Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster, Albania

Gjirokastër is a city in southern Albania, on a valley between the Gjerë mountains and the Drino. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate. The city is overlooked by Gjirokastër Fortress It is the birthplace of former Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha and notable writer Ismail Kadare.

The city appears in the historical record dating back in 1336 as part of the Byzantine Empire. It became part of the Orthodox Christian diocese of Dryinoupolis and Argyrokastro after the destruction of nearby Adrianoupolis. Gjirokastër later was contested between the Despotate of Epirus and the Albanian clan of John Zenevisi before falling under Ottoman rule for the next five centuries (1417–1913). Throughout the Ottoman era Gjirokastër was officially known in Ottoman Turkish as Ergiri. During the Ottoman period conversions to Islam and an influx of Muslim converts from the surrounding countryside made Gjirokastër go from being an overwhelmingly Christian city in the 16th century into one with a large Muslim population by the early 19th century. Gjirokastër also became a major religious centre for Bektashi Sufism.

Taken by the Hellenic Army during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 on account of its large Greek population, it was eventually incorporated into the newly independent state of Albania in 1913. This proved highly unpopular with the local Greek population, who rebelled; after several months of guerrilla warfare, the short-lived Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was established in 1914 with Gjirokastër as its capital. It was definitively awarded to Albania in 1921. In more recent years, the city witnessed anti-government protests that lead to the Albanian civil war of 1997.

Gjirokaster 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.

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