Monday, December 1, 2008

Berat

Berat is an Albanian town that has actually made it on the list of World Heritage sites! It was also our destination this past Saturday. I heard it called the "Town of a 1000 windows" and also the "Town with the floating windows." Both official descriptions had captured my imagination and I had to remind myself not to expect too much (I hate disappointment). Berat did indeed live up to my expectation of being an unusual and even mystical place. Even the light in Berat seemed to be poetic. Through our trip we talked about art: photography, paintings, sketching, carvings, embroidery, writing. It was an inspirational place.

Here is the town of the floating windows! It is actually one of the oldest settlements in Albania. Some resources say that is was settled in the 6th century...B.C. Since then, like all of Albania, it was passed around and fought over. More about that later. For now, take in the beauty of the houses!
Sometimes I wonder how Entela puts up with the three of us. We were standing on this bridge, laughing, when this man asked in Albanian, "Who is your translator?" Entela spoke up. They guy then asked where we were from and Entela told him. It turns out that the girlfriend "loves" internationals and that they wanted to hang out with us for the day. Entela had to tell them to move along. Shortly after this experience, church bells started ringing. We must have been a little excited because the man ringing the bells called down to us. Entela replied back. Sarah asked what he had said. Entela said that he had offered to let us ring the bells, but she had put him off. That's when the three of us squealed with glee (literally at the same time) and started running up the mountain toward the church. I could hear Entela's voice in her head saying, "What am I going to do with these girls?"

The church bells! I sort of want to save the picture of me ringing the bells for the future, but let me tell you, it was such a joyful experience! I was afraid that I wouldn't get any sound out of them, but they worked for me the very first try. This was an Orthodox church built in the 1600s. (And this is Sarah standing in front of the bells!)

This picture is for my Aunt Jennifer who loves flowers. The stone window box made me think of her living in one of these cute houses tending the flowers and vines that pop up everywhere. I think she would get creatively inspired in Berat too!

And this picture is for everyone who wondered if turkeys live in Albania. They do, and apparently, close to New Years, they take to the streets! We saw turkey herders EVERYWHERE. From what Entela told us, it's free publicity for their turkeys and probably helps to fatten them up.
Sunday morning, we walked up the side of one of the hills to the fortress. This fortified castle had a museum, churches, sheep, houses and amazing views! This view was taken just from the walk up to the castle. It was another day-to-order. Crystal clear skies, warmer temperatures, calming breezes. We had breakfast at a little restaurant with a balcony and flowers. I felt very, very at home in Berat.

Look at the ridge of these mountains (this picture was taken inside the castle). Entela said that Enver Hoxa would force school children to walk up the mountains with white rocks and spell out his name or slogans with the rocks. She said that you can still see parts of "Enver" in this ridge, but I couldn't see it. Albania is such an interesting place. During our time in the castle an overwhelming ache came over me. We went to the church called "Santa Maria" (of course!). It was fascinating. There, we learned one version of why the symbol for Albania is the two headed eagle. It's looking west to the church in Rome and east to the church in Constantinople. The tour guide said that Albania is a bridge between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The frescoes in the church were white washed during the regime which destroyed the paint. Fortunately, the dictator left much of the church's wood carvings and icons alone because he needed something to boast about. They also found 4th century religous books that he had restored in China. The church houses Onufri's, a famous icon artist, work. Entela told us that Onufri was poisoned when the Ottomans invaded Berat. We saw amazing icons by other painters too. One really made me very sad. It was an icon of the woman at the well but had two Muslim towers in the background. It was painted after the Ottomans, of course. I wasn't so sad because it had two different religions depicted, I was sad because what it has come to mean for Albanians. "The religion of Albania is Albanian." The woman giving the tour was so proud when she told us that she is Orthodox and her husband is Muslim.
On to something a little more fun! Tracey made friends with the ram and the shepherd showed us down to the castle reservoir. People in Berat are so gosh darn friendly! Sarah and I both bought needle work table runners from a lady in the castle (people still live in the houses) and her husband gave the four of us Albania arm bands! I seriously felt like a movie star because of all the attention that was poured out on us this weekend.

This is a typical house inside the castle. Actually, it is a little atypical since it would have belonged to a wealthy family and it is currently being renovated. Amy and Travis were visiting Berat last year and actually got to go inside a house that was for sale. Wouldn't it be fun to live in a castle? They house was on sale for $25,000. Don't be surprised if I someday announce that I'm moving to Berat.


Last picture! You can see some of the castle remains. Next time, I'm bringing a picnic lunch and coming earlier. We missed out on the Ethnographic museum and shopping for wood carvings (sorry Dad!). Something to do when I have visitors in the spring!

3 comments:

Matt said...

You are getting very good with that camera... or are you cheating and using other peoples pictures... my new desktop background is the floating windows of berat.

KIT said...

Holy COW Holly!!! I am LOVING your travels - and pictures - everything is so descriptive I feel like I'm with you!!! Thank you for my daily tour of Albania and beyond!!!

Jennifer said...

Berat looks fabulous! Thanks for being so descriptive. Kit is right you really do make us feel like we are traveling along with you. See you soon!!!