Thursday, March 13, 2014

Berat, the White City

Okay, I was wrong about Albania.  The first 30 km from the Kakavia border to Gjirokastra was just about the worst intro to Albania.  Five days into Albania, I conclude that it is just a regular developing country.  In fact, the first part of the bus ride from Gjirokastra to Berat follows the beautiful River Drino, very clear, glacier-colored (blue-green).  All the valleys and hills seems to be managed fairly properly for farming, grazing, and forestry.  If Gjirokastra seemed a little tragic for its reminiscence of past grandeur, Berat seems more picturesque because of better preservation.

Different monuments around town attest to the tumultuous past.  At the top of the town, the castle has been continuously occupied since Byzantine time, i.e. people still live there today.  It helped to fill in the some of gaps for me for Monemvasia and Mystras.  Down below the river Osumi separates the old Christian and Muslim quarters.  Besides mosques, the Muslim quarter had a Sufi tekke (center) and lodge of the Helveti order.  Both have been re-purposed today.

The tekke seems to be used as a Koran school today.  A couple of people were sitting around.  We gestured that we would like to look around and were waved in without any hesitation.  The tekke has a very beautiful painted wooden ceiling.  Our guidebook did not tell us this.  We could not believe our fortune.  Just as we were about to leave, a lady pulled out a booklet of tickets, and suggested apologetically that we buy a ticket - how much? - 100 lek (~$1) per person.  We were happy to oblige.  At the same time, a man showed up and gestured that the tickets include a visit to the mosque across the courtyard.  Our fortune was still with us.   Visiting mosques is always funny business.  Some glared at you if you even walk by; some take a ticket; some only let men in; some require women covered with headscarf; some have no rules for us infidels.  In this case, we were escorted around inside the mosque.  John got to go up in the women's gallery too.

Besides being favored by the computer god and the mosque god, the food god has been good to us too.  We are addicted to spinach byreks.  Byreks in Albanian are like hamburgers in the US, tacos in Mexico, pomfrits in Belgium.  They are basically giant savory pastry, filled with cheese, spinach, or meat.  Since we already have cheese, or cheese and yogurt for breakfast, we only have been eating spinach.   It's more or less spinakopita minus feta.  That's all we have been eating for lunch.  The flaky pastry fan in me is in hog heaven.


Let's start with the byreks. Here's a stack of four spinach byreks - soon to be our lunch.
Berat, Albania

The King's Mosque.
Berat, Albania

Women's Gallery Screen (seen from below).
Berat, Albania

The Tekke.
Berat, Albania

Berat, Albania

View of Berat from the Castle.
Berat, Albania

The Castle has both churches and mosques.

St Michael's Orthodox Church is perched just outside the walls
Berat, Albania

Sun-Ling descends the ruins of the minaret of the White Mosque.
Berat, Albania

Berat, Albania

Church Door.
Berat, Albania

Wandering through the Mangalemi Quarter - the former Muslim Quarter.
Berat, Albania

More Mangalemi.
Berat, Albania

This mosaic in  Mangalemi of a red star with book and hammers is left over from the tumultuous days of Communist rule.
Berat, Albania

Berat, Albania

Gorica - the Christian Quarter.
Berat, Albania

Gorica (right) and Mangalemi (left) from the Old Bridge just seconds before the sun goes behind the mountain.
Berat, Albania



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