07 Oct Expat Nomads Explore the History of Gjirokaster Castle
Our next trip with Jack, our tour guide and driver, was to Gjirokaster which is another UNESCO site. The castle was built in the 15th century on the top of the mountain above the city and has a long history full of tragedy, facts, and legends.
Initial construction was done while under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. Princess Argjiro is credited with building the first structure and may be the source of the cities name. The legend is that when the Ottoman’s were taking control of the city, she threw herself off the castle wall with her baby rather than being captured.
The next phase of construction was under Ali Pasha. Ali was a charismatic and extremely intelligent resident of the region with a reputation as a bandit. Although not wealthy at the time, he befriended the Ottoman Sultans when they visited the country and spent what money he had for gifts. His relationship with the Sultans enabled him to gain power and wealth and he eventually married one of the Sultan’s daughters. How he used that wealth truly showed his wisdom. He expanded the castle adding a very important Clock Tower which acted as the local Mosque since 90 percent of the country was Muslim. Additionally, he built bridges, port facilities, and promoted education.
World War II and Beyond
During World War II the castle was occupied by the German troops and then the Italian soldiers as each country ruled Albania for a short time. The castle had jail facilities added in the 1930s and these were used for political prisoners. A long hallway at the entrance has a display of the artillery used at the time with the German weapons on one side of the hall and the Italian on the other. In another nearby passage is a Fiat-built two-man tank, one of 300 manufactured before and during WWII. The castle also houses a “Freedom Fighters” museum with hundreds of weapons and artwork honoring those that died and were taken prisoner.
Sadly, the jails were used from 1944 to 1970 by the communist realm for the torture and execution of political prisoners. Some of these prisoners wrote letters and poems on the walls of the jail expressing their desires for family and freedom.
As we finished our time in Gjirokaster we stopped for a panoramic photo of the city below the castle. Then explored the street market and stopped at a Greek Restaurant for a meal. Gjirokaster is very close to the border of Greece and has always had a strong Greek influence, even during the time of Ali Pasha.