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The Castle of Gjirokastra resides in a dramatic location, on the hilltop overlooking the city. It gave a nifty vantage point to witness the changing tides of Albanian history across the centuries.
When the fog falls over Gjirokastra, the Castle of Gjirokastra is all that can be seen, rising majestically over the city. Like a giant ship made of stone, it extends across the 1100-foot-high hillside on which it was built during the 4thcentury. A monument to nearly two thousand years of Albanian history, this castle is nowadays one of the most visited places in Albania.
The namesake of this castle is Argjiro, dedicated to the legend of the princess who fell from its heights to her death in order to escape the Ottoman enemies. For centuries, this castle has been witness to the long and ruthless journey of the Albanian people’s struggle for independence. The phases of this journey manifest themselves in the many changes this castle has seen since the Ottoman conquest, at the end of the 14th century, up to the early 1800s and the times of King Zog’s.
The leader of Janina, Ali Pashë Tepelena, is responsible for the construction of the Clock Tower in the 1800s. During the First and Second World Wars, the castle was transformed into a shelter for the city’s inhabitants against airstrikes. At the entrance of the castle, you find a large array of cannonballs, as well as an assortment of weapons, collected from antiquity up to the First and Second World Wars, all used as resistance to Western occupation.
This space also preserves the infamous prison built in 1932 by King Zog, used by his and all subsequent regimes, including the Fascists, Nazis, as well as the Communist regime, up until 1968. This prison became a museum in the 1970s. Residents of Gjirokastra still recall the cries of torture coming from the so-called “prison of the seven windows”, and the walls still bear the inscriptions of those condemned within. One of the most interesting modern curiosities exhibited in this castle is the American two-seater aircraft. It was forced to land near Tirana in 1957, as it was considered to be a spy plane. At the time of the Cold War, this event marked a triumph over the West and thus, the aircraft merited a place in the castle exhibitions.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The castle has its bright and cheerful side too! Every four years, the National Folklore Festival of traditional Albanian song and dance takes place on the field on top of the castle’s roof. There are many other annual festivals as well, that take advantage of this grand space and spectacular view. Gradually, the Castle of Gjirokastra is having its beautiful revenge on those endless centuries of turmoil, and finally emerging as a haven, and a place of joy!