The legend of Berat, Albania is almost as romantic and grand as the place itself. According to the legend, Mt. Tomor (in the east) and Mt. Shpirag (in the west) were brothers, both of whom loved a beautiful maiden who was brushing her golden hair nearby. Overcome with jealousy, the brothers fought to win her heart. Shpirag hit Tomor again and again, filling his body with holes. Tomor struck Shpirag with a sword, striping his body with deep cuts. The mountains themselves still bear the marks of this legendary duel.
When the beautiful girl saw that the battle between the two brothers wasn’t abating, she prayed to the gods to stop the fighting and they listened. The beautiful girl, filled with sadness, could only watch as the two brothers who loved her hardened into the mountains we call Tomor and Shpirag today. The girl herself transformed into a rocky hill, her tears formed the Osami River.
A bronze age kingdom chose this hill on which to build their fortress. The legend became part of Berat Fortresses very foundation.
Three fortress walls, 24 towers and two gates surround the ten acres that make up Berat, Albania, making the city itself a castle. One of the longest continuously-inhabited fortresses, it still houses around 1200 inhabitants within the castle walls. Although rebuilt several times between the 6th and 19th centuries, its foundations are Illyrian. Additionally, Romano-Byzantine, Albanian and Turkish influences can all be seen in this city’s unique architecture. Due to these many, varied influences, it serves as a living, evolving archive of the castle’s rich history. In 1961 it, along with nearby Gjirokastra were declared museum-cities. Across the river from the castle is the Gorica neighborhood with its museum and monumental arching bridge.
It might seem like a small town, but it would take a fair amount of time to see all that Berat has to offer. Visit the ruins of forty churches, the white mosque, the antique water depots, the ceramic gutters and the secret passage to the river. Here are some of the highlights:
- Visit one of the most well-preserved churches is St. George’s Church. Built during the XIV century, it is located in the middle of the fortress. At one point, locals transformed this church into a house, but recent renovations have converted it back to its original form.
- Explore the fortress walls. Locals suggest seeing the Turkish prison within the castle, the acropolis, the mansions, the rooms and the depots and the baths. The castle is well suited to giving you a glimpse into military life of past centuries.
- Photograph St. Trinity, or The Sacred Trinity, located below the steep sides of the fortress.
- Appreciate the post-Byzantine style paintings, housed within the ancient churches of Berat. Artists from the 16th century, most notably the great craftsman Onufri and his son Nikola created these paintings.
- View the iconostasis in the second millennium Cathedral Church. Furthermore, behind the iconostasis is the glass box where the two codices of Berat were historically held. First, see the “Purple Codex” of the 6th Century. Next, take in the “Golden Codex” of the 9th century. The World Heritage Organization certified these codices in 2005 as an official “Memory of the World.” The wise academician Aleks Buda, a local of Berat, fought to protect these famous codices in 1972.
- See the famous epitaph of Glavinica of 1373. Embroidered with gold, silver and silk, this epitaph shows Christ after he died, crowned and surrounded with Greek writings. Although lost several times during the ’90s, this work is now safe and sound, preserved for tourists to appreciate.
The solemnity of the entrance to the castle, a large gate built on giant rocks, leaves a strong first impression on each visitor who visits it. Indeed, you should take a moment of silence to truly take in the magnificence of this fortress before entering it. Book your tour of Berat, Albania today to see it for yourself!