Europe is a continent incredibly rich in architectural heritage. Thousands of impressive heritage towns and cities can be found almost everywhere. However, the Balkan Peninsula is richer in nature, with a few very interesting architectural treasures. Amongst these, Berat is probably the most authentic, rich and complete example of a typical Balkan style town.
In late 2013 I travelled around Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, the less visited region in Europe. Entering Albania was like coming into a different world: pristine nature, abandoned railroads, communist bunkers, copper boilers over buildings, plenty of Mercedes and turkeys everywhere. Even getting through the country was an exotic experience. Buses are very old, and bus stations improvised large parking areas. Albania is for sure outstanding and different!
The country’s main highlight is its gorgeous nature. Landscapes are mountainous, green and rocky, and settlements are scarce. The air is pure and animals walk freely. Fascinating views are everywhere. While most towns, including the capital Tirana, are not that appealing to the eye, Albania has a few hidden gems. The historically important cities of Berat and Gjirokaster are a testament of a rich trading era during the Ottoman Empire, where a Christian minority lived in peaceful coexistence with the Muslim majority.
I decided to visit Berat since it was closer. Located on the slopes of the Tomorr Mountains, near the confluence of Osum and Molisht rivers it boasts outstanding architectural heritage. As if that was not enough, the area includes three old towns almost entirely preserved. Kalaja, on the hill, is located inside an old castle built in the 13th century. The views from there are spectacular. At the foot of the hill Mangalem was once home to city’s Muslim population. Gorica, across the river was the Christian neighborhood.
What makes Berat special is that its buildings belong to the so-called Balkan Style. A typical Balkan house has a ground floor made of stone, an upper floor painted in white and the roof covered with red ceramic tiles. The most distinctive feature of such houses are large windows with brown wooden marks. Berat is alive today, settled by warm hospitable people, making its atmosphere exceptional. Just take a walk along its cobbled streets and you’ll see what I am talking about.
The Balkan Peninsula owes its turbulent past to its location, where Europe and Asia meet. According to the oppressive policy of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan territories were treated as subordinates. The Empire itself didn’t invest much in building the Balkans nor respected any heritage considered ‘foreign’. That’s why the patrimony left in the Balkan Peninsula is concentrated around isolated monasteries. With its beautiful surroundings and fascinating architecture Berat is an absolute must if you are looking for something different.
Happy Frog recommends Hotel Mangalemi