Welcome to Berat – A brief history of the City

Welcome to Berat – A brief history of the City
31 Aug 2016


Berat is one of the exceptional cities that belong to the early humankind history. Thousands years ago, when the damaging streams of water fell down over the terrain, a massive rock was created, imposing over the river, welcoming the life of a city that survived for over 2400 years.

That city, result of a refined fantasy, attracted poets and painters to write and paint. Cities like Berat do not have a simple genesis. Pre- urban period lasted for two thousand years. This is proved by the discovery of two stone hammers and metallic remains in the Castle. The remains of a great a number of ceramic artifacts support for the growth of the settlements in that center, until the IV cent. B.C. The place was transformed in a Castle up to the hill:  the genesis of the city. The Castle with Illyrian basements was protected over the centuries and in the VI, XIII, XV, XIX century, it passed over some modifications. Therefore, it is not only one of the biggest inhabited Castles, but also a stone archive, that offers a variety of styles and contributes of different époques: Byzantine, Albanian, and Ottoman.
Gorica castle is another castle in the city that belongs to the same period (IV B.C.), positioned in the opposite hill, creating a double fortification in both sides, coming down to the river. The fortification aim was not only the possibility to dominate the area, but also to have a decorative effect: the hills look like kings with the white crowns formed by the white fortresses.
History has played here dramas and tragedies; being one of the most important cities of the Illyrians, it was inhabited by a big tribe: Desaretes . During Illyrian- Roman and Macedonian – Roman wars, the city was occupied intermittently from Macedonians and Illyrians. It’s interesting to know that Tolomeo Lagosi, the son of Philip of Macedonia and the creator of Tolomen Dynasty in Egypt, was born in Berat.

In 200 B.C. the city was dominated by Romans. The fortified city was named Antipatrea by Polibus in 216 B.C., and Titus Livus (Livy), describing it as a big strong city, fixed in a narrow rocky strip of land. Livy tells for the cruelty of the Roman Consul who “… killed all people from sixteen and up, allowed the army to destroy the city walls and to set the city on fire. “
Regarding the name of the city, there is also another hypothesis: the name of the ancient city as Bargul. This name is mentioned by Titus Livus (Livy) speaking of Macedonian- Roman pact in 205 B.C. signed in Dimal city. This name, that in Illyrian language means “white“, remains later in Byzantine and Slavonic tradition, while the other name Antipatrea was mentioned by Desarets, today the area between Korca and Pogradec.
The Romans called the city Albanorum Oppidum (Albanian Fortress). In 148 B.C. the city was included in the Roman Province of Macedonia, while during the occupation of Dioclezian ( II B.C.) in the New Epirus Province. The name Pulheriopolis was emerged in the V th century, from the East Emperor Theodosius Junior. This name Pulheria, that meant “beautiful, wealthy, strong city”, was given to the city as it was becoming a key center with a high cultural growth.
In Medieval time, a dark age begins for Berat. Other small Albanian cities began to disappear. The city remained as a wide space: the fields and the mountains were behind. It survived not only because of the Middle Albania street network around Berat, but also thanks to its geographic position; it was the key point where the fields meet the mountains, thus ensuring agriculture growth. Berat continued to be developed and to emerge the feudal type relations. In 860 began the Bulgarian invasion, which lasted until year 927. The Bulgarian domination continued until the end of year 969. The second Bulgarian invasion that lasted until the year 1018 named Berat as “Belgrad“ – white fortress.
After the Bulgarian domination decline (1018), the city was an important center. A fact for that is the letter of Theoflact of Ohrid , one of the most known personalities of that time , in which describes Berat bishop “ A person illuminated by wisdom “

With the Byzantine empire in decline, Berat became one of the most important centers of the religious authorities of Epirus. It was the residence of Michael Angel Komnenius , lord of Epirus clerical center. At the castle entrance, in its southern gate, is found a monogram of stones, a cross with four letters where is written: M.H.L.K. that is the name of the despot : M (i) .H (a) .L. Komnenius . This root of the big Byzantine family of Angelo Komnenius finishes at the end of 1216, but its offspring will hold this name even for 50 years.

Berat was an important center for Byzantine emperor,  that caused the attraction the Angiolins attention. They were defeated after 10 years of domination and this was celebrated with a great joy in Berat and Constantinople.. The building of Saint Maria of Vlaherna church, inside Berat fortress (a name that reminds the emperor palace in Constantinople) is related with that fact, and the church dates the same period of time.
In ancient codes of the year 1280, are found the first dates of the first settlements out of the Castle.

The big importance of Berat is evident at the beginning of the XIV century (1203- 1320), when the high governmental officers of Berat took important duties by Byzantine emperor. One of them was his brother in law.
The first signs of popular revolts appeared in 1336 and were spread all over the city. At the same time ended the rule of the Byzantine Empire. In 1345- 1346 the Byzantine Empire was vanished from the Albanian Political scene. The Serbian king Stefan Dushan took over the city and called it “Belgrad“, late after the city was under the Muzakas domination, one of the strongest family in Albania .

In 1417 Berat was under the Turkish occupation. The national hero Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg considering the city importance laid siege it in 1455, but the sudden arrival of 40. 000 Turks caused a big defeat. Almost all the Italians soldiers, under the orders of Alfons V of Aragona , came to help Skanderbeg , but remained killed under the fortress walls.
Regarding to the Turkish register of 1431 in Berat Castle were 227 families, with a total of 1500 inhabitants. In the XVI century Berat had a parallel growth with the Ottoman Empire. New buildings were spread out of the Castle, first in the East and later in the right side of Osum River, extending in the opposite bank of the river, in the southern part of Gorica Castle. At the end of the century were approximately 1019 houses, with a total of 7000- 8000 inhabitants. Artisan shops were quickly increased and the trade was in its peak.

During the Osman invasion, Berat remained one of the biggest cities in Albania. First it was the head center of the province, in the XVII century it was included to the Ioanina Pashallek.
Until the beginning of the XX century, the city had a solid infrastructure. It was a link toward East to Constantinople, but also toward South to Ioanina – Greece.

The Adriatic Sea was used as a communication bridge, therefore allowing the opening of the roads from Berat to other cities, a well-known one was “the sea road“ –that led to Vlore , and the one to the North that joined the Shkumbini River in Egnatia road and ended in Durres.
There is a hypothesis that Berat name comes from an Albanian variant called Belgrad, but there’s another belief that supposes that Berat name comes from a decree (Berat- in Turkish) that means immunity, exemption . That decree of Mehmet Fatiu II Sultan, treated Berat city with authority, didn’t allow the citizen to leave from the city, and restricted the freedom to work.

     The Castle

It’s one of the most ancient monuments in the city, with a surface of 9.6 ha , that stands above a hill of 187 meters, reconstructed by Mehill I Engjell Komneno , and later in 400 B.C.by Venice , imposing over the city, with high surrounding walls, split in 24 towers, built in different times . It’s built with gigantic stones in tetragon forms. In Byzantine period the Castle belonged to the fortification list of Justinian, the walls surrounded the hill , that dominates the city of Berat and has an arrow form, towards the north; in earlier times it formed a chain with the opposite hill-Gorica, that is 6 meters higher.
Years ago, the river had formed a lake at this point, and a cascade digging the rock forming a narrow strip of land. For that reason the terrain is very rocky and sharp.
In the northern part, next to the main gate, there is a fortified yard, one of the earlier medieval constructions of that type; it was built to endure the direct attacks.
In the south eastern part, there is a water reservoir adroitly built for fresh water. To assure water in the late Medieval, in the southern part was built a stone tunnel transporting water from the river to the Castle.
In the highest part of the Castle, there’s a wall-surrounded acropolis. Inside are found the remains of a military compartment, the remains of the Pasha (high Turkish government officer) Turret and the White Mosque.
The Castle has stood firm to its original plan of the IV century B.C. Time after time, due to techniques used, the fortress was adapted – this can be seen in the towers predisposed for the army in the XVIII- XIX cent.

       Other Monuments:

Some capitols and colonnades authenticate the existence of the Paleo-Christian churches in Berat in the IV- VI century , such as the basement of Saint Todri Church and a colonnade put along side of the window. Some of the most important buildings between VII- XV century are three Byzantine churches well- conserved : Saint Maria of Vlaherna ,Saint Trinity inside the fortified city, and Saint Michael over a rocky side out of the walls .

The churches of Berat are real pearls of the Medieval Architecture. The city has been an important religious center. There’s a great number of churches ( 42 ) inside the Castle .In Berat is found another rare object: the Epitaph of Glavenica, an important famous art work dating in 1373 , that obtains the dead Christ embroidery in gold, silver and silk with his crown written in Greek.
Berat churches go along with Byzantine frescoes, comprising different authors’ works, from anonymous in XII-XIV cent until XV century to great masters as Onufri and his son Nikolla.

The Islam cult objects are found inside the Castle too; the Red Mosque (XIV century) and the White Mosque (XV century) .
The most beautiful mosque is the Lead Mosque (XVI cent.) built by Uzgurliu, member of Skuraj family in Berat, a strong feudal family. This is the biggest mosque of this type in Albania. In 1827 was built the Bachelor Mosque , pleasingly harmonized with Mangalem quarter . The King Mosque (or the Bajazit sultan Mosque) was rebuilt at the end of the XVIII century. It consists of the prayers hall that has an elegant decorated ceiling in wood and its entrance. The Mosque stands in the medieval city center, surrounded by other cult objects as: Helvetie Teke and Saint Qerim Teke.

In Medieval time, the mosque took place as the main element of an entirely of cult objects.
Berat counted some Teke spreading the mystic doctrines of various predators coming from East, serving to Islam occupation. In the middle of the XVII century there were three Tekes, while today there’s only one, called Helvetie‘s Teke. It had 40 rooms for the dervishes (spiritual leaders).
It lays at the east of King Mosque, and has a characteristic Islamic cult structure with a prayers hall in its center and a cemetery outside with a 6- arches gate. The hall has a square plan and a rich decorative ceiling.

    Mangalem and Gorica

Mangalem and Gorica are two quarters of Berat city, distinguished for their harmony with the neighborhood terrain, using excellently the architectonic language. These quarters together with the Castle, still inhabited, are the most traditional complexes of the city.
Mangalem complex is a precious stone in constructions art, where the harmonic buildings composition has achieved a high level. It has an elegant pyramid form, imitating the hill silhouette, where is positioned the Castle. This composition, so big in its volume, as delicate as well, is characterized by an intensive transparency because of its great number of windows, having its name “the city of one thousands windows” The visitors are attracted by the narrow paths, even so hidden- with an exceptional beauty. Very intimate in their dark, these paths can’t be easily undermined.


Gorica is the quarter in front of Mangalem that never sees the sun during the winter time. Other quarters lay in the right side of Osumi, surrounding the hills. This configuration makes the city look like an ancient amphitheatre.

    Gorica Bridge

The wooden bridge of Gorica was built in 1780 by Ahmet Kurt Pasha. It was rebuilt two times; once in the XVIII cent recovered in stones, and during 1920- 1930.
It is 129.3 meters long, 5.3 meters wide, every arch has a distance of 9- 16 meters from the other. It stands 10 meters over the river level, and it’s a nice bridge consisted of seven arches.
In the inner part of the first colonnade, existed a hole fixed by an iron cover, where as a old legend says, should stay closed a girl, waiting to die , as a sacrifice to calm down the bad spirits who were against the bridge construction.
In another colonnade, during the recovering, was found a wooden sculpture of a woman’s head.
Built over a strong basement, the whole bridge is covered completely with carved stones connected with each- other by iron links. The bridge is distinguished by a fine elegance using white stones for its construction.


Berat Experience