Albania is one of the few places in the world where true inter-faith harmony exists. It is not something that came about in recent history but rather something that has existed for centuries. Through these tours we aim to present the religious monuments that still exist in different regions of Albania with their architectural and spiritual values. In some cases they represent an important testimony of faiths co-exiting side by side.
Day 1: Tirana
Arrival in Tirana Airport.
Transfer and accommodation in the hotel in Tirana. In the afternoon visit to the most important religious monuments of Tirana:
Et'hem Bey Mosque
This pretty mosque is right on the city's main square, making it hard to miss. Construction of the 'Xhamia e Haxhi Ethem Beut' mosque started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et'hem Bey (who evidently got all the credit). Closed under communist rule, the mosque reopened as a house of worship in 1991, without permission from the authorities. 10,000 people dared to attend, and remarkably, the police did not interfere. The event was a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania. Take a look at the frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges - motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. Take your shoes off before entering the inner room.
Built in 1865, the Catholic Church of St. Marie was a gift of Franz Josef, the Austro-Hungarian emperor. In 1967 - when all religious activity in Albania was banned - it was closed and turned into a cinema. It reopened as a church in 1990.
The Orthodox Church of the Holy Evangelist was built in 1964, but closed in 1967 and was then used to house the Tirana Sports Club. Services resumed in 1990. The Orthodox Church of Albania first became autocephalous in 1937 and again in 1992.
Overnight in Tirana.
Day 2: Tirana- Lac-Shengjin
After breakfast departure to the church in Lac which is one of the most amazing religious places to visit in Albania , a place frequented from people coming from different parts of the country. People there go with a big hope as the place where they can find solutions to most of their problems. The name of the church is “ St Anoi” and is very famous as a sacred place, where many people go because they believe it can make miracles. You can reach there by car, but people believe that it is better to go there on foot because this brings goodness. By walking you can go there for about two hours. This place has as well a very beautiful geographical position.
Overnight in Shengjin.
Day 3: Shkodra
In the morning departure to Shkodra. Shkodra has always been a multicultural town, with each religious or ethnic community playing an important role in the economy and cultural development of the city. In 1967, the Communist Party declared Albania to be the world's first atheistic state and unleashed a light version of China's cultural revolution, resulting in the senseless destruction of many religions buildings. After 1990, though many people are non-believers, the four main religions in Albania (Islam, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Bektashi faith) have gone through a revival and get along very well, and the monuments dotted around Shkodra attest to this traditional spirit of tolerance and cooperation.
At the entrance of the largest city of the north, we will visit Rozafa Castle and admire the superb view of Shkodra Lake surrounded by mountains
Visit to :
Placed on the site of an earlier war-damaged predecessor and surrounded by gardens, the huge Sheik Zamil Abdullah Al Zamil Mosque, built in 1995 by the Saudi sheik of the same name, forms the focal point of Shkodra's proud Muslim community. Still maintained by the Al Zamil family, the stunning building with its intricately decorated interior is scheduled for renovation in 2008. Visitors are welcome after prayer times; the entrance is on the side facing away from the Colosseo hotel. Note the old partisan war monument in the park behind the mosque.
Cathedral of the Nativity
The brand new Orthodox Cathedral was built in 2000 on the spot of a temporary wooden church, and you can nearly smell the paint. For a new church, it's very beautiful, with a delicate interplay of domes and cupolas inside and out. A high tower stands separate from the main building in the courtyard. Time your visit with a Sunday service to hear beautiful chanting and singing.
The 'large church' as it is called in Albanian is just that – a church built (very slowly) between 1856 and 1898; at the time it was the largest of its kind in the Balkans. After 1967, it was vandalized and then converted into a sports hall, with concrete stands on two sides sloping up towards the windows so people could watch the basketball and volleyball being played. In 1991, the building was restored by Italian specialists, and inaugurated by Mother Teresa on her visit to Albania. Two years later, Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral and consecrated Shkodra's new Archbishop, Frano Elia, a man who was originally condemned to death 25 years earlier for his beliefs but ended up being imprisoned for life. A statue of the late pope can be found inside the left entrance. Just outside the Cathedral, an elegant Italian-style building now is the archbishop's residence.
Church of Our Lady of Shkodra
The first building of note that you see when entering Shkodra from Tirana is the newly restored 17th century Church of Our Lady of Shkodra, which sits right below the citadel. Curiously, the church is famous for a fresco that isn't there any more. The miracle goes that locals would pray at the froesco of Our Mother of Good Counsel during times of trouble, of which there were plenty in 15th century Shkodra. During the Turkish conquest of the region in 1467, the painting disappeared, turning up in Genazzano, near Rome. In all probability the painting is in fact a 14th century Umbrian fresco, and not the result of an early international express delivery. Unfased, Catholic Albanians adore Mary and this image in particular, and numerous chapels and churches across the region have been named after it.
Once in the heart of Shkodra's old bazaar area, the Lead Mosque (named after the material used on the roof) was built in 1773 by Mehmet Pasha Bushati, and was inspired by the great Sultan Ahmed mosque in Istanbul. In the 18th and 19th century the Kiri and Drini rivers changed their course and flooded the old bazaar so often that the area was abandoned for a safer spot in Shkodra's current location. The Lead Mosque is all that remains, standing like an Indian palace in a small lake. The minaret was destroyed by lightning in 1967, the same year as the cultural revolution that lead to the pulling down of many other religious buildings, but the mosques was left in peace until it was restored recently and the building's courtyard and beautiful domes are in reasonable condition. The mosque is just a short walk down from the Citadel.
Used as a factory building during the communist dictatorship, the lofty Italian-style St. Francis monastery church, crowned with statues, is hidden on the street behind the Colosseo hotel. Inside, some gruesome wall paintings interpret what befell the poor monks in the repressive years; devils can be seen whispering into the ears of Partizan soldiers, who then tie the monks to the trees, crucifix style, leaving them to die. 16 priests were killed between 1943 and 1965, and a memorial plaque is dedicated to them. The church was restored in 1998. If the main doors are closed, pass the doorman and enter from the courtyard.
Dinner: Traditional restaurant.
Overnight in Shkodra.
Day 4: Kruja
Breakfast in the hotel. Departure to Kruja where we will hike up the holy mountain of Sarisalltik and visit the Bektashi Teqe (Sufi Dervishes Sanctuary) located at 1,900m above sea level. This is considered a sacred place and many people believe it can make miracles. We can go there by car, but people believe it is better to walk because it brings goodness. Usually people go there for picnics because once up there you can enjoy a beautiful view of Kruja.
After the descent visit the museum of Gjergj Kastriot Scanderbeg, our national hero. Proceed to visit the Ethnographic museum, where are exposed folk dresses, objects which belonged to the Albanians in the past centuries etc. Leave Kruja by visiting the old Bazaar , where you can purchase souvenirs, wool carpets, wooden-made objects etc.
Overnight to Kruja.
Day 5: Durres-Berat
Departure towards Durres. Arrival at Durres , which is an important seaport in Albania. Transfer to the city center and visit to the town Fortress, the Amphitheatre and Fatih Mosque.
Afterwards transfer to Ardenica. Visit to Ardenica Architectonic Complex and the Monastery of Ardenicë It is thought that the foundations of this monastery were built in 1282 on the initiative of the Byzantine Emperor During the communist regime this was a tourist settlement where many people went for tourism. At that period the surroundings of the monastery were turned into restaurants and hotel rooms. Right after the coming of democracy, this place was returned to the religious authorities and was turned into a religious center. The place is very nice and very well-protected by the inhabitants of the area.
Overnight in Berat.
Day 6: Berat-Vlore
In this day visit to the religious places and some of the cultural sites of the town of Berat, which lies on the right bank of the river Osum. Berat is a remarkable Ottoman town, rich in beautiful buildings with great architectural and historical interest.
There we will visit Berati Castle. The castle and its fortified walls are interrelated just like a mosaic where different parts of neighborhoods such as "Kala ", " Mangalem ", " Gorice " which are settled on hills units of the town make up an impressive example of our genius creative people.
Then we will visit Onufri Museum and Ethnographic Museum which are built in the surroundings of a two-store house , with an open balcony. Onufri Museum is inside “St. Mary Sleep” cathedral. There are exposed icons of XIV-XIX century and reddish wood-works of a Byzantine church.
The Church is rebuilt during the 1797, where the Cathedral of City was placed. The Cathedral is the most representative monument of post Byzantine architecture in Berat town.
The museum collection is constituted with 173 objects chosen from a found of 1500 objects, belonging to the found of Albanian Churches and Monasteries as well as to Berat, where you can find 106 Icons and 67 Liturgical objects, created from Albanians Iconographical Painters during XVI – XX th Centuries: Onufri, Onufri `s son, Nicola, Cypriot Onufri, David Selenica, Kostandin Shpataraku and Cetirs (Gjergj, Nicola, Johan, Naum, Gjergj junior) and a lot of anonymous painters.
Icon holder of Berat Cathedral is inscribed by master Naum from Lavdar, Opar and Master Stefan Barka from Misras, Opar in the middle of XIX th Century.
Most of the monuments in Berat, have been enlisted as Monuments of Culture. However, when we discuss of the religious monuments, several exception must be made, because in the former communist totalitarian regime, not all the churches and mosques, defined as monuments of culture, have been preserved at the same level. A part of them turn into storehouses, stalls or were destroyed, such as: the monastery of Saint Spiridhoni in the neighborhood of Gorica, which has been used for a long time as a silkworm warehouse; Saint Costandin and Helena in the neighborhood of Mangalen (the church inside the cave, near Saint Michael) for a long time has been used as a dovecote; Saint Georg monastery in the neighborhood Kala, has been used as a restaurant; Saint Thomas in the Gorica neighborhood , is destroyed; Saint Ilias, which is outside the castle walls, on the north-east side is also destroyed, etc. Actually, the Monastery of Saint Spiridhoni, the church of Saint Thomas, Saint Ilia and Saint Georg are being reconstructed and are under the service of the Christian community of the city of Berat
On the other hand Saint Costandin and Helena, to which is attached even Saint Marina, in the neighborhoods Kala, are in miserable conditions and only the walls and apse are preserved
All the churches of the city of Berat, have been positioned into the map through the GPS, and the conditions were as follows: the Cathedral Sleep of Saint Mary is preserved and used as a museum. The church of Saint Evangjelizmos, is out of use and problematic regarding maintenance. The church of Saint John, is being used as a storehouse for the branch of the Monuments of Culture, for the district of Berat. The church of Saint Nicolla is under restoration. It should be mentioned that lately in the apse of this church, has been carried out excavations by the church keepers. During the excavation two skeletons were found, the traces of which were still preserved by the FoAP project during the survey. After the excavation, the floor has been paved, forbidding every possibility for re-surveying, the excavated layers. On both sides of the church, there are two extensions, in the form of small chapels. According to the church keepers, on the right of Saint Nicolas is Saint Thomas, while on the left Saint Andon
The church of Saint Costandin and Helena (the one in the castle, near Saint Nicolas) is out of use and in good conditions. The church of Saint Michael, situated in the rocky hill of Mangalen, is also in good conditions. The old iconostasis, has been stolen, and replaced with a new one. The interior walls of the church are not decorated, but painted with lime. The supporting wall of the church has started to manifest signs of crash, so its restoration is necessary
The church of Saint Mary of Vllaherna, which is situated near Saint Nicolas and Saint Costandin and Helena, is preserved in good condition. The church of Saint Mitri, is in good condition, although it is out of use. The church of Saint Theodor, is being used as a museum. The church of Saint Trinity, is in good conditions.
- Mosques :
The most important monuments of the Islam religion in the district of Berat are: the Leaded Mosque, which is situated at the city center; (Mbret) King mosque (part of Kullie complex); the Bachelors mosque (Beqarëve), situated in the neighborhood of Mangalen as well as two mosques in the neighborhood Kala, the Red mosque and the White mosque.
The Kullie complex consist of: the King mosque, the masjid of Sheh Qerimi, the masjid of Halvetie and Konak. The latters are being used as offices for the regional branch of Monuments of Berat, while the King mosque, the masjid of Sheh Qerimi and the masjid of Halvetie, defined as monuments of culture, are being used by the Islamic Community of the city
The Bachelors mosque, (Beqarëve) , is defined monument of culture in 1968. Nowadays, its ground floor, is used as a shop, while the top floor, is being used by the Islamic community of the city of Berat
The exterior frescos of this mosque are in part destroyed, the interior frescos have almost the same conditions. The Leaded mosque, at the city center, has been returned to the worshippers. Within the castle, are found the ruins of the Red and White mosques, which even though are defined as monuments of culture, are in bad conditions
Overnight in Vlora.
Day 7: Vlore-Saranda
After breakfast at the hotel , visit in a place on the top of a hill called “Kusbaba”, from where you can have a wonderful view of the whole city. Kusbaba - This popular religious monument of Bektashij is located on the Eastern part of Vlora, about 30 meters above sea level. There you can find a shrine of the Bektashinj sect, and enjoy a beautiful view of Vlora.
Afterwards depart to Saranda traveling along the seashore. On the way on is to be visited the castle of Porto Palermo placed near Himara, also called as the castle of Ali Pashe Tepelena which was build by him in 1804. The walls of the castle are 1.6m thick. After visiting this castle, the road along the seashore passes many beautiful villages such as Qeparo, which is a very large and sunny beach, Borsh village, which has a sandy sea, and the flora is the similar to that of Qeparo, Lukova a very wide beach too. ( The distance in km is around 120 km. The car can stop every 10 km where you like )
Overnight in Saranda
Day 8: Saranda-Voskopoja
Departure early in the morning towards Voskopoja, because the road till there takes 5-6 hours.
In this day travel through Voskopoja village, situated only of 13 km in the west of Korca. Voskopoja was a prosperous town. There were built 24 churches during the 16th-18th centuries, but now have remained only eight ones ("Shen Mihali" (1726), "Shen Athanasi" (1724). "Shen Ilias", "Shen Marias". The best Byzantine painting in this area is to be found at “Shen Kolli”.
The mural paintings were made by the painters Kostantin and Athanas (Zografi). Also the Monastery of Shen St. Prodhronit (1632) is of great interest, 20 km away from the other churches, burned down during the World War II, where some of the exquisite mural paintings are kept intact.
There are amazing of major artistic value that are created by the Albanian artist, Theodhor Sina Grundo, who was not only a sculptor, but also a fresco painter and engraver. Some of his works are also founded in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Austria and Sllovenia.
Overnight in Voskopoja.
Day 9: Voskopoja-Korca-Tirana
After breakfast depart toward Korca. After 45 min arrival in Korca. Visit the old orthodox church “Fountain of Life” and the new orthodox Cathedral in the city center. Short city tour, than depart toward Tirana, capital of Albania.
Before arriving short stop in the city of Elbasan. Visit the medival walls of the castle of Elbasan and the ruins of the old Basilica of Bezistan.
Dinner and overnight in Tirana
Day 10: Departure