If you’ve ever seen a guidebook or an Instagram photograph of Albania, chances are you’ve unknowingly seen Berat. A couple of hours away from the capital, Tirana, Berat is a small, comparatively quiet city of less than 40,000 people, but is one with so much to offer.
Mostly known for its postcard image of white houses staring across a river seemingly in unison, if you’re willing to traverse the hill in the centre of the city and splash out the couple of Euros for entry, you’ll be rewarded with a remarkably well preserved and sprawling castle complex.
Dating from the 13th Century, the castle grounds are a visible work in progress of hundreds of years of construction and destruction by the Byzantine, Ottoman, Fascist Italian, Greek and the many others who had invaded and occupied Albania over the course of the last 800 turbulent years.
The Berat Castle courtyard
The stone walls are a tapestry of history and can be seen to have been built in one style for a few feet before rapidly changing to another, appearing as if each generation had left its own fingerprints on its construction as it was destroyed and rebuilt using the same materials. Despite the hardship, what remains here is a sprawling complex of houses, buildings and amazingly even a Cathedral and Orthodox Church.
The religious buildings are remarkable in their presence, particularly as the near fifty year rule of Enver Hoxha in the 20th century outlawed religion in Albania and saw most churches, mosques and other places of worship destroyed.
But here there are two. The Cathedral of Dormition of St. Mary is in the centre of the narrow castle streets and houses a museum of artwork and religious artefacts, whilst The Church of the Holy Trinity has to be one of Europe’s most beautiful and well preserved examples of Byzantine architecture, with a fantastic view out from the Berat hillside over the streets and rivers of rural Albania. UNESCO listed, access inside the latter church is often not possible, but the sight of the exterior alone is breath-taking.
The UNESCO listed Orthodox Church, ‘The Church of the Holy Trinity’
Whilst also home to plenty of craftsmen and women creating wooden artwork for tourists and travellers, and a few restaurants, the castle also offers a plateau, complete with giant Albanian flag, that offers birds-eye views of the new and ‘City of a Thousand Windows’ below. This view is perhaps less impressive from above than it is on the ground, it at very least shows how domineering and central the castle was, and still is, in this beautiful city.
The postcard view, ‘The City of a Thousand Windows’ from above
By no means is the castle the only thing to see in Berat, with the city having its famous postcard view, market square and ethnographic museum all within a couple of miles of one another, but the castle complex really is a testament to Albania’s remarkable history, architecture and perseverance.
To read more about our trip around Albania at Christmas in 2019, click here! Or, to see the full Berat photo gallery, click here.
Where is Berat Castle?
If you are interested in learning more about Albania, our friends at Inspire Me World Travel, who organised our trip to Berat, provide more information on their website, as well as flexible and customisable day or package tours, transfers and everything else you might need for a simple and fascinating stay in one of Europe’s hidden gems. Click here to find out more!
Article and images by Tom McBeth