Even on our first evening, the view of the white houses climbing up the hill, contrasting with the darkness in which they seemed to float, was striking. We had seen it before, but with the sun on the other side of the hill on which the citadel of Berat is located, we had not yet grasped its beauty. When we had looked down on the quarter of Mangalem from above during our visit to the citadel, we had noticed that there hardly seemed to be any space to move around: the roofs seemed to overlap. When we started wandering around the old Muslim neighbourhood, we could see why: the traditional white houses are built cleverly against the hill, using the natural setting of the stony slopes. The houses often have bay windows jutting out of the main walls, making the houses wider than their basement, and making the alleys even narrower than they already are.
Walking up the alleys from the relatively busy street that follows the Osum river below, the noise soon faded, and the heat was much more bearable in this shady part of town. Old women were sitting on the corner of a street, some of which were rather stone staircases, the walls of the houses were whitewashed, and so were the corners of some of the steps. Flowers embellished the appearance of the neighbourhood, making a stroll in Mangalem a pleasant exercise. Then, suddenly, the alley twists again and you find yourself on the main street again, next to the Bachelor's Mosque, so called because it was used by young, unmarried artisans and shop assistants.
Inevitably, there are several more mosques in the predominantly Muslim quarter of Mangalem; behind the biggest one Sultan's Mosque, one of the oldest in the country, we found the Helveti Teqe, of the dervish order and thus without minaret. Fortunately, someone was willing to take out the key and show us the finely painted wooden ceiling and panels of the hall of the mosque; our eyes ran over the fine work of this little gem. The next morning, we made sure to wake up before sunrise; when we looked outside, we had a great view of the picturesque appearance of the Mangalem quarter. While the first rays of the sun were falling on the white-washed houses, it was easy to see why the city of Berat is called City of windows on top of each other - where some claim it is called the City of a Thousand Windows. Another walk in Mangalem through even quieter streets proved a great way to start the day before we were off to new adventures.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mangalem (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mangalem.
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