And now, Berat.
Tirana is very well connected with the Albanian pearl, the town of Berat. There are buses leaving more or less every half hour from the main station called Dogana (an Italian word meaning Custom). Nevertheless I try to start my day early because I would like to be in Berat as soon as I can, so to be able to follow the now usual visit schema made of a first day dedicated to town where I am and the second for some excursion that in this case is yet to be defined. Trip should last about 2,5 hours and so, since I’ve got the bus leaving at 9:30 I do expect to be at my destination around noon. I’m eager to reach this town that was depicted by anyone who I’ve talked to, as likely the nicest in Albania. Trip is quite boring with nothing remarkable on the way. Route is going through Durrës and then southward. At least road isn’t bad. Berat’s bus station is located few kilometres from the historical centre but there is a very efficient shuttle service that for only 30 Albanian Lek, brings me in town. I took some time to find my B&B because they don’t have any sign outside the door and at the address I have there is an historical house. Shortly I found that the address is right. The place where I’m going to spend next two days is by far the best where I’ve been so far: an house of at least three centuries ago with an incredible view on the river and the houses laid on the hill on the other bank.
Introduction to Berat.
Before telling about my visit to the town, it would be good to spend some word for a short introduction. Berat is a pretty big town for Albania, since it counts about 50.000 inhabitants. It lays along a river called Osum for several kilometres but the interesting part for tourists can be reduced to three quarters. Mangalem and Gorica are facing each other on the two river banks, sharing same structure made of white houses climbing up the hill. Mangalem, that is the oldest of the two and it is where I’m sleeping, is right under the Castle area. The third quarter is actually the castle itself as I will better explain. Berat is world famous and it was included in the UNESCO heritage list because of its beautiful ottoman houses granting it the title of ‘town of the thousand windows’. There is actually another way of calling it that likely led to the current name and it is ‘white town’. This name was used at the time of the Serbian domination. Is not hard to think that from the Serbian “Beligrad” we came to Berat.
I decide to start my visit from the castle on the top of the hill that can be reached following the directions from Mangalem. Climbing up there is not so hard because in the end the distance is reasonable. Once I’m in I realise that more than a castle this one is a citadel meaning with this that there are people living within the walls. As a consequence the visit takes long because there are many places to explore. I didn’t say it yet but today it is a nice day with mostly clear sky. Not having a map I just walk around trying to cover the entire area not to miss anything. From one point there is an exceptional view of Gorica and of the modern part of town where it stands as main landmark the dome of the University. I walk back on my footsteps and I reach the museum Onufri that is located in the beautiful church of Virgin Mary and I have to say that more than the work of the local master after who museum is called, the real sight here is the church itself with an incredible carved out wooden altar. Unfortunately in the museum it is not allowed to take pictures. Keeping going around I find other orthodox churches mostly closed. After some time more spent going around between ancient walls and modern chickens I head to the lower part of town.
Mangalem and Gorica.
There are no many streets in the quarters of Mangalem and Gorica but this doesn’t mean you can’t get easily lost. It could happen that you enter in a small aisle thinking that it would lead somewhere and soon you discover it is actually a cul de sac for anyone but the owner of the house where that aisle is leading to. It needs to be said that the beautiful ottoman houses are great inside, as I know being my B&B one of them and that are great when you look at them all together. At a closer range they look obviously all the same so after you’ve seen some, you will easily stop being amazed. Luckily in Berat there are other interesting places. One of them is the Helveti teqe as they called in Albanian same kind of building called tekke in Bosnia, a Dervish or Sufi monastery. This one is similar to the one seen in Blagaj for what it regards the architecture but of course it lacks of the spectacular setting of that one. Going on with some recurrent motif of this area, even here there is a mosque with lead roof but it has nothing in common with the amazing one in Shkodër.
Mangalem seems to me the most genuine quarter of the two. Gorica has some nice restaurant with view on the river. The two quarters are connected by two footbridges that can be hardly be more different. One is a modern one vaguely resembling to a small scale Golden Gate, the other one stone made, instead is very old and beautiful and it has seven arches. Traditionally these two quarters were one Muslim (Mangalem) and one Christian (Gorica) but the time seems to have faded the differences. I’m quite satisfied of my visit and I take a break drinking a beer in one of the café of the pedestrian area close to Mangalem. Tomorrow, since I think I’ve seen most of Berat, can be used for some excursion but I still have to think about it. I will do that after the dinner that I spend in a restaurant where they promises to serve home-made food. Promise kept and food quite good as basically happened in all the places I’ve dine so far in Albania.
If you like to see some picture of Berat you have the following gallery and the one on Facebook about all Albania.