UNESCO Tour through Albania’s Antiquity and Tradition  

The three equally magnificent and fascinating sites of Butrint, Gjirokastër and Berat have made the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, precisely because of their unquestionable contribution to the continuation of the world’s culture. The natural beauty that surrounds them only adds to their already significant appeal!

Butrint

The Butrint Complex is perhaps the most spectacular site that Albania hides in its southernmost part. Spectacular because nowhere else is there such perfect harmony between nature and ancient archeology! Butrint beautifully preserves traces of several ancient civilizations which have been under the influence of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman cultures. Well-preserved fortifications and structures, encircled by the clear waters of the Lake of Butrint, faithfully carry the history of Europe’s modern civilization into modern times. Butrint, like several of the most well-known, grand ancient sites around Europe, is a worthy carrier of such profound history.

The ancient city rises above a low hilltop, surrounded by the lake’s waters and the Vivari Channel. One of the masterpieces and must-see constructions on site is the Greek Theater, which could once seat 2500 people, built as early as the 3rd-4th centuries B.C. and impeccably preserved. Not to be missed are the beautiful walls of the 6th century basilica and its intricate, large floor mosaic, the fortifications up the hill dating back to various centuries, and the imposing Lion’s Gate (5th century A.D.) which displays the relief of a lion gnawing at a bull’s throat, an image symbolizing the city’s fierce defense. The ancient city of Butrint was first proclaimed a cultural monument shortly after the end of World War II in 1948. It was half a century later, in 1992, that Butrint was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Archeological Park of Butrint, Saranda, photo by Intoalbania

Gjirokastër

In 2005, UNESCO expanded its list of World Heritage Sites by adding the southern town of Gjirokastër and its particular architecture made of stone. In addition to its many cultural and historical attributes, the institution considers the architecture of this medieval Albanian town as most representative of the Ottoman period. The town lies in the valley of the Drino River and its beautiful traditional house-museums date back to the 17th century. In the city, you will also find the imposing Gjirokasër Castle, a construction of the first half of the 14th century whose existence gave the town its ancient Greek name of Argyrocastron, meaning the silver castle. Indeed, due to the stone roofs on the hundreds of houses built on the slopes of multiple hills, the town magically retains the appearance of being coated in silver. Other must-see sites of the town include the old ottoman Bazaar, several beautiful Byzantine churches as well as Ottoman mosques. As you enter its realm, you feel that much of the world has passed through this “City of Stone”.

Gjirokastër

View of Gjirokastra from the castle, photo by Intoalbania

Berat

Located in central Albania, Berat is a traditional Albanian town which testifies to the coexistence of a multitude of religions in the country. Situated high atop a hill, the Berat Castle dominates over this town, with its characteristic houses situated in two neighborhoods built on two separate hills, mirroring one another from across the Osum River. Though Berat has been inhabited since ancient times, its cultural heritage is marked by the two characteristic neighborhoods of Mangalem and Gorica, and the third quarter called Kala (Castle), the latter being a still-functioning residential space within the medieval castle walls. These are some of Berat’s cultural assets which, in 2008, gave this small characteristic Albanian town the status of a protected site by UNESCO.

Berat’s several cult objects from different periods are particularly fascinating, as well. This town, more than others in the country, has preserved its Christian tradition through the long Ottoman period. Located inside a beautiful church within the Kala neighborhood, the National Iconographic Museum “Onufri”, named after the most famous Albanian artist of iconography, exhibits masterful art from the Byzantine period. Churches, mosques, and masjids, are scattered in strategic points among the town’s monumental houses. The most noticeable and stylish element in the entire town are the symmetrical windows on the houses which lend the town a rare visual harmony, giving it its famous name of “The City of a Thousand Windows.”

Berat

Traditional houses in Berat, photo by Intoalbania

By: IntoAlbania

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