A little trip. When you think about Gjirokastra in Albania, one thing above all comes to mind, stones. In Gjirokastra everything is made of stone; the houses, the roofs, even the streets and all kinds of decorations. Very famous are also the “stone masters” who have inherited and cultivated the tradition of stone carving for centuries. However, let us first concentrate on the visual impression we get. The city is located in the southeast of Albania, a mountainous area like about 70% of the country. Gjirokastra is very well connected in terms of infrastructure. It can be reached from Tirana via the expressway or from Saranda in the south, where you can enjoy a nice drive uphill. Arrived in Gjirokastra you are in a valley surrounded by high mountains. On the eastern side the river Drin flows, and on the western side you can see the fortress of Gjirokastra shining all in stone at the top of the city. You drive up a narrow street and the houses of the famous old town come closer.
A visitor attraction is the beginning of the old town, a central square named after Cerciz Topulli, the so-called Che Guevara of Albania. One walks through the narrow stone streets, which lead to the different parts of the old town. Each part as well as each street and house have its own story to tell. This city is rich in stories, tales and legends. It is first mentioned as a settlement in the 3rd century B.C., and in the further course of history it has experienced various ups and downs. It became an important Christian place in the Byzantine period and in the Ottoman period Gjirokastra was named the most important Vilayet (administrative district in the Islamic cultural sphere) in Albania. Today there are hardly any houses younger than 300 years in the old town. In many of them, the owners of the houses in the 9th or even 10th generation tell the stories of long-gone days. One of them is the legend of the princess Argjiro, to whom the city allegedly owes its name. During the siege of the Turks, it is said that she has jumped out of the highest tower of the fortress, just to avoid falling into the hands of the occupying forces. According to legend, she even survived the fall together with her lover.
Albania’s internationally famous writer Ismail Kadare dedicated a novel to this legend and her city entitled “Chronicle in Stone”. Kadare, born in Gjirokastratra, managed to sell his books all over the world even during the communist period in Albania, becoming a famous figure in the literary world, and was also nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times. Famous persons of the city are also the freedom fighter Cerciz Topulli as well as the dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled the country for more than 40 years. Hoxha’s birthplace was converted into an ethnographic museum and can still be visited today. In the old town there is also a charming bazaar, with many shops and crafts made and sold locally. Not to forget the numerous restaurants with traditional Albanian cuisine and many local specialties. Another highlight of the city are the guesthouses. Often these are old town houses that have been converted into guesthouses and are run by the landlord. And there is nothing better than the good food of the landlady. This is Gjirokastra briefly described; a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a city full of legends, often very mystical…in some parts a bit sleepy but still charming. Definitely worth a visit.