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Albania: Gjirokastër Castle

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Gjirokastër Castle | Albania | Europe

[Visited: August 2012]

It seemed a good idea to break our long journey from Berat to Saranda by stopping over in Gjirokastër. Riding the local morning bus from Berat offered us good views of the landscapes of southern Albania, and by the time we got off in Gjirokastër, the sun was shining mercilessly on our heads. Moreover, we found ourselves a little outside the city, had all our luggage with us: the castle we wanted to visit seemed far away. Inevitably, taxi drivers jumped on us, and we ended up being driven right to the entrance of the castle in one of the countless old Mercedes cars. The woman of the ticket booth allowed us to drop our luggage leaning against an old stone wall, provided us with a leaflet, so we were free to visit the castle, the oldest foundations of which are dated back to the 4th century BCE, and which was further extended in the 13th and 18th century.

Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): The Gallery with cannons of the Italians on the right, and Germans on the left

Directly as we turned the corner, we found ourselves in an arched gallery with a high ceiling and stone walls, and cannons sticking out of the niches on both sides. These were trophies of the First and Second World War: to our left, German cannons, and to our right, Italian ones. At the end of the gallery, we found an old Fiat tank and a sculpture representing a partisan fighter, before we stepped into the open air again. We were now on a terrace with trees on our right, and good views of the City of Stone Houses below. Moreover, we found a circle of cannons of the Ali Pasha era, and a little further on, what must be the most curious item on the entire castle: a US fighter jet. The Hoxha regime claimed that the plane was used as a spy plane and that it was downed by the Albanians, but it is likely this was propaganda and that the plane suffered a mechanical failure and made an emergency landing. In any case, seeing the wreck of a US fighter plane on the centuries old walls of this castle is special.

Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Ruins on top of the hill where the castle was built

Passing through another building, we reached the ruins of what once had been the Ottoman prison, and reached a more open area of the castle. It was here that the Albanian flag was raised in 1912 when independence was declared: the red flag with black eagle of Albania still flies. A stage here is used every five years for performance of the Albanian folk festival. To the left, the iconic clock-tower marks the highest point of the castle; even while the clock has stopped running a long time ago, the restored tower is one of the most recognizable elements of the castle. In fact, walking the trails over the ruined walls and buildings, a lot is left to the imagination of the castle, and there are no signs of efforts to restore the extensive fortification to its former glory. Destruction by wars has done a lot of damage, and nature is slowly but surely eating away at the tired stone walls of this castle.

Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): US fighter jet that was used for propaganda in the Hoxha era on display on the castle of Gjirokastër
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): The clock-tower is the most prominent feature of the castle
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Looking into the wall of the castle where market stalls were once functioning
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Stone walls rising high from the rocky hill on which the castle is built
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Stone walls with an arched ceiling are the features of the Gallery of the castle
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Stone walls in the castle of Gjirokastër
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Stairway to heaven inside the castle of Gjirokastër
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Looking at a building of the castle of Gjirokastër from below
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Hiking trails on the ruins of the castle of Gjirokastër
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Circle of cannons of Ali Pasha on display outside the castle of Gjirokastër
Picture of Gjirokastër Castle (Albania): Old Italian Fiat tank on display in the castle of Gjirokastër

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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