exposed arms were collected from all over the territory and start from the Age of Stone, Copper, Iron, Middle Ages until the end of WW2. It is worth mentioning the fact the arms of the ancient times and middle ages, are an Albanian production, whereas the arms of the modern period are war trophies. At the museum could be found a unique specimen, that you cannot find in other museums, within or abroad. Exposed is also, a contingent of weapons, from the period of Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero.
Prison Museum or the Prison of 7 Windows
The prison of the city of Gjirokastra started functioning in January 1930. Data collected from the official documents, and also from the press of the time, tell that this prison was constructed with special order by King Zog I. its construction started in 1929. The stones used and all the other necessary materials were provided by the former watering system of Gjirokastra Castle. When its construction finished, it was the biggest and safest prison in Albania. For four decades it served as such during the governance of King Zog I, Italian occupation, Nazi occupation, and socialist government until 1967.
The prison has 43 cells, and two specific cells of torture were filled with water, where the prisoners stayed there for 24 hours. Outside of these two cells are written in the German language “May God be with you”. After functioning for 38 years, an order from the communist government of that time decided its closure, and then its transfer in the former inner branch of Gjirokastra county, because in the castle started the work for the construction of the Museum of Weapons.
The Museum of Gjirokastra was constructed in 2012. It presents the life and the development around the Drin Valley, from the antiquity until 1990. In this museum is explained the life of the inhabitants of ancient times, through the two cities of that period: Antigonia (Chaonia) and Adrianopoli. An important spot takes the period during the governance of Ali Pashe Tepelena, who gave the shape that has today the city’s bazaar, constructed the clock of the city, the watering system of the Castle of Gjirokastra, etc.
In this museum are presented the most important residences of the city, the time and way of their construction, history, traditions and the customs of the surrounding areas, and 11 traditional costumes for men and women, from all over the valley. Interesting is the fact that there could be found objects donated by the family, or relatives of the killed and interned people, during the communist period.
The Ethnographic Museum is located in the neighborhood called Palorto, exactly in the house where the Albanian communist dictator, Enver Hoxha was born. The museum was constructed in 1966 because the original house was destroyed from the fire. It was reconstructed following the traditional model of many Gjirokastra houses, with much cultural content, classical, that was copied by many houses in the city.
From 1966-1991, the building served as a Museum of Anti-fascist War. In 1991, in this building were transferred the exhibitions of then Ethnographic Museum. The building has 4 floors, which all of them are opened for the public to see. The rooms are made as if they are in use, and are adorned with household items, traditional costumes, artistic and cultural objects, typical for the rich families of the vendors of Gjirokastra, or the Ottoman administrators of 19th century.
When passing through all the premises of this museum, it brings back the lifestyle of the families of the city of Gjirokastra, starting from the specific use and function of the rooms, corridors, odes, pantry, closets, traditional costumes of men and women, the kitchen tools, typical handicrafts, etc.
Museum of Cold War
The Museum of Cold War (or the Museum of Communist Dictature) is located in the museum area of Gjirokastra, above the Cercciz Square. This museum was constructed at the beginning of the 1970s, during the period of the communist regime. Its function was to shelter and hide the local governing directors, in case of an army attack during the Cold War. For this reason, one of the entries to the tunnel is located near the former building of the communist committee, where now is the City Hall of Gjirokastra.
This museum was built entirely with concrete, 800 meters long. It starts from above Cerciz Square, under the Castle of Gjirokastra, it traverses the whole characteristic square. The tunnel is made up of 50 rooms, a meeting room, work and resting premises, electric central, even storage for the supply of drinkable water. Its premises are visited by a big number of tourists that are having an increase each year. Because of its location, but also the history the museum has become a tourist attraction for local and foreign tourists.
The House-Museum Kadare is the building where the well-known Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare was born and raised. The museum opened its doors for the public, on 28 January 2016. The house-turned-museum dates back since 1799 and was reconstructed after the accidental fire of 1999, according to the description made by Kadare. The project of construction was possible with the funds from UNESCO and the Albanian government.
The residence is within the historic center of the Palorto neighborhood. It has the status ‘cultural monument of the first category’, and it serves as well as a cultural center where many activities take place. The restoration has fully adhered to the original building project consisting of two floors, the pantry that is in the basement, where were held the food supply for the wintertime. This floor served also as a shelter during the bombing of WWII. On the foundations of the home is a cistern that collects the water that comes during the raining from the roofs, and is original. On the first floor, are the rooms that were used for the animals or work tools. On the second floor are the housing premises of the residence. Two big odes where the friends stayed, and two other small odes that were used by the family during the cold winter season.
Inside of the house, there are some original tools of the family, such as brazier, chest, a helmet from the Vietnam War, where Ismail Kadare was a reporter. The house-museum Kadare was made famous for the visitors, thanks to the novel ‘Chronical on stone’, described in detail by the Albanian writer.
Source/City Hall of Gjirokastra