Table of Contents
- 1 Porto Palermo
- 2 Kruja Castle
- 3 Berati Castle
- 4 Shkodra Castle
- 5 Gjirokastra Castle
When you travel from Himara to Qeparo or vice-versa, is impossible not to notice the castle at Porto Palermo Bay also known as Panorama Bay. It is located 228km away from Tirana via Llogara Pass. The beautiful castle that overlooks the Ionian Sea was a gift of love from Ali Pasha Tepelena, also known as Ali Pasha of Ioannina to his beloved wife Vasiliqia. Others say that the castle can be hiding place of Ali’s famous treasure, one of the most thrilling and unresolved mysteries of our history. The legend mentions about 40 tons of pure gold and precious gems. It seems that the Pasha of Ioannina had a treasure worthy of his reputation.
“He has the appearance of anything but his real character, for he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave and so good a general, that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte.” Lord Byron, Letters from Albania
The castle is located on a small island that connects to the coast through a 30 meters narrow strip of land and rocks. It has a triangular shape with three bastions while the entrance is found on the southern wall. The castle is mentioned in numerous writings and books about Ali Pasha Tepelena. It was built by Petro Permetari and an Italian architect. The name of Porto Palermo was chosen by the Italian soldiers, who said it reminded them of their city of Palermo. People say that a scripture saying: “I Ali, the great pasha, built this castle.”
Over 300 meters away from the castle, by the roadside, it is located a church that Ali also built for his wife. The legend says that the church was built by the Italian architect upon Ali’s request. When the architect completed the construction project and asked for his payment, the Pasha told him that he would receive it only if the church was strong enough to resist cannon projectiles. He closed the Italian architect within the church and began to fire round shots. Fortunately, it was strong enough to stand and Ali was sure that his wife would be safe in case of a possible attack.
What to do at Porto Palermo Castle
Given its location on the Southern Riviera, there’s the option to visit all the villages along the Ionian coast. Swimming, diving, sailing, trips to Qeparo, Vuno villages, hiking through the olive groves, and in the hinterland.
A short guide to the Albanian Riviera
Best time to visit. The castle can be visited all year round, but spring to late autumn is the best time of the year for exploring the area.
How to get there? Follow Tirana-Fier-Vlora-Llogara Pass-Himara itinerary or
The Albanian stronghold of Kruja, 35km from Tirana, is closely related to the heroism and resistance of national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu and to its fortress that dominates the Albanian Western Lowlands. Built on a strategic point, the castle resisted the Ottoman invaders in three sieges during the 15th century. The Ottomans would capture the castle only after the death of Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu. The castle has an elliptic shape and it is found on a rugged hilly terrain and it covers an area of 2.5 hectares. Due to the presence of a water spring within its walls, the castle never suffered from the lack of water supply. Kruja Castle is one of the top tourist destinations in Albania because of its historic importance and other important factors such as the picturesque landscape and the view over the Adriatic Sea.
What to do in Kruja?
Kruja, Photo Kruja Info Point
The city has something for every type of traveler. If you’re looking for a special place where to enjoy the world as a reflection of major creation, go to Dollma Teke within the castle walls or to Sarillatik Teke (Sufi cult sites) at the summit of Skenderbeu Mountain, which is considered a sacred place and receives numerous pilgrims every year.
The Bazaar of Kruja
The city’s bazaar is located on both sides of the cobbled alley that takes up to the castle. The bazaar area is listed as the monument of culture where local artisans sell handmade products. The Bazaar of Kruja is a testimony of Albanians’ old traditions which continues to save and inherit the values and characteristics of country’s culture and traditions. If you want a typical souvenir, this is the place where to find rugs, traditional fez hats, filigree and other handmade items.
Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu National Museum
One of the most visited and an attractive place of Kruja city is the museum of our National Hero. The Museum is located inside the Castle of Kruja, and this is another reason why it gets visited by thousands of tourists who are interested in knowing Albania’s history and culture. Inside tourists cans see a copy of the helmet and the sword of Scanderbeg in the main hall, the flags and stems of important families of that time who supported the national hero.
The National Ethnographic Museum
This Museum is located in an old building of Toptani family, built in 1764 in the courtyard of the medieval castle, in front of the National Museum of Scanderbeg. The walls of the museum have 250 years original morals, ceilings carved in wood, very rare furnishings, old style rugs and traditional costumes. Inside the house is a steamy Turkish bath, one of the only left in Albania. The museum has also 1,200 original objects which are a living proof of old Albanians’ lifestyle and traditions, mostly in XVIII-XIX centuries.
Kruja Freshwater Springs
The area of Kruja is known for its numerous springs, from which the city has taken its name (spring in the Albanian language is translated as krua, krua-Kruja city). Another visited spring is Qafe Shtama, which is well known for its fresh and clean water, located in the National Park of Qafe Shtama, at an altitude of 1,200 meters, some15 km away from Kruja city.
When to go? Kruja is a year-round destination
How to get there: Follow Tirana-Kamza-Fushe Kruja-Kruja or Tirana International Airport-Fushe-Kruja-Kruja itineraries.
Berati Castle, located in one of the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Albania, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. The number of visitor’s especially international tourists has increased. Berat Castle also is known as Kala, is located on the right side of Osumi River and it is home to the ancient city of Antipatrea, which dates back to the seventh-fifth centuries B.C. According to the data provided by DRKK Berat, Antipatrea is one of the most beautiful and important sites in Albania and the increased number of visitors confirms this fact. The castle of Berat has gone through different historic stages such as the Illyrian, Byzantine, the feudal principalities, the Ottoman invasion periods. A special fact about the castle is that has 24 towers.
What to do in Berat?
Hiking to the top of Tomorri Mountain. Rafting in Osumi River. Visit Onufri Museum. It is located in the Church of the Dormition of Saint Mary in the Castle. The artworks that date back to the 14th – 20th centuries belong to Albanian master iconographers Onufri, Nikolla son of Onufri, David Selenica, Kostandin Shpataraku, Cetiret, Onufer Qiprioti and many other anonymous painters.
When to go? Berati is a year-round destination.
How to get there? Follow Tirana-Lushnja-Berat itinerary
Rozafa Castle is one of the main historic tourist attractions in Northern Albania. People from all over the country and international tourists that travel to Shkodra don’t miss the chance to explore this site that preserves traces from different historical periods starting with Balsha Dynasty, the Venetian and Ottoman periods, and the House of Bushati. The castle dates back to the Illyrian times. Besides the picturesque view, Rozafa Castle is associated with a famous legend about a woman who was buried in the foundation of the castle, and here it goes: “Its legend, archeology, and history testify to its early existence. The legend is about the initiative of three brothers who set about building the castle. They worked all day, but the walls fell down at night. They met a clever old man who advised them to sacrifice someone so that the walls would stand. The three brothers found it difficult to decide whom to sacrifice. Finally, they decided to sacrifice one of their wives who would bring lunch to them the next day. So they agreed that whichever of their wives was the one to bring them lunch the next day was the one who would be buried in the wall of the castle. They also promised not to tell their wives of this. The two older brothers, however, explained the situation to their wives that night, while the honest youngest brother said nothing.
The next afternoon at lunchtime, the brothers waited anxiously to see which wife was carrying the basket of food. It was Rozafa, the wife of the youngest brother. He explained to her what the deal was, that she was to be sacrificed and buried in the wall of the castle so that they could finish building it, and she didn’t protest.Rozafa, who was predestined to be walled, was worried about her infant son, so she accepted being walled on condition that they must leave her right breast exposed so as to feed her newborn son, her right hand to caress him and her right foot to rock his cradle:
When you wall me
Leave my right eye exposed
Leave my right hand exposed
Leave my right foot exposed
For the sake of my newborn son
So that when he starts crying
Let me see him with one eye
Let me caress him with one hand
Let me feed him with one breast
Let me rock his cradle with one foot
May the castle breast be walled
May the castle rise strong
May my son be happy.
Young Girl Photo from Marubi Collection
Visit important monuments and sites like Mesi Bridge, Marubi National Photography Museum, Shkodra Lake, enjoy birdwatching on Buna River, Visit the Venetian Masks Factory, etc.
When to go: The best time to visit the city of Shkodra is from April to October
How to get there? Follow Tirana-Kamza-Fushe Kruja-Thumana-Lezha- Shkodra
“Gjirokastra, in the Drinos river valley in southern Albania, features a series of outstanding two-story houses which were developed in the 17th century. The town also retains a bazaar, an 18th-century mosque and two churches of the same period,” UNESCO says on its description about the city.
Gjirokastra by Edmond Prifti
Yet, the castle is the most impressive building that a first time visitor may see not only in Gjirokastra but in the entire country. It is also known as the city of Argjiro. She was the sister of the city lord. According to the legend, when the Ottoman troops surrounded the city, the princess together with her son jumped from the castle walls. This is a popular explanation of the city’s name. However, historians say that the name of Gjirokastra dates back to earlier centuries. Some linguists say that it is related to the typical gray color of the city. The castle had a military function. It was during the Middle Ages that the city expanded further the castle walls.
The city flourished during the period of Ali Pasha Tepelena, who invested in major infrastructural works such as the aqueduct of Gjirokastra. A 12km long water supply structure that was destroyed during the 30s. The aqueduct was depicted in the paintings of Edward Lear. The city developed into an important cultural and economic area.
Painting of Gjirokastra by Edward Lear
What to do in Gjirokastra?
The historic center of Gjirokastra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s worth a detailed exploration. You can visit the bazaar, the Ethnographic Museum, Skenduli House, Zekati House, the house of writer Ismail Kadare and the house of former Communist Dictator Enver Hoxha. two important ancient sites to not miss near Girokastra are Antigonea and Hadrianopolis.
When to go? In order to understand why it is called the grey city, you must visit Gjirokastra on a rainy/foggy day. However, you can enjoy the city any time of the year. Several festivals and fairs are organized especially during April-October period.
How to get there? Follow Tirana-Fier-Levan-Tepelena-Gjirokastra or Saranda-Muzina Pass-Gjirokastra itineraries.