Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My first overseas trip took me to Greece where I had my initial brush with historical ruins. Venetian castles, Turkish fortresses, German bunkers, and the Minoan palace at Knossos. It was a new experience and created an awareness of the vast continuum of history that I didn't have growing up in the American West. In Greece, goats grazed on the ramparts where Venetians fended off attacks 300 years ago and local residents treated the site as nothing special, just "our castle."

The same thing exists in Albania today. People go about their lives in the midst of antiquities. Castles, tombs, forts, basilicas, amphitheaters are scattered throughout the countryside and woven into the fabric of life. In Kruja, Berat, and Tepelena, people live inside the walled ramparts of castles as people have for hundreds of years. Some sites have faded from national consciousness due to their isolation. One is Bashtova Castle. A Venetian fortress built at the mouth of the Shkumbin River as part of the chain of strong points that secured their mastery of the maritime trade throughout the Mediterranean.

Today, the castle sits in solitude, another landscape feature for the farmers to plow around. Time has chipped away at the massive walls, but enough remains for a visitor to appreciate the size and layout of the bastion. Walk the walls and hear the wind whispering across the fields, carrying the scent of the nearby sea. The Shkumbin has changed course over the centuries, depositing its load of silt on the flatlands so the castle no longer commands a view of the harbor.

It's not hard, though, to imagine the place full of the bustle of trade. Goods from inland brought down the ancient trade routes that follow the river through the mountains. The Romans built their Via Egnatia along this route, connecting Rome to Constantinople and the Venetians followed suit.

The arches which line the inner periphery of the wall served as storage for goods awaiting transport out by ship as well as magazines for supplies and weaponry for the soldiers who kept the area secure for trade.

From atop the guard towers at each corner and above each gateway you can feel the strength and sense of security that those defenders must have felt. No doubt they felt a sense of supreme confidence not knowing that, like all the things man makes, even the ramparts of Bashtova Castle fall in the face of the ceaseless march of time. Albania has seen them rise, prosper, and fall into ruin. At the peak of their power, they shaped the society and to a lesser extent still do. Even if their presence no longer command respect and awe, these citadels draw the interest of travellers and the annoyance of farmers.


Ohrid Lady said...

Very interesting article and would love to visit. Has the road really improved to Saranda? Went that way last year from Vlore and it was good for part of the way and rapidly deteriorated although we made it!! Can you help?

Many thanks

Tirana Transplant said...

The road to Saranda is slowly getting much better. It is fine from Vlora to Dhermi. Dhermi to Vuno is still bad. Vuno to Himara is completed paved. Himara to Qeparo is 90% complete. Borshi to Shen Vlas is still under construction. From there to Saranda the road is built, but not completely paved as of 20 Septemebr 2008.

armand said...

I am glad to see the place where I was born, in that castle sallie son when I was 4 years old, since I am in love with that country. Every summer I go and spend two weeks of holidays in total peace, just 1 or 2 km from the castle lies the sea, one of the cleanest seas of Albania because it has never been exploited by man aparte nature:)
That castle was built by the Venetians on prehistoric old castle.