Today we talk about Gjirokaster or Gjirokaster, you choose! Yes, because one of the things that I did not understand during our travels in Albania are the names of the cities. In fact, I have often heard a place called with at least two different names, in addition to the Italian translation, without ever understanding which was the correct one, thus generating a lot of confusion in me when it came to looking for something on google maps !
This thing in particular happened to me with the city I want to tell you about today, Gjirokastra in southern Albania, which I have even heard of in four different ways! So don’t worry, we’re always talking about the Silver City. But before telling you what to see in Gjirokastra, I recommend two things: a good travel guide and a good book to understand the history of the city, because this Albanian city has a really intense history (if you are curious, follow the links and read the dedicated paragraph !)
- Why visit Gjirokastra in Albania
- Books on Gjirokaster
- The story of Gjirokaster and the Dictator Hoxha
- What to see in Gjirokastra
- Gjirokaster with children
- Surroundings of Gjirokaster
- Gjirokaster hotels
Why visit Gjirokaster and how to see this Albanian city
Gjirokastra – which or heard also called Gjirokaster, Girokasro or Argirocastro in Italian – is a town in the hinterland not too far from the sea and beaches . They also call it “ the silver city ”, because of its stone roofs which, it seems, shine like pure silver after a storm and honestly this is the name I liked the most for this city.
It seems that Gjirokaster, whose historic center develops close to the mountain, for its beauty is one of the fixed destinations of those who are on holiday in neighboring Greece, in particular in Corfu, and choose to make a “bet” in Albania. These tourists usually arrive in Saranda by ferry and during the day they see both Gjirokastra and Butrint, going up by bus from the coast, along the spectacular road that crosses the mountains and crosses the Muzina pass.
The first time we were in Gijrokaster we only stayed one day and I regretted it, in hindsight I would have stayed longer, to better savor the atmosphere of this city, which impressed me very much. But you know, the itineraries are always made without knowing anything or almost nothing about the destination where you are going to go and in the case of our first trip to Albania with the family there are many things that I would change. For this reason, however, during one of our trips to Albania we returned and experienced the city again.
Regarding the visit of Gjirokaster you can do it independently or, if you have little time, take part in one of the guided tours of the city that have the advantage of explaining the history of Albania well. Follow the link to see availability and costs.
Books on Albania for Gjirokaster
Before telling you about the city I would like to point out one thing: normally to organize a trip to Albania I always recommend only a good travel guide . Among the guides in Italian on the market this guide of Albania is designed for those who want to organize a road trip with ad hoc itineraries, this is detailed for Tirana and the north while this is full of historical ideas.
In reality, however, Gjirokastra is so rich in history that in my opinion it also deserves more in-depth reading than just the guide, to better understand what you are going to see. There are three books on Gjirokaster that I recommend you to read: the first two are by Kadarè – the most famous Albanian writer born in Gjirokaster – and they are ” Drums in the rain “, a historical novel dedicated to the epic of the Albanian people and their struggles , and “ One too many dinner invitation ” set right in the city, intense and engaging. The last book on Albania instead is dedicated to the history of the brave Albanian people, to read to better understand the Weapons Museum in the Gjirokastra Castle.
The story of Gjirokaster and the dictator Hoxha
But as usual I digressed… I was telling you about the silver city and then I started talking about something else! So let’s go back to the silver city. I must say that this image, of a brilliant city after a downpour, alone was enough to convince me to include Gjirokastra in our itinerary in Albania. Not to mention that it was here that Enver Hoxha was born , the dictator who ruled the Land of Eagles for so long, the one who with his policy of terror and paranoia contributed to the isolation of Albania from the post-war period up to the 1990s.
Hoxha’s personal dictatorship lasted a long time , over forty years, and his regime continued even after his death, until 1992, when elections were held that definitively sanctioned the end of the communist regime. If I think about it, I shudder: 1992, the year of Berisha’s electoral triumph, I was already in high school and I remember the images broadcast by television well, just as I remember those of the riots of the previous year, aside of those who were finally asking for freedom and were willing to leave everything to get it.
That of Albania is a recent and close history, perhaps also for this reason it struck me a lot that the dictator was born in Gjirokastra , a city with a glorious and troubled past, a few steps from Greece. Gjirokaster was in fact the city chosen by another leader even if of a completely different type, in a much more distant past. In fact, Ali Pasha di Tepelene lived here for many years , that Ottoman governor known as ” The Lion of Giannina” , known for being a ruthless sovereign but a lover of art and culture, who welcomed poets and writers like Byron to his court, treating them , as the writer himself says, ” like a son”. Ali Pasha dared to challenge the power of the Ottoman Empire and for this he was imprisoned and killed, Hoxha instead, who was born in the shadow of his castle, dreamed of making Albania an empire, but then fell victim to his own fears and paranoia and made the nation fold in on itself, away from the rest of Europe and the world.
The Albanian dictator in fact severed Albania’s relations with neighboring countries and even with Stalin’s Russia. So much was Hoxha’s fear of being invaded or betrayed that he plunged the country into an isolationism without equal and Gjirokastra perhaps paid more for it than other cities.
In fact, during a trip to Albania you will notice many bunkers and also racks of machine guns that pop up in the most unexpected places, such as the beautiful southern beaches, testifying to Hoxha’s defensive paranoia. Gjirokastra, however, is even more emblematic in this. Its proximity to Greece made it in fact according to its illustrious citizen an easy target to conquer, so its inhabitants had to practice escaping to the bombing shelters in a few minutes and strong were the repressions and purges perpetrated against the inhabitants of the city.
What to see in Gjirokastra: the Castle and its museums
So if you decide to go to Gjirokaster do not miss to visit the Castle, there you will still find an alleged American spy plane and an interesting ethnographic museum where the history of Albania and also of the city is told. The plane still testifies to Hoxha’s paranoid policy, which made him exhibit in Gjirokastra as a warning to his fellow citizens. Even the small weapons museum with its propaganda images and prisons are in my opinion a stop not to be missed, to try to understand at least a little the Land of the Eagles and its past.
After visiting the castle and its museums, stop and explore the city, the Qafa and Pazarit neighborhoods, the Ottoman houses with their doors full of promise and the craft shops . Gjirokastra in my opinion deserves calm and attention and who knows if you are lucky enough to see its silver roofs shine after a storm …
Practical information for visiting Gijrokaster with children
What to see in Gjirokastra with children
The Gjirokaster Castle , with its cannon, the airplane and the fresh aisles despite the scorching sun, has fascinated Patato, as well as the Museum of Arms .
How to get around in Gjirokaster with small children
Keep in mind that the city, like many others in Albania, develops vertically, with steep streets that in the case of Gjirokastra are often also accessible to cars. To visit Girokastro with children who are not yet walking.
What to see around Gjirokaster
Many choose to visit Gjirokaster in one day but in our opinion it deserves more time. Among other things, this city is about an hour and a half from the coast, where you can go diving in the splendid sea of Ksamil or in Saranda . Along the way to the sea, stop for a stop at Syri i Kalter – literally “blue eye” – a very deep water source that takes on an intense blue color in the center.
The Blue Eye Albanian source is natural monument, you pay the entrance and there are a couple of bar-restaurants and some beautiful bungalows . To get there follow the sign along the road, you will then make a piece of dirt and park in the first available open space. The brave plunge into the “Blue Eye” platform so if you must bring the costume but I notice … The water is freezing! 🙂
Where to sleep in in Gjirokaster
Update: We are back in town – because they deserve a return – during one of nostir on the road in Albania. If you stop here we advise you to sleep at the Hotel Argjiro which is located right in the center, convenient for visiting the city and with a private parking. The rooms are large, with wifi and air conditioning and an abundant breakfast with both Albanian and international products. All information can be found by following the link, including prices and availability.