Above the Ottoman era town of Berat, occupying a craggy hilltop, amongst olive groves and pine forests, lie the remains of Berat Castle.
Originally an Illyrian fortress, built cerca 300BCE, Berat Castle was destroyed by the Romans in 200BCE, then rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in 400CE, and added to in 500CE by Emperor Justinian.
Much of what can be seen today relates to improvements made by the Despot of Epirus in the 13th Century.
The castle is vast, and a sizeable population of Beratians continue to live inside its walls, inhabiting houses that date back to 1200CE.
It’s easy to get lost in the residential neighbourhood in the centre of Berat Castle. There are lanes running every which way, and there is no sense to the layout. These cats have worked out the easiest way to get from A to B is to go over the walls.
When the Serbs took control of the citadel, in 1345, they renamed it Beligrad, meaning White City (the capital of Serbia has the same name, derived from its own white stone fortress).
The grounds of the castle contain several churches. At its peak, there were 20 churches inside the keep, the population being predominately Christian at the time.
Red Mosque, Berat Castle
A mosque, known as the Red Mosque, was built in the castle following the conquest of Berat by the Ottomans in 1417. The base of the minaret is all that is left today.
Holy Trinity Church, Berat Castle
The frescoes that line the inside of the cupola of the Holy Trinity Church Of Berat have been ruined by moisture penetration.
It was the height of summer when I visited Berat Castle. After several hours of walking around in 40 degree heat in I leant over to photograph this butterfly. When I stood up again the world spun before my eyes and I decided I better take a short break.
This is the view I had to contend with while I waited for the world to stop spinning. Dominating the horizon is Mount Shpirag, its evenly buttressed ridges giving it the appearance of a colossal centipede.
And what’s that written on the side of Mount Shpirag?
It looks like…
In 1968 the word ENVER was written on the side of Mount Shpirag in hundred metre high letters as a tribute to the communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania at the time. In 2012, a local farmer repainted the letters, changing them to NEVER, as in never again.
Practical information on reaching Berat Castle:
There are regular buses running between Tirana and Berat. Travel time is 2 – 3 hours.
Read more on the historic centre of Berat in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.