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While it is quite the hard task to step away from the beaches of the Albanian Riviera, even for a moment, there is even more beauty worth exploring in this area. You get to keep the view of the shimmering Ionian as you explore the beautiful Albanian castles around the cities of Vlora and Saranda. These cities store the great ruins of antiquity and the middle ages, a rich history that is found in each of the castles listed below.
Built on top of a hill, 379 meters above sea level, the Kanina Castle offers a rare panorama of the bay of Vlora and the entire city. This fortress evolved as an inhabited fortified center during the Hellenistic period (4th century – 2nd century B.C.) and continued to develop throughout the Roman period. Thanks to its reconstructions in the middle ages, this fortress managed to have an uninterrupted life until the 18th century. As such, some of the most important historical periods of Albania can be traced in the ruins of this fortress. The castle was one of the places that hosted Skanderbeg’s historical wedding to Donika Araniti, who originated from Kanina.
It is impossible to become fully acquainted with the southern village of Himara without visiting the place where its memory is stored: the Himara Castle. Beautifully surrounded by the Ceraunian Mountains in the north and the spectacular Ionian Sea in the south, the castle offers a rare journey into Albanian history and breathtaking nature. In antiquity, the city was known by the name of Chimera. Its fortification began during the 8th century B.C. and, while it was restored various times, its most significant reconstruction occurred during the 6th century, A.D., under the rule of Justinian, emperor of the Byzantine Empire. With the castle becoming the center of the Bishopric of Himara during the 8th century, many churches were built inside and outside of it, some of them still standing and well worth seeing! The most famous one among them is the Episcopal Church (Kisha e Episkopisë), displaying a beautiful sculpture of the Albanian symbol of the two-headed eagle on one of its gates. For the map, click here.
The Porto Palermo Castle is the crown jewel of the Albanian Riviera! Built on the hill of an island, connected to the shore via a narrow man-made strip of land, this castle attracts everyone’s immediate attention thanks to its triangular shape and the three bastions built on each corner. The castle was built in 1814 at the request of Ali Pashë Tepelena, after the destruction of Justinian’s castle. During the same period, the church of St. Nicolas was built directly across the castle. The castle’s great condition and its locations atop Porto Palermo’s beautiful historic beach, that is accessible to everyone, earned it first place in the Huffington Post’s list of the 15 Undiscovered European Destinations to visit in 2018. While you are at the beach, not to miss are several haunting, abandoned buildings from the communist era in Albania.
For the map, click here.
The Borsh Castle is located on the hill of the village of Borsh, about 500 m above sea level. The castle dates way back to the 3rd – 4th centuries, B.C. In the middle ages, it was known as the Sopot Castle, and it was mentioned as early as 1192 in the memoirs of Anna Komnenos, daughter of Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos. During Ali Pasha’s rule, in the 18th century, a mosque was added to the castle which is well-preserved to this day, missing only a minaret.
Location: 3 km northwest of Borsh. For the map, click here.
If you visit Saranda, you should definitely make a stop at the Lëkursi Castle. This fortress dates back to the 16th century and is constructed in the shape of a square with two round towers sitting diagonally to one another. Its strategic position on a hill of about 300 meters in height as well as its panoramic views of Saranda, the Butrint Lagoon and even the island of Corfu, make this destination a tourist favorite. Not to mention that, inside the fortress, you will find one of the best-known bars and restaurants in Saranda which also offers the most beautiful view of the sunset.
For the map, click here.
While visiting the famous Butrint Archaeological site, don’t forget to stop at the Triangular Castle of Vivari, located at the front entrance of Butrint. The castle’s famous triangular shape is surrounded by round towers in all corners of the castle. Thought to have been built during the 13th century, this castle has been reconstructed various times in the following centuries, most famously by the Venetians and Ali Pashë Tepelena. Though one of the smaller of Tepelena’s famous castles scattered throughout the south, this fortress holds a certain Venetian charm that is worth witnessing.
For the map, click here.
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