Monday, 22 August 2016

Tepelena : Ali Pasha and Lord Byron

From Gjirokastra a good road leads north to Tepelena, a distance of about twenty miles. The wide valley is fertile and peaceful, with the mountains rising slowly to the east. The river Vjosa meanders through wide sandbanks along the valley floor to the right of the road. 

At the entrance to the town is a large statue of Ali Pasha Tepelena, Governor of Southern Albania from 1788 - 1822. 

His reputation made Lord Byron curious to meet him. In 1809, Byron and his friend John Cam Hobhouse, travelled up to Tepelena and stayed as guests of the Pasha for a while.
They were received in the mighty castle, which was partly rebuilt and fortified by Ali Pasha. It overlooks the river valley, controlling all approaches and offering splendid views. 

The main square in front of the castle is now called Lord Byron Square
 - Sheshi Lord Bajron, with a large plaque showing the poet in Albanian dress.

In a letter to his mother, dated November, 1809, Byron wrote a description of his host:

His Highness is sixty years old, very fat and not tall, but with a fine face, light blue eyes and a white beard, his manner is very kind and at the same time he possesses that dignity which I find universal amongst the Turks. He has the appearance of anything but his real character, for he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave and so good a general, that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte. Napoleon has twice offered to make him King of Epirus, but he prefers the English interest and abhors the French as he himself told me. He is of so much consequence that he is much courted by both, the Albanians being the most warlike subjects of the Sultan, though Ali is only nominally dependent on the Porte. He has been a mighty warrior, but is as barbarous as he is successful, roasting rebels etc. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The fascinating city of Butrint, Albania

In the very south of Albania lies the extraordinary site of Butrint. It is about 24 km south of Sarande [just a mile across the sea from Corfu ] and is almost totally surrounded by water.

Butrint is a microcosm of Mediterranean history, with traces of all the great civilisations of the region represented there. Legend says that the city was founded by exiles fleeing from Troy. The site was inhabited in the 8th century BC. 

The Lion Gate

In the 4th century BC a healing sanctuary was created, dedicated to the god Asclepius. 


The theatre was part of the complex, as watching drama was considered to be a good treatment for illness. When the Romans conquered the city in the 1st Century AD, they added a frontage to this structure. Concerts and plays are still performed here.

 When we visited in May, the area was partially flooded, due to a week of intense rain in the Balkans. Flooding was the reason the city was eventually abandoned, with the people moving north to Sarande.

It is a delight to wander through the eucalyptus groves, with nightingales singing overhead. The peaceful atmosphere of the whole site makes a visit a special experience. From Greek theatre to Roman bath-house to Venetian watch tower or Byzantine basilica, the remains are all worth viewing. And all around are glimpses of the blue water of the Vivari Channel, where fishermen are at work as they have been for thousands of years.
Since 1992 Butrint has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a Wetland Site of International Importance.