"A quiet beauty" Top 5 Page for this destination Gjirokaster by mikey_e

Gjirokaster Travel Guide: 108 reviews and 268 photos

A fight to the end...

I came to Albania on a day trip from Ioannina and I knew that I wanted to see Gjirokaster. With only a couple of hours to see as much of the country as I possibly could, I was looking for the most characteristic and historic place near the border that I could find, and Gjirokaster fit that bill. The Albanians don't seem to think much of the town, but there is a bit of a typical disconnect between the Albanian mentality and the developed one. Albanians were more impressed by the modernity and development of Sarandė, and that is wholly understandable for a country that frequently jockeys for the "poorest country in Europe" tag with Macedonia and Moldova. Westerners may find it a bit difficult to convince their guides that the historic beauty of Gjirokaster is truly unique. On the other hand, Albanians may simply wish to play down the significance of Gjirokaster, whose native sons include Enver Hoxha, the isolationist dictator who ruled Albania with an iron grip for most of the post-War period. Perhaps it is better to simply stress your interest in its other native son, Ismail Kadare, the world-famous Albanian writer, and keep off the topic of Hoxha.

Expectations met and exceeded

I had an idea of what Albania would be like, both physically and culturally, from meeting many Albanians abroad. I wasn't at all disappointed and, indeed, my breath was taken away by the brooding beauty of everything I saw, but particularly of the town of Gjirokaster. The dark grey stone that is so characteristic of the buildings (even the picture on the front of Colloquial Albanian from Routledge has such a structure) was everywhere in Gjirokaster. Although there was a busload of Japanese tourists (oddly I met them again on the road from Ioannina to Thessaloniki) the town maintained its sleepy character and it really felt like nothing changes in Gjirokaster, despite regimes coming and going and the encroachment of modern development as close as Sarandė.

A place for reflection

So many of the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe put their past on display - either as a lesson to the young of the value of democracy and respect for individual rights and freedoms, or as a sort of campy throwback to the days of uniforms and discipline. Gjirokaster had little of that, even if some of the city's history was on display at the castle. This was a city near Hoxha's imaginary frontline and it is not hard to find bunkers everywhere in the hills around Gjirokaster. Perhaps the complete isolation of the Hoxha years, combined with his odd mix of atheist nationalism and Maoism, has resulted in a people who prefer to simply let sleeping dogs lie. There are still some of the Communist-era monuments standing in Gjirokaster, but they go as unnoticed as the religious ones from Albania's pre-war history. The city lends itself to much reflection of the resilience of humanity and the profound effects government and ideology can have on our lives.

  • Last visit to Gjirokaster: Jun 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (6)

Comments (3)

  • nickandchris's Profile Photo
    Jan 6, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    Looks a delightful place with beautiful architecture.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Aug 7, 2009 at 3:25 PM

    Thanks for the insight into a little bit of Albania. It looks interesting to me, different, and worth a visit. Thankgoodness your driver did stop for you!

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Sep 7, 2007 at 7:57 PM

    Too bad you could not stay longer in Gjirokaster ! Yes, on weekdays it is busier that what you have seen !


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