A city in southern Albania with an ancient history, that lies on the hills of Mali i Gj'r' (The Wide Mountain), on the eastern side of the valley of Drinos. Gjirokastra's (pronounced: Gee-roh'-kah'-strah') population is 30,000.

A view of the town
Traces of old settlements date back to the first century B.C. Because of its favorable position, protected by the high hills and crossed by major routes that lead to the inner parts of the country in the north and the Ionian Sea in the west, it was turned into a castle (The Castle of Gjirokastra), which became the nucleus for its growth. Its appearance as a city began in the 13th century, and it is mentioned in Byzantine writings as Argyropolihne (the city of Argyro). Around this year is when buildings began to emerge on the hills surrounding the castle walls. It became part of the Despotate of Epirus, and in the 14th century it was the center of the Albanian feudal family Zenebish'. The Ottoman Turks took the city in 1417. Due to its awkward position under Ottoman rule, the city had only 163 buildings in 1432. It began to prosper in the 16th century, when it became the center of the Sanjak of Delvina.
Gjirokastra gained its role as an important center during the 17th century, and it prospered during the years 1800-1830, when new houses were built, with high architectural and artistic value. The Pazari i Vjet'r (Old Bazaar) and Hazmurat quarters, located on two crests parallel to each other, are the places where the characteristic Gjirokastra houses were built the most. The present bazaar, at the center of the town, was first built in the 17th century. It was set ablaze in the 19th century and was rebuilt with carved stone to match the houses surrounding it. The Palorto and Manalat quarters have monumental collections of houses with their characteristic dimensions and walls of uniform blocks. Houses of the Dunavat quarters are decorously conjugated with their sites, and in the Cfaka quarters the shapes of the buildings are in harmony with the greenery. The Gjirokastra house is one of the most distinguished style of the Albanian house, which is represented in three variations. The exterior appearance combines the sternness it projects with the gracefulness of its windows, its lobby (�ardak), the small columns that hold the wide shelters, sometimes with paintings on them. In many cases the interiors have sculptured wood. The high architectural value of the houses are a reflection of the nature of Albanian towns from the Middle Ages through the 20th century.

Museum of History in Gjirokastra (photo by Dorothy Howells)

During the 19th century, Gjirokastra played an important role in the Albanian liberation movement of that period, it was the site of the Assembly of Gjirokastra, which was held in July, 1880.
The city developed after World War II, and today is an economic, cultural, and educational center of southern Albania. Its main fields of production are food, clothing, tobacco, and metals. Gjirokastra has the "A. Z. ,ajupi" Cultural Center with a professional theater, gallery of arts, and 23 museums, of which the most distinguished are The National Museum of Arms and the Gjirokastra Museum of the Rilindja (the Albanian National Liberation Movement of the 19th century). Gjirokastra publishes several newspapers, including ones in Greek, since it is home to part of the Greek minority of Albania.
Every five years since the year 1968, Gjirokastra is the site of the National Folk Festival, which brings together folk musicians and dancers from the entire country, and lately from Kosova and the Albanian populated regions of FYR of Macedonia.