Berat, Albania; The City of 1,000 Windows

The city of Berat is located about 110km (68 miles) southeast of Durres.  The Old Town was designated a UNESCO  World Heritage Site in 2008 as a rare example of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period.  Ottoman Empire History.  UNESCO describes Berat as a 2400 year old museum.  It lies at the foot of the Tomorri mountains and is considered in antiquity as a sacred site.

Berat is known as the White City, as most all of the dwellings there are painted white.  It is also known as The City of a Thousand Windows as demonstrated by this golden hued early morning photo of the Mangalem section of Berat, taken from my hotel balcony.

1,000 Windows at dawn

The city is divided by the Osum River. The city has 3 sections, the Mengalum where I was staying, The Castle high on the hill overlooking the houses in the photo and the Gorica on the other side of the river.  The city also has a Medieval Center which includes a 15th century mosque. The Mengalum area is known by its multi-windowed buildings and narrow charming, but stony pathways.


One of several minarets outside of my hotel balcony.  Who needs an alarm clock?

When we think of a Castle, we tend to envision a stone dwelling with thick walls and perhaps a moat and drawbridge.  However, this Castle was built as a fortress surrounding the old city, similar to the Alhambra in Granada.

Castle walls

It was an excellent choice which gave the inhabitants full view of the valley in both directions, access to the river for trade and a fortress easily defendable due to the difficulty in mounting an offensive UP the side of the mountain.

Looking Up from the town

Looking up the road from the town.  It is about a 20 minute walk up.  It took me 30 minutes walking down due to uneven stones and steepness.  The stones are uneven and it would be easy to turn an ankle or trip.

Looking down into the town of Berat, Albania

Within the Castle there were many residences and 42 churches of the Byzantine era (330 BC), today only 8 intact shrines and ruins of the Red and White mosques exist. There is an area called the Acropolis built on the higher ground within the Castle and which had a second perimeter wall; and, inside is found remnants of the Turkish military garrison.  Today there are approximately 150 residents still living within the Castle ruins.

Castle walkway

Byzantine architecture, Building style of Constantinople (now Istanbul, formerly ancient Byzantium) after ad 330. Byzantine architects were eclectic, at first drawing heavily on Roman temple features. Their combination of the basilica and symmetrical central-plan (circular or polygonal) religious structures resulted in the characteristic Byzantine Greek-cross-plan church, with a square central mass and four arms of equal length. The most distinctive feature was the domed roof. To allow a dome to rest above a square base, either of two devices was used: the squinch (an arch in each of the corners of a square base that transforms it into an octagon) or the pendentive. Byzantine structures featured soaring spaces and sumptuous decoration: marble columns and inlay, mosaics on the vaults, inlaid-stone pavements, and sometimes gold coffered ceilings. The architecture of Constantinople extended throughout the Christian East and in some places, notably Russia, remained in use after the fall of Constantinople (1453). See also Hagia Sophia.ica (Taken from http://www.Britannica) Click on underlined words to access original article.

The Church of St. Mary

This is the small Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas with the walls of the Acropolis behind.


Bust of Emperor Constantine 57th ruler of the Roman Empire, 4th Century, 306-322 AD The medieval church saw him as a paragon of virtue while secular rulers saw him as a prototype and critics portrayed him as a tyrant .. not much different from politics today.

While walking through the Castle with map in hand this old man, who spoke relatively good English approached and started telling me about the history of the area (which I had already researched before coming to Berat).  He said he lived in the Castle and could show me around.  I knew, of course, that this was a “free tour” which means you pay what you think it is worth at the end.

As we walked and took photos, I found that his favorite saying was “Oh, my God!” usually uttered after each photo he took of me.  I think it was meant to be a positive expletive, but it could be taken either way.  LOL

Although you cannot see the writing on the hills through the arch, I will tell you, it spells out N E V E R in very large letters.  My tour guide said it was put there to remind Albanians that they will NEVER again be under the rule of the communists, a tyrant, or a government that puts the people last.

The NEVER story:  The NEVER Story


Well, the old man was quite a talker and I enjoyed his company so when we parted at the museum he asked for … and  I gave him … 1000 Leke ($7.11 US) which he was very pleased to get.  I know, I know, $7 is not much; but remember that this is a poor country and to this man, 1,000 Leke is a good return on his 30 minutes. Actually, in US terms, he made $14.00 an hour, not bad compensation.   Compare this to the 3,500 Leke ($24) I paid for a night at an Albanian 4 Star hotel.

Tour guide

He also was my photographer.  He showed me his house and pointed out where his roof needed repairs.  He pointed out plants like wild rosemary and chamomile; shared local history and explained the process for Berat to become a UNESCO site.  This alone was worth the 1000 Leke.

Tough walking in the Castle area

Tough walking in the Castle.


One of the interesting things within the Castle is the variety of building/architectural techniques. You can clearly see the differences starting in about the 4th century.  There are Roman-Byzantine, Turkish/Ottoman,  and Albanian.  The buildings inside the Castle were mostly built in the 13th century and are preserved as cultural monuments.


He left me at the Onufri National Iconographic Museum, which is housed in the Cathedral of St. Mary, where I paid 300 Leke ($2.13) for entrance.  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed.  (The Cathedral is very small, 3 rooms only)

Go to the first link “Altar description of the church” and read about the carving of the altar area.  THEN, go to the photo on the bottom right of the page.  This is the altar photo.  It is a phenomenal piece for the craftsmanship of this age.

You might then like to view all of the other photos on this page as well.  Images of the purple codices are included.

Altar description of the church

The altar was the first impression as you walk in the door; however, the item I really wanted to see was the Purple Codex which is one of the oldest known variants of the gospels written in the 6th century and is only one of 5 known existing codices in the world.

This is a copy from “VIRTUAL TOURIST” site, submitted by author JLBC

(The photos of this tip are not mine but have been borrowed to the Unesco web site Codex Beratinus where you will find full details on the Codex Beratinus : JLBC author note)  I give here a short summary of its content.
Two very old Gospels (codices) have been found in Berat, Albania: ?Beratinus-1?, dating from the sixth century, and ?Beratinus-2? from the ninth century. Both form part of the seven ?purple codices? which survive today. Two of the ?purple codices? are preserved in Albania, two in Italy and one each in France, England and Greece.
They are proposed for inclusion in the Unesco Memory of the World International Register.

?Beratinus-1? ? sixth century is a Gospel handwritten in uncial majuscules. It represents one of the three or four oldest New Testament archetypes and is an important reference point for the development of biblical and liturgical literature throughout the world. ?Beratinus-2? ? ninth century comprises Gospel manuscripts from the standard text period. Some paragraphs are semi-uncial. In terms of style and age, it is comparable to Greek Codex 53 (Saint Petersburg). It contains the four complete Gospels.

The two Albanian codices are very important for the global community and the development of ancient biblical, liturgical and hagiographical literature. The seven ?purple codices? were written one after the other over a period of 13 centuries, i.e. from the sixth to the eighteenth centuries. The two codices represent one of the most valuable treasures of the Albanian cultural heritage.

In the 1970s, in accordance with an intergovernmental agreement between Albania and China, they were sent to the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Science to be restored. Identical reproductions were then created so that they could be fully accessible to researchers. After being restored, both codices are kept at the Albanian National Archives in Tirana, in a strong-room financed by UNESCO.


Codex BeratinusCodex Beratinus
Another Willie Nelson wonder.  “Seeing things I’ve never seen before, and may never see again.”
I am sure I will make another trip to Berat before leaving Albania because there are other things of interest here to see.
Let me leave you with this little tidbit of information.  Did you know that Mother Theresa, Stan Dragoti, Hollywood director; and the Belushi brothers have Albanian ancestry?
Tjeter Ndalesa Tirane
Next Stop Tirana
Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty






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