Berat. The historic centre of Berat, also known as “the city of a thousand windows,” made the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008. Walking next to the river and wandering through Berat’s narrow alleys, takes you back in time and reveals the rich history of a settlement dating from 2600-1800 BCE, making it one of the oldest towns in Albania. The interesting architecture shows Islamic influences from the Ottoman period, but also of Christian Orthodox traditions. On top of the hill is a beautiful medieval citadel with a lively village, beautiful churches and a mosque inside the fortress walls. Are there really a thousand windows, as stipulated by the city’s epithet? An official count hasn’t surfaced yet, but looking out onto the layers of whitewashed buildings that make up the face of Berat, you do indeed get the impression of thousands of eyes (the rows and rows of windows) gazing back.
Gjirokastra. Located in the beautiful Drinos River valley in Southern Albania you’ll find Gjirokastra, a city with a tumultuous past. It has served as a feudal stronghold, Ottoman jewel, Italian colony and territory occupied by the Greek army during the first Balkan war. Gjirokastra is hometown to two of the most notorious Albanians: Communist dictator Enver Hoxha and famous writer Ismail Kadare. The city retains an impressive fortress, a bazaar, an 18th-century mosque and several churches. It was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005. Gjirokastra’s unique architecture, developed in the 17th century by the Ottomans when building on steep hills, features distinctive stone roofs, wooden balconies, whitewashed stone walls and many stepped passageways. This is why Gjirokastra carries the nickname “city of two thousand steps.” Again, an official count has yet to be made, but wandering up and down the steep alleyways of Gjirokastra, you will have little doubt that the city has certainly earned its nickname.
Butrint National Park. (Albanian: Parku Kombëtar i Butrintit) is a national park created in November 2000 and located in southwestern Albania. It protects 85.91 square kilometres of historic landscape, archaeology and environment. The park’s boundary includes the seaside municipality of Ksamil. The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country containing different artifacts and structures which date from the Bronze Age up until the 19th century. A number of major monuments are still extant including the city walls, late-antique baptistery, great basilica, theatre and Venetian castles. In addition to archaeological remains the site is robed by natural woodland with a complex ecosystem which depends on the nearby freshwater Lake Butrint and Vivari Channel which drain the lake into the Ionian Sea. It is this combination of historic monuments and natural environment that makes Butrint such a unique place, a ‘landscape with monuments’ as beloved of the Grand Tourists of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Park was created by the Albanian Ministry of Culture in partnership with UNESCO, ICCROM and ICOMOS. The underlying intention was to create a sustainable cultural heritage resource involving local communities and national institutions to serve as a model for other parks around Albania. The park is now a major center for archaeology and conservation training schools organised by the Butrint Foundation in partnership with the Albanian Institutes of Archaeology and Monuments, foreign universities and international specialists and consultants. There is an active program of events in the theatre, concerts and performances, and outreach programmes for local schools and colleges. Some 38,225 foreign tourists visited the archaeological site in 2005. By 2008, this figure had risen to 58,547 (source: Butrint National Park published figures). The site is part of the List of Ramsar wetlands of international importance. In 2010, national authorities demolished over 200 illegal structures in Ksamil that violated the town’s master plan and the integrity of Butrint National Park. On the other side, locals pretend that a selective campaign was conducted instead. The remainings of the demolished buildings have yet to be removed by authorities.