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Gjirokastėr (Greek: Αργυρόκαστρον Argyrókastron, Italian: Argirocastro, Turkish: Ergiri) is a city in southern Albania at 40°04′N 20°08′E with a population of around 30,000. It is the capital of Gjirokastėr District. Its old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as "a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate".
Gjirokastra or GJIROKASTĖR is one of the most venerable towns of Albania. Its name means Silver Fortress, and neatly shows the relation within one linguistic group of Greek, Latin, Etruscan and Albanian.Like Berat to the north, it is a UNESCO World Heritage City.
In the south of the country, 300 meters above sea level, Gjirokastra has a beautiful and dramatic situation in a lush valley between the high Gjerė mountains and the rushing river Drin or Drinos.
Traditional Gjirokastėr housesGjirokastėr is an ancient city with traces of human habitation dating back to the 1st century BC. It is located on the slopes of the Mali i Gjerė ("Wide Mountain"), overlooking the Drinos river. The city was probably founded some time in the 12th century AD around a fortress on the hillside. Under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, it developed into a major commercial centre known as Argyropolis ("Silver City", Greek:) or Argyrokastron ("Silver Castle", Greek:).
The city was part of the Despotate of Epirus in the 14th century before passing to the Ottoman Empire in 1417. It was captured in 1811 by the Albanian-born Ali Pasha, who carved out his own semi-autonomous fiefdom in the southwestern Balkans. In the late 19th century it became a centre of resistance to Turkish rule. The Assembly of Gjirokastėr, a key event in the history of the Albanian liberation movement, was held there in 1880.
During the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, the city was claimed by Greece due to its large ethnically Greek population but they never achived it. During the Second World War, the city was occupied on various occasions by Italy, Greece and Germany before returning to permanent Albanian control in 1944.
The postwar Communist regime developed the city as an industrial and commercial centre. It was elevated to the status of a "museum town" largely due to the fact that it was the birthplace of the dictator Enver Hoxha, who had been born there in 1908. His house was converted into a museum which became a focal point of Hoxha's cult of personality.
Gjirokastėr suffered severe economic problems following the end of communist rule in 1991. It was particularly badly affected by the 1997 collapse of a massive pyramid scheme, which destabilised the entire Albanian economy. The city became the focus of a rebellion against the government of Sali Berisha and violent anti-government protests took place which eventually forced Berisha's resignation. On December 16, 1997, Hoxha's house was blown up by unknown (but presumably anti-communist) attackers.
Gjirokastėr is principally a commercial centre with some industries, notably the production of foodstuffs, leather, and textiles.
Culture and places of interest
Many houses in Gjirokastėr have a distinctive local style that has earned the city the nickname of the "town of the stones", because most of the old houses have roofs covered with stones. Due to Gjirokastėr's importance to the Communist regime, its city centre was spared at least some of the thoughtless redevelopment that afflicted other cities in Albania, but its designation as a "museum town" unfortunately did not translate into maintaining the old town. Consequently many of its historic buildings have become dilapidated, a problem that is only slowly being resolved.
United States Air Force Lockheed T-33 reconnaissance plane forced down in December, 1957, on display in Gjirokastėr, Albania.The Citadel dominates the town and overlooks the strategically important route along the river valley. It is open to visitors and contains a military museum featuring captured artillery and memorabilia of the Communist resistance against German occupation, as well as a captured United States Air Force plane to commemorate the Communist regime's struggle against the "imperialist" powers. The citadel dates back to the 18th century and its construction was ordered by Gjin Bue Shpata, a local tribal leader. Additions were built during the 19th and 20th centuries by Ali Pasha Tepelene and the Government of King Zog. Today it possesses five towers and houses a clock tower, a church, water fountains, horse stables, and many more ammenities. The northern part of the castle was eventually turned into a prison by Zog's government and housed political prisoners during the communist regime.
Gjirokastėr also features an old bazaar which was originally built in the 17th century, but which had to be rebuilt in the 19th century after it burned down. There are more than 200 homes preserved as "cultural monuments" in Gjirokastėr today, and it is also the site of the International Albanian Folk Festival held every four years (most recently in 2005).
When the town was first proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List in 1988, ICOMOS experts were nonplussed by a number of modern constructions which detracted from the old town's appearance. The historic core of Gjirokastėr was finally inscribed in 2005, 15 years after its original nomination.
The first Albanian school of Gjirokastra was Drita school opened in 1908. Eqerem Ēabej University of Gjirokastra is the highest education school. Tel:+355 846 3776 / 3408/9
Adil Ēarēani, former Prime Minister
Baba Rexhep, Bektashi religious leader
Ēerēiz Topulli, Albanian resistance fighter
Eqrem Ēabej, ethnologist
Enver Hoxha, dictator
Ismail Kadare, author
Musine Kokalari, author
Enver Hoxha, (October 16, 1908April 11, 1985) was the paramount leader of Albania from the end of World War II until his death in 1985, as the First Secretary of the Communist Albanian Party of Labour. He was also Prime Minister of Albania from 1944 to 1954 and the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1946 to 1953. Under Hoxha, whose rule was characterized by isolation from the rest of Europe and, according to his adherents, by firm adherence to Marxism-Leninism, Albania's government projected the image that it had emerged from semi-feudalism to become an industrialized state.
Discarded bust of Enver Hoxha
Hoxha was born in Gjirokastėr, a city in southern Albania that has been home to many prominent families. He was the son of a cloth merchant who travelled widely across Europe during his childhood, and the major influence on Enver during these years was his uncle, Hysen Hoxha. Hysen Hoxha was a militant who campaigned vigorously for the independence of Albania - which occurred when Enver was four years old - and opposed the repressive governments that prevailed after independence. Enver took to these ideas very strongly, especially after King Zog came to power in 1928.
In 1930, he went to study at the University of Montpellier in France on a state scholarship, but he soon dropped out. From 1934 to 1936 he was a secretary at the Albanian consulate in Brussels. He also studied law at the university there. He returned to Albania in 1936 and became a teacher in Korēė.
Hoxha was dismissed from his teaching post following the 1939 Italian invasion of World War II for refusing to join the Albanian Fascist Party. He opened a tobacco shop in Tiranė where soon a small communist group started gathering. He was helped by Yugoslav communists to found and become leader of the Albanian Communist Party (called Party of Labour afterwards) in November 1941, as well as the resistance movement (National Liberation Army), which took power in November 1944.
Hoxha declared himself an orthodox Marxist-Leninist and strongly admired Joseph Stalin. He adopted the model of the Soviet Union and severed relations with his former Yugoslav communist allies following their ideological breach with Moscow in 1948. He had defence minister Koēi Xoxe executed a year later for alleged pro-Yugoslav activities.
Hoxha's regime confiscated farmland from wealthy landowners and consolidated it into collective farms (Cooperatives), imprisoning and executing thousands in the process. The Hoxha regime propaganda took great pride in claiming that Albania had become completely self-sufficient in food crops during communist rule, as well as developing an Albanian industry and bringing electricity to most rural areas, all the while stamping out illiteracy and disease.
Pill boxes in Albania built during Hoxha's rule to avert possible internal revolution or external invasion. Over half a million were built; most have now been removed.However, the opening of the Albanian borders to the outside world, following the collapse of the communist regime, revealed a completely different picture. Albania was not the industrialized, advanced nation of communist party propaganda, but in fact a country that was backward, not only by Western Capitalist standards, but also by those of other Eastern Bloc countries such as Bulgaria and Romania. The vaunted industry of Albania was, in fact, fictional, while the farming collectives used agricultural methods of the previous century. Telephone communication, long established in every household in Albania's neighbouring countries, was uncommon in most areas; telephone use, however, was available for most everyone through communal post-telegraph-telephone offices prevalent throughout Albania. Worker wages and living standards were remarkably low by European nation standards, a fact that led to a massive exodus of Albanian workers into neighbouring Greece and Italy, where they could sustain better standards of living as illegal immigrants, than they did in their country as nationals.
Despite his grand-standing, it appeared that Hoxha's major legacy was a complex of over 600,000 one-man concrete bunkers across a country of 3 million inhabitants, to act as look-outs and gun emplacements, pointed against towns and villages just as often as they were outside of them. The paranoid nature of Hoxha's character, who was beset by fears of American invasion just as much as internal revolution, was apparent in the design.
Hoxha had remained a firm Stalinist despite new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's repudiation of Stalin's excesses in 1956 at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, and this meant Albania's isolation from the rest of communist Eastern Europe. In 1960, Hoxha aligned Albania with the People's Republic of China, which also continued to uphold Stalin's legacy, in the Sino-Soviet split, severing relations with Moscow the following year. In 1968, Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in response to the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Hoxha's internal policies were true to the Stalinist paradigm he admired, and the personality cult organized around him held striking resemblance to that of Stalin. Internally, the "Sigurimi" Albanian secret police made sure to replicate the repressive methods of the NKVD, MGB, KGB, and Stasi. Its activities permeated Albanian society to the extent that every third citizen had either served time in labor camps or been interrogated by Sigurimi officers. To eliminate dissent, the government resorted systematically to purges, in which opponents were dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned in forced-labour camps, and often executed. Travel abroad was forbidden to all but those on official business, in order to sustain the myth of an advanced Albania. Any trace of individuality and creativity in cultural life was stifled, as the arts and belles lettres were allowed to exist only to the degree they served as mouthpieces for the government.
In 1967, following two decades of progressively harsher persecution of religion under his rule, Hoxha triumphantly declared his nation to be the first and only officially atheist state in history. Partly inspired by China's Cultural Revolution, he proceeded to confiscate mosques, churches, monasteries, and shrines. Many were immediately razed, others turned into machine shops, warehouses, stables, and movie theaters. Parents were forbidden to give their children religious names. Anyone caught with the Qur'an, Bibles, icons, or religious objects faced long prison sentences.
According to a landmark Amnesty International report published in 1984, Albania's human rights record was dismal under Hoxha. The regime denied its citizens freedom of expression, religion, movement, and association although the constitution of 1976 ostensibly guaranteed each of these rights. In fact, certain clauses in the constitution effectively circumscribed the exercise of political liberties that the regime interpreted as contrary to the established order. In addition, the regime denied the population access to information other than that disseminated by the government-controlled media. The Sigurimi routinely violated the privacy of persons, homes, and communications and made arbitrary arrests. The courts ensured that verdicts were rendered from the party's political perspective instead of affording due process to the accused, who were often sentenced without even the formality of a trial.
Hoxha was unhappy with China's rapprochment with the USA in the early seventies. He had himself normalised relations with Albania's neighbours immediately before. Mao's death in 1976 and the defeat of the Gang of Four in China's subsequent inner-party struggle in 1977 and 1978 led to the Sino-Albanian split and Albania's retreat into political isolation, with Hoxha claiming the anti-revisionist mantle to criticize both Moscow and Beijing.
Hoxha was exhumed in 1992 and informally reburied. In 1981, Hoxha ordered the execution of several party and government officials in a new purge. Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu was reported to have committed suicide following a further dispute within the Albanian leadership in December 1981, but it is often believed that he was killed.
Later, Hoxha withdrew into semi-retirement and turned most state functions over to Ramiz Alia. Hoxha's death on April 11, 1985, at the age of 76 led to some relaxation in internal and foreign policies under his successor Ramiz Alia, as communist party rule weakened throughout Eastern Europe, culminating in Albania's abandonment of one-party rule in 1990 and the reformed Socialist Party's defeat in the 1992 elections.
Musine Kokalari (February 10, 1917 Adana, Turkey - August 14, 1983) of Gjirokastėr, Albania was probably the most interesting figure among the minor prose writers of Albania's pre-communist period, both as an individual and as an author. Kokalari was the first female writer of Albania, and the only one up until the 1960s. Born on February 10, 1917 in Adana in southern Turkey of a patriotic and politically active family of Gjirokastrian origin, Kokalari returned to Albania with her family in 1920. She was early to acquire a taste for books and learning since her brother Vejsim operated a bookstore in Tiranė in the mid-thirties.
In January of 1938, she left for Rome to study literature at the university there and graduated in 1941 with a study on Naim Frashėri. Her stay in the eternal city gave her an ephemeral glimpse into a fascinating world of intellectual creativity and her sole aim in life upon her return to Albania was to become a writer. In 1943, she declared to a friend, "I want to write, to write, only to write literature, and to have nothing to do with politics." She had, at the age of twenty-four, indeed already published an initial 80-page collection of ten youthful prose tales in her native Gjirokastrian dialect: Siē me thotė nėnua plakė (As my old mother tells me), Tiranė 1941 This historic collection, strongly inspired by Tosk folklore and by the day-by-day struggles of women of Gjirokastėr, is thought to be the first work of literature ever written and published by a woman in Albania. Kokalari called the book, "the mirror of a world gone by, the path of transition from girlhood with its melodies and the first years of marriage to the world of the grown woman, once again bound by the heavy chains of slavery to patriarchal fanaticism." Three years later, despite the vicissitudes of the civil war, Kokalari now twenty-seven, was able to publish a longer collection of short stories and sketches entitled ...sa u-tunt jeta (...how life swayed), Tiranė 1944, a total of 348-pages which established her -- ever so briefly -- as a writer of substance. A third volume of her folksy tales was entitled Rreth vatrės, (Around the hearth), Tiranė 1944.
As the Second World War came to an end, Kokalari herself opened a bookstore and was invited to become a member of the Writers' Union, created on October 7, 1945 under the chairmanship of Sejfulla Malėshova (1901-1971). All the time she was haunted by the execution without trial of her two brothers, Mumtaz and Vejsim, on November 12, 1944 by the communists and candidly demanded justice and retribution. Having herself been closely associated in 1944 with the fledgling Albanian Social-Democratic party and its press organ Zėri i lirisė (The voice of freedom), she was arrested on January 17, 1946 in an age of terror concomitant with the arrest of Malėshova, and on July 2, 1946 was sentenced to twenty years in prison by the military court of Tiranė as a saboteur and enemy of the people. The next eighteen years of her life she spent in the infamous concentration camp of Burrel in the Mati region, isolated and under constant surveillance, persecuted and provoked by boorish and uneducated prison officials. A broken woman, she was released around 1964 and given a job as a streetsweeper in the provincial town of Rrėshen. Musine Kokalari, once a gifted young teller of tales, was persecuted to the end of her days. Terminally ill with cancer, she was even refused a hospital bed before her death on August 14, 1983.