When I first started researching Albania, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of many of these places. Albania has been left off a lot of lists and I’d like to do my part in helping people discover the beauty of Albania. When I started researching my Albania trip, I ended up becoming obsessed with Berat after seeing photos of its stunning Ottoman-era houses. It’s easily one of the most beautiful cities in Albania and I’ll be covering three reasons why you must visit Berat, Albania.
The history of Berat
As soon as you enter Berat Castle, you know that you’re somewhere special. The doorway beckons you inside and instantly, you can imagine chariots and soldiers guarding this large historic castle thousands of years ago.
In Illyrian times, Berat was one of the fortresses of Illyria, however the Romans razed the walls of this earlier settlement as well as murdered all the men. Following the fall of the Roman empire, Berat was on the edge of the Byzantine Empire. Interestingly enough, Berat used to be called the White City (Beograde), the same name as Serbia’s now capital for its white fortressed walls. Under Ottoman rule, Berat became one of the most important cities in Albania and it still retains a 18th century bazaar, a testimony to the influence of this stunning city. In the late Ottoman period, Berat became influential within the Albanian nationalist movement, which lead to the independence of Albania.
Berat’s castle dates back 2,500 years although most of it was built more recently, in the 13th century. The Kala, the castle area, houses numerous churches and mosques also dating back to the medieval period. The iconic houses of Berat with two stories mostly date back to the 16th century with a remarkable number remaining usable today.
Berat was recognized even during Albania’s occupations by other countries for its stunning history and beauty. In 2008, Berat was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site along with Gjirokaster for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture. Even prior to this, Albania regulated changes to the buildings in order to preserve the stunning architecture of Berat. I hope that it will be here for many years to come. There are a number of museums in Berat, including the Berat National Ethnographic Museum, which showcase what life was like for earlier residents of Berat.
The cats of Berat
Are cats a reason to visit a place? I’m pretty sure they are! I’m a huge cat lover and I met so many cute and well-fed kitties in Berat. If you’re feeling kind, stop off at a pet store to buy some cat food to feed the friendly strays. Most seemed to have found a cozy home in Berat. I didn’t see that many kitties elsewhere in Albania, at least where I was, so I was so happy when I got to Berat.
My hotel had a friendly cat that enjoyed pats although I ended up finding a couple friendly shop owners who provided pets in exchange for coming into their shop.
The architecture of Berat
How often can you say that you stayed within 2,500 castle? From the window in my bathroom, I was able to enjoy views of at least ten different houses looking down the hill. Berat is known as the city of 1,000 windows for the many windows although many residents joke that someone else’s roof is your own balcony as many of the houses are so close together that it’s possible to climb onto someone else’s roof. The following photo is of the Varosh quarter, which is located at the foot of the castle.
Once you’re in the historic castle region, you can view the stunning stone buildings that are reinforced with wood. Most of the residents of this area were historically Christian, which accounts for the 40 churches that used to exist within Berat. Now, only a few remain intact, however they’re still a magnificent sight. Notably, visitors cannot miss St. Michael’s Church, which is built into the hill close to Berat castle and dates back to the 14th century. It’s also possible to view the Lead Mosque, which dates back to the 1500s. (There are many more churches and mosques!) Many of the religious buildings have stunning frescos inside!
To properly enjoy the stunning architecture of Berat, you simply need to wander around its stunning alleyways. Don’t worry: a friendly local will do their best to give you directions, but sometimes getting lost is half the fun. (Note: Wear good shoes as the cobblestone streets can be quite slippery!) Be sure to walk across the river to explore one of the other neighborhoods and one of the best views of the fortress (especially at sunset).