The Edward Lear Gallery (of contemporary art) was a revelation, not so much of the quality of modern Albanian art, which I’m in no position to judge, as of how exciting an art gallery can be. The key things are a) that you (I suppose anyway) don’t know any of the artists’ names, and b) that most of the paintings and sculptures there have no titles, or they didn’t when I was there. Consequently you are - for once - in the position of having to think for yourself what such and such is about, or what’s so beautiful/disturbing etc about it , and having to base any thoughts you have only on the picture or sculpture in front of you, rather than on received opinion, what the experts say and so on. I found the experience exhilarating. And for what it’s worth I found a lot of the work extremely interesting.
I jotted down the names of a few artists whose work struck me: Josip Fani, Bardhi Buza, and Ibrahim Kodra. Someone more knowledgeable than me may recognize them.
(The gallery’s quite small – only three biggish rooms. Not intimidating at all.)
Money changing shops. These can be very, very, very useful. If, say, you happen to have hit an extra zero when changing money at a Tirana airport cash machine and you’re landed with the lek equivalent of 1500 Euros in cash, wondering how you’ll ever get it changed back, don’t worry! Simply go into any shop you notice with “KEMBIM VALUTE” above the door and they’ll change it all straight back into Euros (or pounds, or dollars – any “big” currency) with no problem at all, and at a better rate than the bank would offer (if a bank would change it at all) with absolutely no formalities. A bloke inside asks how much you want to change, he counts your wad of leks, he does a calculation on a grubby calculator, he says how much he’ll give (you can try for a little bit more), you say Yes and he hands you a wad of Swiss Francs or NZ dollars or whatever, which you can count if you want. That’s it. Brilliant. No hassle.
Incidentally, I think this says something about the general atmosphere in Berat. Would you expect to find shops openly changing large sums of cash (the hotel told me my one and a half thousand euros would be nothing for them, and in fact they didn’t bat an eyelid), with the people going in and out probably carrying substantial amounts on them, with so far as I could see no special security at all, in Wimbledon, say ?
(I wonder how long it’ll be before these convenient establishments get regulated or closed down by the blasted EEC or something.)
Life in the street in Berat is endlessly fascinating: piles of vegetables on the pavement, a man outside the post office apparently selling individual bananas (at 20 leks each), the dentist who’s set up shop in an old shipping container on the pavement, shoe-shine boys, enormous turkeys (!!) scavenging on the municipal rubbish tip…. You can spend hours sitting with a beer (excellent in Albania, by the way – far better than the muck you get in Greece nowadays) just watching.
From the terraces of hotel Mangalem the view are outstanding
Photo 1: is a new terrace, with new rooms that they are currently building. Right now, they have only 5 rooms! In the background, Mangalem district.
Photo 2 is a view on the former pasha’s harem (Vrionis house)
Photo 3 is a view on Mangalem district. On the for right, the windows of the new hotel rooms. In the background, far left, Gorica district.
Photo 4 shows the new part of the town with Xhami e Mbretit on the left
Kisha e Shën Mërisë (Saint Mary church) was built in 1797 where was already a previous church. The famous icon painter Onufri painted several frescoes in Kisha e Shën Mërisë as well as in other chuches of Kala. The church is now a museum with a wide collection of Onufri works.
Photo 1 : the cloister of Kisha e Shën Mërisë. The entrance into the museum is on the left; There were several schools visiting the museum. In our May visits, we noticed that there were always groups of school and college that visit places of historical interest. That has to be “end of year” travels.
Photo 2 : the entrance into the museum is not the main entrance of the church, but a vaulted entrance under the cloister.
Photo 3 : on top of the entrance, an amazing fresco. There are 24 (!) saints, standing as a pyramid, bent over a coffin with a baby that has to be newborn Jesus. Or may be the saints are actually angels as some of them have wings showing. On top of the pyramid, a winged figure with an aureole (the holy spirit ?). On each side, a saint riding a horse, carrying a smaller figure. The left rider is surrounded by a crowned king and a winged goat. The right rider is piercing with its spear a fallen man with a smaller spear.
Underneath, a three lines text that uses unusual Greek fonts with the date “1850”! Then this strange fresco is not that old!
Onufri works are inside but photography is forbidden! Too bad! Fortunately, I visited the church in 1988 and took a photo (photo 4). It is not very sharp as it was very dark. Onufri painting are indeed very beautiful and worth the visit. In adjoining rooms, there are other paintings on display, from Onufri and followers. Outside the museum, postcards are for sale.
A little further to the head of Constantin, Kisha e Shën Triada (Church of St Trinity) stands inside the fortress walls at a place where their general orientation turns from north-south to east-west. It was built in the fourteenth century
Photo 1 shows Kisha e Shën Triada from the acropolis. In the background, the valley with a modern part of Berat.
Photo 2 was taken a little further on the way down, closer to the church.
On photo 3, the east-west part of the ramparts can be seen behind the church.
Photo 4 shows the southern part of the church from below.
Kisha e Shën Kollit (Saint Kollit church) is on the side of Kisha Shën Mëri Vllaherna. It is built in a different style and uses stones mixed with bricks. It was built in the XVIth. The church was closed. It has frescoes painted by Onufri.
Photo 1 : general view of Kisha e Shën Kollit
Photo 2 : side view of Kisha e Shën Kollit
Photo 3 : sign for Kisha e Shën Kollit
Kisha Shën Mëri Vllaherna (church of Saint Mary of Vllaherna), is situated near Saint Nicolas and Saint Costandin and Helena. It is preserved and in good condition.
Photo 1 : general view of Kisha Shën Mëri Vllaherna
Photo 2 : side apse
Photo 3 : sign for Kisha Shën Mëri Vllaherna
Photo 1 shows the red mosque or at least the basement of the minaret as this is all what has been left.
Photo 2 shows the remains of the castle itself (kala). It stands in such a strategic place that it now hosts antennas for TV, radio and telephone. It was first built in the Ivth century BC but the ruins that we see today date from 1440.
Photo 3 is the entrance into the cistern. Water was collected and kept in order to resist to a siege.
Photo 4 shows both the castle and the red mosque.
Photo 5 shows the entrance into the castle that a nice lady that attended a small bar under the shade of a tree (next tip) wanted to show us.
Photo 1 shows the acropolis with on the left what remains of the white mosque. On the right, under the shade of a tree, there was a nice little terrace that was perfect to have a beer as the walk to this place has been uneasy with a lot of climbing and though in May, it was very hot.. The lady on the right attended the bar but insisted on showing us the castle (next tip)
Photo 2 : on one side of the acropolis, a bastion. In the foreground, the valley
Photo 3 : the acropolis was obviously used as a football ground and the base of the white mosque used for the cage!
Photo 4 : the landscape from the castle.
Just behind Kisha e Shën Todrit (its roof can be seen in the background), an amazing statue stands under a shelter, together with some broken chairs, a slash open mattress and a broken baby-foot game. They seem to be all rubbles, including the statue of an old man with a beard writing on a paper with a half broken hand. Who is him? Why is it here? Given that he has the beard, it should not be a statue erected during the past regime. However, I have discovered on the photo a carving that I had not noticed. It says : “T Tada 87” or “I Jada 87”. It should be1887. Any body knows about the man represented?
Sept 11th. Thanks Suela for your suggestion of Jeronim de Rada (1814-1903). The words on the basement could actually be read as J. Rada. The date of 1887 fits with the dates of Jeronim de Rada. But that does not look at all like any other picture of him. Then that might be connected (how ?) with Jeronim de Rada but does not seem to represent him. Strange, isn’t it ?
Girolamo De Rada was born in Italy. He is known in Albanian as Jeronim De Rada. He is the best known writer of Italian-Albanian literature and a major figure of the Albanian nationalist movement in Italy at the turn of the XIXth.
In 2009, (photo 2), the whole place had been completely cleaned up and there were no rubbles anymore but the statue was still there. Another good thing was that there was now a little bar with a terrace, just in front of the statue!.
What I did not know in 2007 was that the most elegant building in Vrionis estate was actually the former pasha’s harem
Photo 1 was taken in 2007. I had noticed (previous tips) that the windows were coarsely closed w ith boards.
Photo 2 was taken almost from the same place in 2009 and the pasha’s harem has now a brand new door and wooden shutters for the windows.
Photo 3 was taken in 2009 from the terrace of hotel Mangalem and shows the harem from above. The terraced roof of the harem remains to be weeded and repaired.
Photo 4 is the photo of the new sign that has been posted in front of the harem and explains what it is. In 2009, we found that there were now a great may cultural road signs that enlighted remains of the rich history of Albania.
If you want to get the spirit of Berat, you must stroll in the steep and narrows alleys of Mangalem. They are all the same and all different. In 1988, when we visited Berat, it was very calm and peaceful. In 2007, it was still calm and peaceful but there are still very few tourists visiting Albania. Will it remain the same when a lot of visitors will have learned how wonderful the country is ?
Photo 1 : Most alleys are so narrow that you are sure to find shade, whatever the hour.
Photo 2: In some of them, you will not see the sky and if it is raining, you will not notice it!
Photo 3 : they are so steep that in some places, you will walk at the same level that the second story (third level)!
Photo 4 : at one place, we felt that it was a dead end but actually, the passage turned sharp on the right. On top of the door stands a square carved stone but I have been unable to decipher it.
Photo 5 : at the bottom of one of the alleys, right on the bank of the river, a dry fountain with a thirsty lion’s head.
Xhami e Beqareve has a handsome portico and an interesting external decoration of flowers, plants, houses, etc.
The second photo shows on the right a city that might be Berat with Mangalem and Gorica on each side of the Osum river.
Photos 3 and 4 were shot at the rear of the mosque, where there is a kind of wide porch. On each side of the entrance into the mosque, the wall is painted with stylized laces of flowers and plants.