A persimmon ripens in late summer in the Albanian World Heritage town of Gjirokaster.
By BOB BERWYN
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When Leigh and I visited Albania in October, the two must-see stops on our list were Butrint and Gjirokaster, both designated as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
Butrint is famed for well-preserved ruins from the Hellenistic, Roman and Venetian eras, but archaeologists have found signs of habitation going back far into the Stone Age. The layer-cake ruins stand on a wooded island in the middle of a lagoon. Rich meadow lands and marshes have provided a reliable food source for centuries, and the city stands on the strategic straits of Corfu, guarding passage into the eastern Adriatic.
Extensive floor mosaics are left covered with sand to protect them from the elements, but visitors are welcome to brush the grains away to take a close look at the intricate stonework. The ruins of Roman villas, baptistries and a grand basilica, among many others, are easy to discern, even for non-experts.
Gjirokaster, in the Drinos River valley, is dominated by a castle towering over a well-preserved warren of Ottoman-style houses, many of them built in the 17th Century. Standing on the ramparts of the city’s castle during a gloomy sunset, we found it easy to picture Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha surveying his domain in the stunning mountains of southern Albania.
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Near the entrance to the Butrint World Heritage site, cars and buses load on to a ferry to proceed south along the coast.
The entrance to the World Heritage site of Butrint, Albania.
PHOTO BY LEIGH WADDEN. The start of the rainy season in southern Albania greened up the grass and helped nurture a bright carpet of wildflowers amidst the ruins of the Butrint World Heritage site near an ancient gate to the walled city.
Great stone walls, arches and wildflowers harmonize on the grounds of the Butrint World Heritage site in southern Albania. This gateway on the souteast side of Butrint was one of the main entrances into the city between the 3d century BC and the 14th century AD.
Leigh brushes away some sand in a corner of the 6th century basilica at Butrint to take a closer look at the floor mosaics. Extensive mosaics remain in some of the Butrint ruins, but they’re left covered with sand to protect them from the elements.. Butrint was the bishop’s seat for many centuries, and the great basilica was the physical manifestation of his authority in the area.
PHOTO BY LEIGH WADDEN. A close-up view of floor mosaics at the basilica in Butrint, Albania shows the characteristic patterns of the Nicopolis mosaicists. The floor was probably crafted by the same artisans who built the famed circular mosaic at the nearby baptistery.
A turtle rests on a sunny step near the great amphitheatre in Butrint.
Lights twinkle on in the World Heritage city of Gjirokaster, Albania as an evening thunderstorm clears out of the Drinos River valley.
The mosque in Gjirokaster outlined against the backdrop of steep mountains and a clearing storm.
The rooftops of Gjirokaster, a World Heritage town in the mountains of southern Albania.
Napoleon, the bartender at a pub deep in the bowels of the Gjirokaster castle, showed us how to warm up with raki. to make the Albanian-style hot toddy, he browned some sugar over a campstore, added water, then the raki, and served it to us in tiny mugs.
A brigher view of Gjirokaster, taken from the city’s hilltop fortress.
It wasn’t easy to find an open restaurant during the off-season in Gjirokaster, Albania, but when we did, Oh boy! With many menu items costing between $1 and $2, we enjoyed a kind of Albanian cheeseburger, made of spicy mince meat patties, layered on a bed of green pepper and whole wheat bread and topped with a hard goat cheese similar to feta. With a side of grilled sweet green peppers and washed down with a tasty Albanian Pilsner beer, it was a feast to remember.
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