Located in central Albania, Berat bears witness to the coexistence of various religious and cultural communities down the centuries. It features a castle, locally known as the Kala, most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the 4th century BC. The citadel area numbers many Byzantine churches, mainly from the 13th century, as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era which began in 1417.

Early history

The earliest recorded inhabitants of the city (6th century BC) were the Illyrian tribe of the Dassaretae. The founding date is unknown, although if Cassander is the founder it has been suggested that Antipatreia was founded after he took control of the region around 314 BC. In 200 BC it was captured by the Roman legatus Lucius Apustius, who razed the walls and massacred the male population of the city.

Middle Ages

The town became part of the unstable frontier of the Byzantine Empire following the fall of the western Roman Empire and, along with much of the rest of the Balkan peninsula, it suffered from repeated invasions by Slavs. During the Roman and early Byzantine period, the city was known as Pulcheriopolis.

The First Bulgarian Empire under Presian I captured the town in the 9th century. The town became one of the most important towns in the Bulgarian region Kutmichevitsa. The Bulgarian governor Elemag surrendered the city to the emperor Basil II in 1018, and the city remained in Byzantine hands until the Second Bulgarian Empire retook the city in 1203 during the rule of Kaloyan.

During the 13th century, it fell to Michael I Ducas, the ruler of the Despotate of Epirus. Later Berat was conquered by Albanian, Sicilian, Byzantine and Serbian rulers. In 1385 Berat was captured by the Ottomans, before the Battle of Savra.

Modern history

During the early period of Ottoman rule, Berat fell into severe decline. However, it began to recover by the 17th century and became a major craft centre specializing in wood carving. During the 19th century, Berat played an important part in the Albanian national revival. Berat became a major base of support for the League of Prizren, the late 19th century Albanian nationalist alliance.

Architecture

The coexistence of religious and cultural communities over several centuries, beginning in the 4th century BC into the 18th century is apparent in Berat. The town also bears testimony to the architectural excellence of traditional Balkan housing construction, which date to the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Some of the landmarks of that historical period could be seen in the Berat Castle, churches of the Byzantine era such as the Church of St. Mary of Blaherna (13th century), the Bachelors' Mosque, the National Ethnographic Museum, the Sultan's Mosque (built between 1481 and 1512), Leaden Mosque (built in 1555) and the Gorica Bridge.

Berat was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

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Founded: c. 314 BCE
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Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.