Albania tour continued..........
Day 4 involved a long drive south. First stop was the fortress of Berat. You can drive right up to the gatehouse and then walk the extensive battlements from where the strategic significance of this site is obvious. There were several sieges including an important Ottoman victory in 1455.
The castle houses what must be the strangest artillery museum I have visited.
Each exhibit has a bay in an almost pitch black part of the castle with a wide
variety of Italian, German and Russian weaponry including an Italian
tank. Gjirokastra was fought over during the 1940 Italian Greek war. Most are a
mystery to me so I have put them on a separate page for
anyone who wants to make an identification.
On the last day a long drive up the coast back to Tirana, made worse by a truly awful road as far as the Llogaraja pass. The highlight was Palermos Bay with another square Ali Pasha fort on a promontory into the bay and the former submarine base blasted into the cliffs.
Palasa where Julius Caesar landed in 49BC is the start of the Llogaraja pass, over 3000ft high under Mount Athanasius and reached (thankfully) by a new road. I suspect his legionaries not unreasonably wondered why he didn't land the other side of this mountain! The Greeks advanced right along this coast in 1940 pushing the hapless Italians back to Vlora. Having driven it you gain a new respect for their achievements in that campaign.
Coming down from the mountains you arrive at ancient Oricum in the bay of Vlora, a Greek colony later used as a base by Caesar in the civil war. Despite the road signs and information board access was barred by a gun toting guard, I presume because of the NATO base.
On to Vlora the traditional link port for Italy and indeed occupied by the Italians many times in Albanian history. This is where Albanian independence was proclaimed in 1914. The town boasts three historical museums, but they all close at weekends. Tourism has some way to go in Albania! There are also the ruins of Kanine Castle in the foothills south-east of the town.
One last drive with a stop off for a final drink at Durres. Gazing out to sea it was tempting to imagine Pompey and the Senate sitting in the same spot trying to guess Caesar's next move. Mine was to the airport and home. A fascinating trip and one, despite the challenges, I would recommend.
For more on Medieval Albania including wargame armies.
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