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Berat, Albania's most picturesque town

Berati (or Berat when in a sentence with a preposition as in "to", "in" or "from Berati") is probably the most picturesque town in Albania. The old town (Mangalem district), already proclaimed a "Museum City" by the dictator Enver Hoxha in June 1961, was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in July 2008. Berat now has a population of around 33,000 people.

The King's Mosque
 
Street to the citadel
 
Ethnographic Museum
 
Ethnographic Museum
 
In the Berat Citadel
 
Ancient Citadel
 
View from the Kala
 
St. Mary's church
 
Onufre Icon Museum
 
Shen Konstandini
 
Medieval church, Citadel
 
Kisha e Shën Triadhës
 
View to Osumi river
 
The Red Mosque
 
Berat from the Citadel
 
Gorica Christian District
 
Tending his sheep
 
Monastery of St Spyridon
 
The centre of Berat
 
Gorica District
 
Mangalem District
 
Typical windows
 
Leaded Mosque
 
View to Mangalem
 
Shops and mosque, Berat
 
Foot bridge, Osumi river
 
Icon of a Saint
 
Icons, St. Thomas church
 
Church wall painting
 
St. Thomas church, Gorica
 
Shën Mihell and Kala
 
Monastery of St. Spyridon
 
Interior St. Spyridon
 
In St. Spyridon church
 
Alley in Gorica
 
View to St Michael Chapel
 
Houses in Gorica District
 
The Ottoman bridge
 
War memorial
 
Xhamia e Beqarëve
 
Mosque wall paintings
 
Wall paintings, Berat
 
The Monastery
 
Xhamia Mbret
 
View of Mangalem District
 
In the Museum
 
View to Ottoman bridge
 
Mosque of the Bachelors
 

Berat is one of the oldest towns in Albania; it was already a fortress-settlement of the Greek Dassaretae tribe on the old border between Illyria and Epirus in the 6th century BCE. It fell to the Romans in the 2nd century BCE and was part of the Byzantine Empire, when it was known as Pulcheriopolis. It was captured by the Bulgarians in the 9th Century and renamed "Beligrad" (White City) which may be the origin of the name "Berat". After subsequent rule by Epirotes, Byzantines, Sicilians and Serbs it was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1450; it remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912. Ali Pasha of Tepelena however seized it in 1809 and ruled it for many years as his own fiefdom. Berat played an important role in Albanian national revival in the 19th Century.

Below the 14th century Kalaja (Kala or citadel) on the left bank of the Osumi river is Mangalemi (Mangalem), the traditionally Muslim district with its fine decorated houses with large windows overlooking the town. Although sometimes called "The City of a Thousand Windows", this is actually a mistranslation from the description by the famous Albanian writer Ismail Kadare; he called Berat "Qyteti i një mbi një dritarevë", "The City of a one Window over another". The "një mbi një" (one over another) was confused with "një mijë" (one thousand); but the correct meaning is obvious when seeing Mangalem District which is built on a steep hill and the windows seem to be placed one over another when seen from a distance. There are a number of fine mosques, the King's Mosque (Xhamia Mbret, 1512), the Leaden Mosque (Xhamia e Plumbit, 1555) and Batchelor's Mosque (Xhamia e Beqarëve, 1827), the latter with wonderful paintings on the outside walls. Right in Mangalem is the Hotel Mangalemi, in a wonderful Ottoman villa, the first hotel to be opened here after the fall of communism. Another 18th century Ottoman villa houses the Ethnographic Museum, along the narrow cobbled street leading up towards the citadel.

Berat is dominated by its impressive Kalaja, the citadel built on ancient Illyrian foundations along a rocky ridge above the town. Most buildings inside the fortress were built during the 14th century and are preserved as cultural monuments. The population of the fortress was Christian; there were about 20 churches, mostly built during the 13th century. Over the years most deteriorated and now only some remain. The largest church is the Cathedral of Shen Maria (Saint Mary), rebuilt during 1797 and the most representative monument of post Byzantine architecture in Berat. It houses the Onufri National Museum in honor of Onufri, the famous 16th Century Albanian painter and houses a large collection of his beautiful frescoes by Onufri. The 13th century Church of Saint Mary of Vllaherna, perched high on the side of a hill in the fortress has 16th century mural paintings by Nikolla, Onufri's son. The citadel has only one mosque, the Xhamia e kuqe (Red Mosque), built in the latter half of the 15th century for use of the Turkish garrison. Only a few ruins and the base of the minaret survives.

On the left bank of the Osumi river below Mount Shpirag is the traditionally Christian quarter of Gorica. The name is derived from the Old Slavic word for "little mountain" and refers to Mount Sphirag in comparison with the much higher Mount Tomorr (2,400 metres) that towers over Berat. A legend tells that Tomorr and Shpirag were once giants who fought over a young woman. They killed each other and the girl drowned in her tears, which became the Osumi river. Gorica is a picturesque neighbourhood with several Orthodox churches. Just across the footbridge that links it with the centre of Berat, is the small church of St. Thomas (Shën Tomi), with many old icons. Saint Spyridon Church and Monastery are also worth a visit, with their richly carved pulpit and beautiful icons. The neighbourhood is a maze of narrow alleys and Ottoman style houses. A seven-arched stone bridge, dating from 1780, connects it with the other bank further downstream.