Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra is one of the most interesting examples of a well-preserved Ottoman merchant town in central Albania. It is built on the side of the Mali I Gjere mountain range and is a very picturesque destination, with whitewashed stone walls and Ottoman-style tower houses. The cobbled streets are steep and winding, and walking around in the town transports you back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in a bustling Ottoman market town. It is crowned by Gjirokastra Castle, the medieval citadel overlooking the city, which was used up to the 1800s and today is open to visitors.

The houses of Gjirokastra Albania are distinctive. They are typically made of whitewashed stone, giving the city the moniker "the stone city," and they usually reach from two to five stories high, with many windows. The bottom floors of these fortified stone country houses contain a well and a stable, while the upper floors contain the living quarters for the entire extended family. Many of the roofs are also covered with stones, a distinguishing mark of Gjirokastra. For an inside look at one of these houses, a visit to Zekate house is a must. The Zekate house is a grand example of a traditional tower house, with two towers, frescoed walls, and beautiful windows and furnishings. You'll have to book ahead at the tourist information center to arrange a visit.

With over 200 of these historical houses, Gjirokastra Albania has an incredibly authentic atmosphere, made more so by the flourishing bazaar which was built in Ottoman times. If you're at the bazaar, you'll also want to check out Gjirokastra Mosque, the only remaining mosque in the city, which is an imposing building of gray and white stone. Nearby, you'll find the Saint Sotire Basilica, an Orthodox church built in 1784. Although the inside of the building sustained significant damage during the Communist years, there has been some effort at restoring the beautiful icons and paintings in the interior. The church bell tower is still an imposing sight, with several floors of stone arches housing the church bells.

Gjirokastra Castle dominates the area around Gjirokastra - set on top of a grassy hill, its medieval towers and ramparts look like they came straight out of a fairytale. You can get an amazing view of the entire valley and the town. Inside you can see several pieces of German and Italian artillery dating from World War II. There is also a military museum, the National Museum of Armaments inside the Gjirokastra Castle, where you can learn more about Albania's military past, from its struggle for independence in 1912 to the end of the Second World War. A military prison, which was used during the war and also during Albania's Communist years, adjoins the National Museum of Armaments, which you can visit if you like. If you'd rather relax and enjoy the historical surroundings, a small bar is located within the castle with refreshments you can purchase before heading back down to the town to stay in one of the charming guesthouses and hotels located in Gjirokastra Albania.

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