Welcome to Berat

Food and Drink Travel

The city of Berat is located in the central/southern part of the country, 70km from Girokaster, 70km from Korce, and 70fm from Tirana. It sits nestled amongst impressive mountains and hills, the tallest of which is Mount Tomorr that reaches an elevation of 2417 and includes a vast National Park. The park is renowned for its diverse flora and fauna and is home to several endangered species such as bears, wolves, and eagles.

Mount Tomorr is also home to the legend of Baba Tomor, an old giant with a long, white beard who was accompanied at all times by four female eagles. The remnant of an Illyrian deity, German folklorist Maximilian Lambertz describes him as follows:

“Baba Tomor has taken the Earthly Beauty to be his bride. She spends her days with her sister, the Sea Beauty, E Bukura e Detit, but when evening comes, the wind, faithful servant of Baba Tomor, carries her back up the mountainside to him. Mount Tomor overlooks the town of Berat, which the old man jealously guards as his favourite city. Across the valley is Mount Shpirag with furrow-like torrents of water running down its slopes. While Baba Tomor was dallying in bed with the Earthy Beauty one day, Shpirag took advantage of the moment and advanced to take over Berat. The four guardian eagles duly awakened Baba Tomor from his dreams. When told of Shpirag’s surreptitious plans, Baba Tomor arose from his bed. His first concern was for the safety of the Earthly Beauty and so he ordered the East Wind to carry her back to the home of her sister. Mounting his mule, Tomor then set off to do battle with Shpirag. With his scythe, Tomor lashed into Shpirag, inflicting upon him many a wound which can be seen today as the furrows running down the mountainside. A trace of the hoof of Baba Tomor’s mule can, it is said, be seen near the village of Sinja BR. Shpirag, for his part, pounded Tomor with his cudgel and left many a wound on the lofty mountain, but was overcome. The two giants ultimately slew one another and the maiden drowned in her tears, which became the Osum river.”

The city was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and it enjoys a truly unique style of architecture with influences from a range of civilisations that have all been a part of Albanian history.

The name “Berat” is said to come from an Old Slavonic word, “Belgrad” which means “white city”. This was the name it was known as and referred to by Greek, Bulgarian, Latin, and Slavic historical records during the Late Middle Ages. Over the years, the name evolved from Belgrad/ Bellegrada/ Belgrad-I Arnavu to the modern-day spelling, ‘Berat’. It has also gone by names such as The City of Two Thousand Steps, Antipatrea, Bargul, Albanorum Oppidum, The City of 1000 Windows, and Pulheriopolis over its long history.

Geographically, most of the city sits in a plain and is comprised of three parts- Kalaja (the castle hill), Gorica (on the left bank of the river Osum), and Mangalem (at the foot of Kalaja). The river that winds through the houses has cut a 915-metre gorge through the limestone, and the river itself is said to be caused by the tears of Baba Tomor.

Life has existed in and around Berat for over 2400 years and during this time it has attracted all manners of interesting people; writers and painters such as my great uncle Edward Lear, a thriving Jewish community, emperors, the famous painter Onufri, Lord Byron, and Edith Durham. It was also the birthplace of Tolomeo Lagosi, the son of Philip of Macedonia and the creator of the Tolomen Dynasty in Egypt.

The castle that sits overlooking the vast cityscape below has Illyrian foundations but underwent significant extensions and modifications by Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans over the years. Dating from the 13thCentury it includes Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques, and was home at one time to most of the cities inhabitants. Whilst in a state of disrepair, it is still a magnificent sight and you can see for miles around as you stand on the bastions.

Berat is also home to a second castle, the smaller Gorica Castle that sits on the other side of the river. It was built not only to create extra protection for the city but also for aesthetic purposes to make the hill look like kings with white crowns atop their heads, formed by the white walls of the fortresses.

In recent times, after the fall of communism and as the country approached the brink of civil war, Berat was a lawless place. Run by armed gangs and organisations, it was home to some of the countries most prolific and dangerous criminals and became notorious as a hotbed of violence. But if you walk through the streets of Berat today, it is almost impossible to believe that.

A farmer tends to his sheep and single goat on the banks of the river, children play on the stone steps, and locals sit drinking coffee or ambling up and down the promenade, taking and laughing with friends. Berat is a sleepy place, breathtakingly beautiful and with palpable history in the air, it is the perfect place to spend a weekend.

The food here is excellent- mainly meat based and a bit spicier and heavier than its coastal counterparts, during the last visit I enjoyed rabbit in a rich tomato sauce, definitely worth trying if you pass Wildor restaurant. Berat is also well known for its wine and raki and it is home to several excellent kantinas including Cobo, Luani, Alpeta, and Nurellari- all of which are worth a visit and a tasting session.

If you haven’t visited Berat yet, then you really need to. Throbbing with history and full of beautiful views, architectural gems, friendly locals, culture, and of course lots of nice things to eat and drink, it is fast becoming one of my favourite places in Albania!

 Where to stay: I stayed at Hotel Berati which is the most wonderful family run hotel. With traditional decor, stone slab floors and walls, and a delightful breakfast served with a smile, this will be my home each time I visit the city- highly recommended.

Where to eat: casual- Heaven’s Kitchen,evening- Wildor

Where to go: Berat Castle, The National Ethnographic Museum, Gorica Bridge, Onufri Museum, the handmade lace shop a few doors down from Wildor, The King Mosque, Osum Canyon, The Edward Lear Art Gallery, Gimi Kafe, and a selection of wonderful antique shops.

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