The historic towns of Berat and Gjirokastra, created as fortified centres, are especially documented by architectural remains and monuments of Albanian late- medieval period (15th – 19th centuries). They widely represent a unique example of a well-preserved Balkans Ottoman town, exposing the character and features of European antique-medieval city.
Both began as inhabited centres. Berat originated in 4th century BC and Gjirokastra in 13th century. Distinctions between both town buildings are: territory with different topography and the fact that while Berat was a craftsman-trade centre, Gjirokastra was mainly a strategic-administrative centre, a settlement of renter feudal, within its fortifications. The constructions of Christian and Muslim religious buildings were abundant in both towns. Both bazaars occupy the city centres.
Both sites preserve important urban-architectural values, especially in the field of defence, religion, vernacular architecture, and dwellings. The typological evolution, influence of economic and social factors, as well as that of territory and building materials and techniques, has influenced the towns’ cultural features.
Its foundations are connected with their strategic role, as well as with the administrative one and their function as settlements. Berat controlled a strait linking Albanian central coast with eastern mountainous zone, while Gjirokastra is a key point in Drinos River Valley. Both sites were originally a fortified centre, encircled with protective walls. The continually inhabited centre within the walls was considerable in size. In 13th century, both centres began the open cities formation process around the fortifications. In 16th century, the open city increases seemingly and the settlement within the fortification remaining thus a smaller unit in comparison with the open city.
The towns’ urban and architectural plan is suited to its rocky terrain. In Gjirokastra, the variety of building territories forms gave a greater dynamism than that of Berat, which is somewhat calmer, especially in Mangalem and Gorice quarters. Religious buildings, especially in Berat, fit well with the inhabited centre and emphasise its values. These deeds are a concrete testimony of cohabitation of different religions in these sites.
Berat. Situated in Southern Albania, it is flanked by the spectacular Tomorri mountain and the fertile Myzege valley. The Osum River gives life and vigour. The castles of Berat and Gorica lie on both side of the valley, controlling passages into and through it. Whilst Gorica Fortress remained simply a fortified centre, Berat Castle was the original town itself. With its unity of urban, architectural and artistic values, Berat’s fortifications, religious, and vernacular architecture form parts of urban units clearly defined and belong to various time periods.
Berat dates to Eneolithic Era (2600 – 1800 BC). Pottery fragments prove that during the Iron Age (7th – 6th centuries BC), a settlement flourished here. By mid of 4th century BC, the hill along Osum River was surrounded by walls made of carved stones. The imposing Castle shows up with a mixture of different periods of its conqueror, such as Illyrian, Byzantine, Albanian princedoms, Ottoman and Great Albanian Paschaliks.
In 14th century, Berat was ruled by the Muzakaj feudal family, and became its capital. In 13th-14th centuries, three churches with great architectural and artistic values were built; Saint Mary Vllaherna, Holy Trinity Church and Saint Michael Church.
After the Turkish occupation (1417), Islamic buildings occupy important places in the construction nomenclature. Significant monuments include the Red Mosque, Ruler Mosque, Lead Mosque and Halvetiyye Tekke.
Between 15th – 19th centuries, Berat witnessed expansion outside the Castle’s surrounding walls. The Ruler Mosque indicates that the open city had started to expand off the Mangalem quarter rocky slopes. Berat was included in the Turkish administrative system, and became region’s important military and craftsmanship center. The Gorica Bridge, over Osum River, stood on stone feet with wooden arches over it.
In 18th-19th centuries, religious buildings continued to be built, such as Saint Mary’s Cathedral (1797) and Bachelors’ Mosque (1827). Of great interest is the building of several drinking fountains and aqueduct which supplied water from Duhanas village.
Very rich cultural and historic values are preserved in vernacular architecture and urban planning field. Since 15th century, buildings were greatly influenced by the rocky and sloppy ground on which three of the oldest and most important quarters, The Castle, Gorica and Mangalem quarters, were built. In these quarters, the main connecting arteries follow the contour lines and are connected among themselves by transverse paths. This range of buildings indicates clearly the essence of urban solutions in the 17th century.
Gjirokastra. In 13th century, Gjirokastra developed with the construction of fortress and dwellings. In 14th century it became the centre of Zenevis feudal. Through Ottoman period (1419 onwards), it became the centre of Sanxhak of Albania, and progressively turned into an inhabited centre. The citadel (Kalaja) and Castle forms its focal point. The buildings were regrouped to bazaar and inhabitant quarters, surrounding the dominating hill where the Castle lies.
The Castle dates to the late 13th century. It was a feudal centre, with military, administrative and economic functionality. The feudal Ali Pasha Tepelena extended the castle (1811) and built a water-supply infrastructure. In early 14th century, inhabited centre came out around the Castle, which is today called Old Bazaar. The Castle, built with stones and lime mortar, preserves the original state of encircling walls, towers and its entrances. The construction composition follows the hill configuration on which the Castle is raised. The underground reservoirs supplied the Castle with drinking water.
The city extended widely, initiating the formation of open city Varosh, with some inhabited quarters. Quarters such as Palorto, Dunavat and Hazmurat encircled the Castle. Significant constructions include the oldest mosques in Meçite quarter; the biggest mosque, Bazaar Mosque (1757); and the Meçite quarter public bath.
The building category gives the impetus to Gjirokastra, not only because of its dominance in the town center, but also for the vertical composition, its monumental features and the perfect harmony with the rugged rocky terrain. The dwellings, which are unique to the period, were built by a number of different social strata, in the quarters of Old Bazaar, Tile and Varosh.