Attracted by the mountain cities, I set myself the goal of visiting Gjirokastër, the city of stone, epithet named by Ismail Kadare in his eponymous book that made him famous throughout the world.
Personally, however, I prefer to refer to Gjirokastër with "Silver city", where the stone roofs shine as they dry after the summer showers. The name of the city "Argyrókastron", Was nominated for the first time in the 1336 by the Byzantine chronicler Johan Kantakuzeni.
I leave Tirana by car early in the morning, before the sun rises. Through Durres, Kavajë, Lushnje, Fier, Memaliaj and Tepelena. The Vjosa river shows its beauty all the way as if it were a dress during a dance.
After four hours of travel and 200 km traveled, arrival in the delightful medieval village, Unesco heritage. The old city is nestled in the mountains between one street and another, going up and down. The roofs made of stone tiles are the first to catch my attention.
At the top of the city I notice the old walls of the majestic castle that dates back to the twelfth century, but restored and restored in the nineteenth century by Ali Pascià of Tepeleni.
Just parked, near the information point, as a first visit, they advise me to visit the Cold War Tunnel, built in the 70 years by the dictator Enver Hoxha who feared a nuclear conflict.
I do not deny the anger that comes over me during the visit in that long tunnel like a labyrinth and immersed in darkness under the castle. The guide tells us the reasons for why it was built and describes us practically an underground city. The rooms present were used as bars, libraries, shops, meeting rooms of the Socialist Party, room of the organizational framework, of the game, of physical preparation and of the polygon, for a total of 70 rooms.
The first to build this shelter were the political prisoners who worked around 16 hours a day for 5 consecutive years. Only many years after a rehabilitation and requalification project, the tunnel became part of the city's tourist program.
Coming out of that dark place in the history of Albania, I begin to climb towards the castle and breathe the clean air. The castle is the core of the life of Gjirokastër; its walls hosted the most important garrisons, because it was the main administrative unit of Turkey for southern Albania during the period of the Ottoman Empire.
Inside the castle I am surprised and fascinated by armor, cannons, artillery and many other weapons found inside the museum of and prisons. Also known is a small old American aviation aircraft that fell during the Second World War, which the Communists celebrated as if it were a trophy despite not knowing when and how the plane fell. Today the plane is in a corner of the castle garden.
The clock tower is another beautiful point of the castle that at its feet sees a garden that every 4 years hosts the national folk festival. At that time, Gjirokastër became a garden of a thousand colors, to the sound of songs and dances.
The tour continues towards the old village. The traditional neighborhoods are found in the form of beams around the castle with the names of Cfake, Dunavat, Manalat, Palorto, Varosh, Meçite, Hazmurat and the old bazaar. The latter presents itself with its artisan shops selling colorful carpets in pure wool, objects and clothes, carved stones and much more.
We are advised to visit 3 museum-houses: the former home of the dictator Enver Hoxha which today has become an ethnographic museum, the houses of Zekat and that of Kadare. The latter represent the typical traditional apartments covered with gray stone tiles that in a certain way have broken all the urban planning laws, because they are built on a very steep slope.
Some external stairs are rare elements that give the house of Kadare special values, as well as the arches inside, the large and the small dome, which the writer tells in his book The drums of the rain. Moreover, the secret entrances are another peculiarity of the architecture.
The furnishing of the houses is spectacular: Ottoman style starting from carved gems, carved and carved ceilings and doors, crocheted white curtains and the long “minder” surrounding the squaring of the rooms covered with red woolen fabric or white linen fabric sewn with crochet edges.
The bright red qilim, with oriental designs, covers the entire men's room. Also here, hanging above, a space called "Mafil", dedicated to women, from which they secretly controlled the food on the tables and the course of the dinners.
Leaving Kadare's house, I notice the way of the mad, that is "Sokaku i te marreve" which is a narrow alley that winds through house gates, winding places and where it is easy to slip because of the pebbles. The name derives from the fact that at the top of the street lived a madman who shouted throwing stones.
There remains to conclude the itinerary with the highest point of the city, called Kerculla, or the guest house in the time of Communism. The view is spectacular. The house has turned into a luxury hotel with a large swimming pool inside the courtyard. It's time for lunch, the thought goes to food.
The delicious Albanian cuisine here acquires Greek nuances. In the menu I find the traditional names of food such as: "i qifqi", rice balls; "Shapkat", savory pie made of turkish wheat flour stuffed with herbs, baked in the oven; "Laropit", layers of flour with herbs cooked in the oven; "Urle e kaçupit", milk cooked inside the lamb skin, and finally the typical dessert found only in this city, the "Shap", made with dried figs and baked in sheep's milk yogurt only.
Satisfied, I walk away with the promise to share this wonderful experience with the readers of Albania News and that of a return to discover other uses and customs that hides the majestic city of a thousand shades.