Look for bunkers.
What most people know about Albania is that there are a lot of bunkers, leftovers from the Cold War, scattered "all over" the country. Most bunkers were built in the -70s on order of Enver Hoxha. The purpose was to use them as a defence line, manned by partisans coming down from the mountains plus every male person who could possibly be able to contribute. There were built several thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of these bunkers, in different sizes from one-man bunkers up to the size to hold 5 - 10 persons.
Most bunkers are now destroyed, but you can still see some. In certain parts of the country they are quite common while in other parts you hardly see any. Along the road between Fier and Berat there are quite few (on the left side of the road, when going in this direction). I did however not see any bunkers in Berat itself.
The Helveti Tekke.
The Helveti Tekke was built in the 15th century and rebuit in 1782 by Ahmet Kurt Pasha. It belongs to the Khalwati order.
The portico has five stone pillars which were taken from the antique town Apollonia, south from Berat. The entrance is decorated with two stars and an inscription in arabic above the door.
On the inner walls there are eight frescoes in total just below the exceptionally beautiful ceiling which is painted and carved and has been decorated with leaf gold. The walls below the frescoes are covered by small holes to improve the acoustics in the hall. Inside the holes and the walls are ceramic vessels used to achieve the effect. This technique is said to have been commonly used by the Helveti order in their buildings.
The Helveti order is a mystic Sufi order of Islam.
A tekke is/was a dervish monastery.
- Historical Travel
Every year during the third or fourth week in August a Bektashi festival is held in the Tomorr Mountains. Thousands of pilgrimes go up to the grave of Abaz Aliu for about a week of celebrating.
The Bekhtashi order is one of the most prominent mystic orders in Islam.
The Tomorr Mountains National Park.
To the east and south-east of Berat rises the Tomorr Mountains with its national park. The highest peak, Cuka e Partizanit, reaches a height of 2.416 m. Tomorr is of great importance to the local people with the religous temple that can be found there.
Of course there is a story about how Tomorr mountain was created. Legend has it that Tomorr was a giant that wanted to fight another giant named Shpirag over a young woman both wanted to marry. The giants killed each other, and when told this the young woman cried so deeply thet her tears created the river Osum, where she drowned.
Mount Shpirag is the striped mountain on the western side of Berat.
Inside the fortress area will you find a lot of narrow - or sometimes very narrow - streets. Picturesque, we may say, but not very practical when it comes to move large things. Many streets are also very steep and all of them are covered with cobble stones or marble stones put on edge, so it must be challenging to live in such an area.
" Balkan character" to the houses.
In many countries in the Balkans you will see the special character on the houses where the upper part is built to potrude out over the lower part. So also in Berat. This of course to give a bit more space inside but the reason might also be, like in for instance Poland and Holland, that you had to pay tax after the width the house occupied along the street. Anybody who knows if the latter was the reason?
The photo above is unfortunately not representative for the thesis of the tax paying.
The Etnographic Museum.
The Etnographic Museum sits just off the steep road which goes up to the fortress. The house itself was built at the end of the 18th century. It represents the traditional way of building where the bottom floor was used for storing and such things as pressing olive oil or distilling raki (Berat is famous for its raki!). The living areas were on the first floor.
Opening hours: in summer 09.00 - 13.00 + 16.00 - 19.00 Tue - Sat, 09.00 - 14.00 Sun
in winter 09.00 - 16.00 Tue - Sat.
Entrance fee: don't know, since I did not enter
- Museum Visits
A brave woman.
Margarita Tutulani was a young woman active in the anti-nazi resistance during the WWII. She was shot by the Italians at the age of 19.
The statue stands in a small green area where the Bulevardi Republika and Rruga Antipatrea connects, and just south of the Cultural House.
The Church of the Dormition of Mary.
The Church of the Dormition of Mary was rebuilt in 1797 on the foundations of an older church with the same name. The iconostasis is from 1806 and shows icons by the famous painter Onufri.
While doing some renovation works in 1968 two very old and valuable manuscripts from the 6th and 9th centuries respectively were found hidden under a stone slab behind the altar. The oldest one is as the Purple Codex and is one of the oldest manuscripts found anywhere. It is now in the Historical Museum in Tirana.
On the floor of the central nave there is a solar mosaic which is said to be a calendar.
- Historical Travel
Out of reach.
Due to renovation works being carried out I couldn't get to see the two mosques called the Leaden Mosque (in middle of the main square where buses call) and the Batchelors' Mosque. The former got its name from the lead covering the dome. It was built in 1555. The latter was built in 1827 to be used by the town's unmarried shop assistants.
I could also not get to see the Church of St Michael, built in the 13th century on the steep slopes below the fortress. I was warned not to go there at this moment due to bad weather with lot of rain recently which had made the road very muddy and slippery, and in fact even dangerous. I will have to make this a reason to come back, one reason among many! All over all, I liked Berat very much.
The striped mountains.
The mountains behind the Gorican quarters are the Shpirag Mountains. They are unusual in the way that they are very clearly striped, traces from the time when the great inland ice melted some 10.000 years ago.
Nowadays one can read the word "NEVER" in capital letters on the slopes. I have read somewhere that during the era of Enver Hoxha the people had to scribe "ENVER" using white stones in the same way that has been done in many other places. After the fall of communism the people just altered the spelling a bit and the word "NEVER" is said to mean "never again", referring to the political system they have now left. True or not, I don't know.
If you take to the left after having passed the entrance you will see a cannon pointing out over the wall. It bears the date 1684. According to local tradition it is English, then probably deriving from an English gunfounder named Thomas Western who had some of his production located to the Balkans.
- Historical Travel
At the southern-most point within the fortress area, where two sections of the wall meet in a sharp corner, there is an excellent viewpoint where you can get another image of Berat than the traditional white houses with high windows.
The Church of St George.
The Church of St George sits jsut in between the Red Mosque and the viewpoint in the very southern part of the fortress area. There is quite confusing information on when it was built. One source says the 14th century while another one gives the 18th century!! To me the later date seems more appropriate but I am really not an expert. However, during the 1980s it was transformed into a governmental tourist residence. During this time the apse was altered into a balcony, which can still be seen. The building itself was later even used as a restaurant.
Sadly it is now in a derelict shape with lots of windows broken and doors taken away. For what reason??
- Historical Travel
The Red Mosque.
The ruins of the Red Mosque lies in the southern part of the fortress, about 200 m from the most sothern point, close to the western wall. The minaret is built with brick and limestone, the brick giving itits name.
The mosque also has a second name, "Fetie Xhami" which means "the Mosque of the Conquest". That suggests it was built soon after the Ottomans took control over the area.
It was severly damaged by the German bombings during WW II.
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