Albania – on the tracks of Ismail Kadaré in Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster – a town made of stone

How much have I looked forward to this day. Today I will follow the tracks of Ismail Kadaré’s “chronicle in stone”. I had read the chronicle a year ago. It is the story of the three to seven year old boy that observed the war as a child: The first years from 1939-1940 and the second part from 1941-1943.

Today, we slender through the town where “it could happen that the basement of one house touched the roof of another house. It was a town made of stone.” As illustrated in the castle museum:


The houses look like fortresses:  Basement with vaults, then large windows behind which the guestrooms with the divans were.


Rich landowners lived here. They had farmers working for them. The town was wealthy due to agriculture, trade and craftmanship (eg leather).

Enver Hoxha’s house is now an ethnographics museum showing the rooms for guests, men, children and women as well as the kitchen.


In his chronicle, Kadaré talks about Hoxha. He was a communist partisan at that time and his house was a ruin. ““This ruin was his house”, Ilir whispers to Ismail in winter 41/42 and in the ruins they find this notice: “Wanted: The dangerous communist Enver Hoxha. He is about 30 years old and tall…”” (see my blog 1941-1943)

This is another example of a fortified house; it belonged to the Skenduli family.


The entry door is horizontal – what a clever design.



The castle above the town 

The castle above the town has been fortified by Ali Pasha around 1800 to become a stronghold that could withstand bombing. In Kadaré’s chronicle, there was a prison here. Later the whole city hid from the English bombs. ” The number of air raids by the English is augmenting. The citizens move into the castle above the town. Only Grand-Ma Selfixhe stays in the house of the Kadarés. ” (see 1941-1943)


The vaults were thick – here is a photo with the galerie of canons.


During his dictatorship, Hoxha added an ugly communist building (now hosting an exhibition of rifles) and in addition tunnels underneath the castle.


The house of Ismail Kadaré – it is stronger than all other houses and the boy is proud of it…

The house of Ismail Kadaré is on a horizontal street. From above it almost looks small.


From the hotel Kodra I can see, what a large house it is. Yes, Ismail, you are right to be proud of this house.


Ismail Kadaré has donated his house to the state. It is being renovated and is closed. We are allowed in. Currently they are redoing the room where Ismail was born, the foreman explains to us.


So – may be it was from this room that the boy Ismail stood at the window and watched,  how “… in summer 1940 the Italians have built an airport below the town. The boy has observed the process. The cows have disappeared… The  boy admires the parade of white planes. He is proud that Gjirokaster now also has planes… He watches the planes go south and he is always happy to see them come back.” (see 1939-1940)


Today the airport is not in use, but there are some plans to reuse it as a local airport.

The house has a cistern that collects rain water. ” … the rain drops land on the roof of the house – not yet knowing about their fate. Their fate is to get caught in the drainspout and to be captivated in the dark cistern, until mum lifts some of them into a bucket to clean the floors in the house. During the stormy night, the cistern fills with water – too much water. The boy shouts “huuuh” into the cistern, but it is angry and does not reply. ” (see 1939-1940). This must be, where the boy shouted “huuuh” and the angry cistern did not reply… it was too full with water and had to be emptied, with the help of the neighbours.


The foreman shows us, where the bunker is. How proud Ismail was of “his” house! “One morning the boy discovers a metallic plate next to the door of their house: “Air raid shelter for 90 persons”. Passerbies read the plate. The boy smiles proudly at them: “Look, this is a house, it is stronger than all the other houses, it is the only one with such a plate.” The adults do not notice him. The boy goes down into the vault and admires the thick walls.” (see 1939-1940)


In this bunker the boy listened to the conversations – one of them was about Albania: “The former artillerist Avdo Barbamo says that a Dervish wanted to know from him, what he prefers, his family or Albania. “Albania, this is evident”, the artillerist answered. His reasoning: You create a family over night, after having met a woman in a café. But Albania? You do no create Albania in a night, even 1001 nights do not suffice. ” (see 1939-1940)

I am very happy to have found the house of Ismail Kadaré. The foreman does not want any money – he is too proud, but in the end he accepts. I must have been the only tourist that has come to this construction site officially closed for tourists. I dream of a “tour Kadaré” that leads to all the places of his “chronicle of stone” displaying some relevant quotes on panels. Perhaps I should suggest this to the tourist office of Gjirokaster?


German support for border controls in the hotel Kodra

Under the square that once has hosted the memorial for Enver Hoxha there is the new hotel Kodra. We meet some German policemen that help control the border to avoid Albanians going to Greece. “Why only repression? What about coaching for business?” I ask. They answer: “Our mission is controling the border, we cannot do anything about it”. I am sighing. If only we could change the world for the better instead of only adding violence.


Our afternoon program: Hiking on the Lunxhëri hills and visiting a small church, the hermit’s cave and Antigonea, the ancient capital of Pyrrhus

It is no longer raining, just drizzling. Ben drives our car on to the Lunxhëri hills. We walk uphill. There are herds of sheep and goats with dogs guarding them. They bark at us, angrily. We find this church… the remains of a monastery called Shën Mërisë. According to Reise Know How Albania, p. 445, it contains frescoes.


Above the church, there is a small chapel in the rock. According to Reise Know How (p.445), this is the cave of a hermit and it is called Spile.


The stairs are dizzying. There are many excrements of goats – After having visited the cave, we wash our hands in a creek nearby. The weather starts to  clear up.


The shepherds come home and we have a chat with them.


The rainbow does not fit on to our photo lenses – and as we move, it moves with us…


Antigonea was the capital of Epirus in the 3rd century BC. It was destroyed in 167 BC. Pyrrhus (famous for his victory) named the town after his wife Antigone.


We say hello to Antigonea and, as it becomes dark, we return to Gjirokaster. We have dinner in the Taverna (I believe it is just across the building where the partisans had burnt the cadasters, as observed by the boy Ismail).


This has been another great day. Thank you, Ben.

Tomorrow, we will visit Ali Pasha in Tepelene and continue to Permet.

One thought on “Albania – on the tracks of Ismail Kadaré in Gjirokaster

  1. […] in stone” – his house, the airport and the castle… (see  “On the tracks of Ismail Kadaré“). Late in the afternoon, the sun started to emerge and we saw the […]

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