Gjirokastra, The Stone City
Welcome to Gjirokastra (The Stone City)
Every country in the world has a city which is famous for their stinginess people and the same thing happens in Albania with a city, called, Gjirokastra. There are many anecdotes about this city and I will tell you a short anecdote.
A man from Gjirokastra goes to buy a car. After agreeing on the price and everything else, the guy from Gjirokastra asks the seller about fuel consumption of the car. The seller returns smiling and he said, A spoon, the car consumes a spoon of oil. The guy from Gjirokastra who bought the car was very worried about the response of the car seller and asked the seller again, a table-spoon or a tea-spoon because it is a big difference. haha.
A man from Gjirokastra returns home after buying an expensive bottle of wine. Walking up the stairs, accidentally the guy falls and breaks the expensive bottle of wine. Instantly sees that it was covered with a red liquid.
“O God – he said, let us hope it is blood, let us hope it is blood.
The origin of the city starts with the castle of Gjirokastra, built in IV century AD. The city was named Argyrokastroin in honor of Princess Argjiro which jumped from the castle walls together with her little boy, martyring herself after the Ottomans conquered the castle in 1336..
Gjirokastër, the pearl of Albania, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and enchanting towns on the Balkan Peninsula. The city has plenty of gorgeous places to visit and can be easily seen in a weekend. Here are many reasons everyone should visit this town, which has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Old Bazaar
The Old Bazaar is among the most charming areas in Gjirokastër and should be on every visitors must-do list while in town. The recently restored area offers many boutiques where travelers can buy souvenirs, as well as visit traditional cafés, byrek shops, and some of the most beautiful Ottoman-era houses on the Balkan Peninsula.
Famous People in Gjirokastra
Gjirokastra is the city where the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha was born and his house has been turned into a museum called the Ethnographic Museum. When Enver Hoxha took the power after secont world war, Enver Hoxha’s father said, Albania will suffer a lot from today and for this Enver Hoxha never spoke to his father any more and his father lived a very modest life in the city of Gjirokastra till he die. Enver Hoxha became number one in Albania and he ordered the authorities to transform the beautiful castle of Gjirokastra into a politic prison and he arrest all his former friends and isolate them in this prison. Enver Hoxha’s fear was big because he always thought that one of his former friends would take his power and very often Enver Hoxha, drank coffee in a bar in front of the castle to be seen from his former friends and the view from where Enver Hoxha drank coffee intentionally had the view of the castle which had 7 windows and the people of the area, they never mentioned the word castle but 7 windows. Also in Gjirokastra was born the world famous writer who is called Ismail Kadare, nominated several times for the nobel prize. Ismail Kadare has written many books and many of these books have been translated into many foreign languages and these are some of his books, The General of the Dead Army, Broken April, The Palace of Dreams, Chronicle in Stone, The Siege, The Successor, The Three-Arched Bridge, A Girl in Exile, and thousands of other books and some of these books have been used by producers around the world for feature films. Also Gjirokastra has many prominent artists, musicians, actresses, politicians.
The story of the Airplane
The Lockheed T-33 is a Cold War Airplane relic. According to the official version of the time of communism, the aircraft is part of the National Weapons Museum, as the plane was forced to land by two Albanian MIG military aircraft at Rinas Airport in December 1958, which at the time had not yet been completed. A few years ago, the inscription “United States Air Force” was clearly visible on this aircraft but I will tell you the true story. A US military plane, departing from a Greece in the direction of Yugoslavia and after a plane defect, the pilot was forced to land at Rinas Airport otherwise he would crash. The pilot was arrested and after a month of questioning by the secret service the communist government decided to send the pilot back to Greece but not the plane which was confiscated and in 1970 the communist government decided to transform the Castle of Gjirokastra grounds into a World War II weapons museum and so it happened. Today that plane is in the castle where there is a description, the truth with two stories.
The Ethnographic Museum
The house of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha is located in the city of Gjirokastra. Today this house has been turned into an Ethnographic Museum. The house is a 3 floors building located in the neighborhood “Palorto” dates back to the XIX century. Built almost a century ago, in 1913, when Hoxha was 5 years old, the house burned down accidentally. Only a carpet and a pair of socks survived from this fatal incident, which were later donated by the Hoxha family to the museum. During the reconstruction of the house by the state in 1967, all the best features of a typical Gjirokastra house were gathered in it, starting from the ceilings, the shelves, the cupboards in the wall, the attics, etc but the most interesting story of the house begins with Enver Hoxha’s brother-in-law. He was a successful businessman at the time and a man with many acquaintances both in government and with celebrities and brother-in-law has been one of the biggest helpers of Enver Hoxha. Brother-in-law built Enver Hoxha’s house with his own expense. Brother-in-law helped him to finish the high school. Brother-in-law has introduced Enver Hoxha to the people with power in their city and also in Tirana. Brother-in-law bought a shop in Tirana for him, which today is called Flora Coffee Shop. The brother-in-law was the main person who influenced Enver Hoxha to become the chairman of the Communist Party even though Enver Hoxha had not been part of the any communist organizations at that time. Brother-in-law did everything for him and he was like a second father for Enver Hoxha and when Enver Hoxha became number one in Albania, Enver Hoxha shot him dead.
Gjirokastra is famous for its food. The delicious cuisine is the result of high quality and often organic ingredients prepared by talented cooks. The cuisine has Albanian roots with its use of local oils, spices, herbs and especially sauces. Gjirokastrans can produce many variations of dishes using only a few basic ingredients. Typical dishes include pashaqofte, a soup with small meatballs; qifqi, rice balls cooked in a hollow frying pan and mixed with herbs; shapkat, a mixture of sorrels and cornflour; sarma or japrak, stuffed grape leaves with rice and mint; and qahi tiny spinach pies. Vegetables are grown in Lunxhëri and the muskmelon of Dropull is especially good. A must-try local dessert in Gjirokastra is oshaf, with sheep milk, and cinnamon. Another important local product in Gjirokastra is the local cheese, which is renowned throughout Albania and is generally considered the best. This cheese is made from goat, sheep or cow’s milk. The most common cheeses are called djathë i bardhë, a soft white cheese that is similar to, but a bit harder than, feta, and kaçkavall, a hard yellow variety.
What makes this city special are the houses built of stone in the 18th century and for this reason UNESCO decided that in 2005 Gjirokastra to be part of the list of World Cultural Heritage. According to the results of the study, the Historic Center of Gjirokastra contains approximately 1200 historic buildings, of which 650 are declared Cultural Monuments. 650 monuments of the 1st and 2nd category it was verified that they are in a critical condition. 169 monuments have turned out to be in the category of very bad or poor structural condition for many reasons. 170 monuments have been completely transformed.
The Skenduli House
If you really want to know the best model of the local architecture in 19th century, a visit at Skenduli house is a must.
Everything is totally original and is the most authentic building in Gjirokastra. This is the best preserved house in old city of Gjirokastra, more than 300 years old (built in 1823).
The owner of the house, Nasip Skenduli, a descendant of the family that build this house, is an amazing story teller. He will explain you everything about the house and the preserving process in years. It used to be the original Ethnographic museum during communist time. However now that the house is back to its rightful owner it is open for visitors.
What makes Skenduli’s house so special? Its structure shows that this has been the richest houses in Gjirokastra, because it had 9 fireplaces, (many fireplaces richer the family was); 6 bathrooms, 12 rooms, 44 doors, 64 windows, and 4 hamam (turkish bath).
Many rooms are preserved in their original shape and this is amazing. Even outside the surrounding fortified wall is 17 meters, and is original too. According to the owner, the authorities haven’t restored this house yet. The fact that even many objects are original make this house the most authentic and special one in Gjirokastra. You find it close to the Ethnographic Museum, or former house of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
Joking about the original house of his neighbor Hoxha, Nasip Skenduli says: “His original house has only one fireplace, so his family was not rich, but he managed to rebuilt his house much bigger copying the other houses and taking from them many objects showing the original life of Gjirokastrian people 300-400 years ago”.
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