Berat Albania

Berat Albania is one of the best-preserved Ottoman towns in Eastern Europe. Lying on the banks of the River Osum, it is surrounded by the Tomorr Mountains, making for some stunning natural scenery. Surrounded by cliffs and pine forests, the 2,000-year-old town is filled with historical buildings dating from the middle ages. On the top of the mountain, Berat Castle looks down on the town, a medieval citadel that contains several ancient churches and is still in use.

Berat Albania is known as the "white city," and the white stone houses and alleys bear distinctive testament to their namesake. These historical houses are built in a traditional style with many windows in the front, making Berat also known as the "town of a thousand windows". There are several historical districts in the town, from the old Christian quarter which houses several Orthodox churches and cathedrals, to the old mosques in town dating from the 15th century. Some mosques of note include the Leaded Mosque, whose cupolas are covered in lead, and the King Mosque, the oldest mosque in town, which has a beautifully decorated ceiling. These cultural monuments contain gorgeous Medieval Islamic art from Albania's history. The Bachelor's Mosque, dating from the 1800s, contains a good collection of Albanian folk art. As for churches, many of them date from the thirteenth century and contain examples of art by Onufri, Albania's most famous painter. The Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the Church of St. Theodore, and the Church of St. Mary are all Orthodox churches with a long history dating from the 1400s. They contain art, frescoes, and mosaics depicting religious events, many of them by Onufri and his son.

A trip up to Berat Castle will give you a spectacular view of the medieval town, the river, and the surrounding pine-covered mountains. Although much of the fortress is now in ruins, you can still see the strength of its stone walls and several churches used in the Christian fortress during Byzantine times. The site itself has been fortified since Roman times, and has been rebuilt several times in the centuries to follow. Incredibly, the fortress is so large that parts of Berat Castle are still being used to shelter inhabitants of Berat. While in the citadel, be sure to check out the Onufri Museum, located in the inner part of St. Mary's Cathedral, which has one of the best collections of Onufri's icons and religious art in Albania.

After wandering the cobbled streets and lovely white houses of the town, you might want to take a hike up around the Tomorr Mountains or down by the river. The mountains are full of character, with wisps of mists that swirl around the ancient town. It is said that the Tomorr mountain was originally a giant in love with a young girl, and that the mountain was formed when he fought with a rival and was killed. The River Osum was formed by the girl's tears.

Staying in Berat Albania is a good idea if you want to experience the authenticity of some of the Ottoman-style guesthouses and hotels. The Mangalemi Hotel, for example, is housed in a traditional Ottoman house with wood shutters and balconies, white stone walls, and delicious local meals. In town you'll be able to find a few cafes and restaurants that serve up mouth-watering traditional fare and warm hospitality.

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