Berat is a town located in south-central Albania. As of 2009, the town has an estimated population of around 71,000 people. It is the capital of both the District of Berat and the larger County of Berat. The old town (Mangalem district) was included on the World Heritage List in July 2008.
The current name of the town in Albanian is Berat or Berati, which is derived from the older Bel(i)grad (meaning "white city" in Serbian, cf. Belgrade, Bulgarian: Белград), under which name it was known in Greek, Latin and Slavic documents during the High and Late Middle Ages. That name was rendered as Bellegrada (Βελλέγραδα) in Greek. It is believed to have been the site of a Macedonian stronghold, Antipatreia (Ancient Greek: Ἀντιπάτρεια "city of Antipater") or Antipatrea in Latin, while during the early Byzantine Empire the name of the town was Pulcheriopolis (Greek: Πουλχεριόπολις, "city of Pulcheria"). In the Republic of Venice the city was known as Belgrad di Romania, while in the Ottoman Empire it was also known as Arnavud Belgrad (Albanian Belgrade) to distinguish it from Belgrade.
Berat lies on the right bank of the river Osum, a short distance from the point where it is joined by the Molisht river. It has a wealth of beautiful buildings of high architectural and historical interest. The pine forests above the city, on the slopes of the towering Tomorr mountains, provide a backdrop of appropriate grandeur. The Osumi river has cut a 915-metre deep gorge through the limestone rock on the west side of the valley to form a precipitous natural fortress, around which the town was built on several river terraces.
According to an Albanian legend, the Tomorr mountain was originally a giant, who fought with another giant, called Shpirag over a young woman. They killed each other and the girl drowned in her tears, which then became the Osum river.
Mount Shpirag, named after the second giant, is on the left bank of the gorge, above the district of Gorica. Berat is known to Albanians as The City of a Thousand Windows a similar epithet to that sometimes applied to Gjirokastra, or The City of Two Thousand Steps. It was proclaimed a 'Museum City' by the dictator Enver Hoxha in June 1961.
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the city (6th century BC) were the Greek tribe of the Dassaretae or Dexarioi, the northernmost subgroup of the Chaonians, and the region was known as Dessaretis after them. Modern Berat occupies the site of Antipatreia (Ancient Greek: Αντιπάτρεια), which originally was a settlement of the Dexarioi and later an Macedonian stronghold in southern Illyria.The founding date is unknown, although if Cassander is the founder it has been suggested that Antipatreia was founded after he took control of the region around 314 BC. In 200 BC it was captured by the Roman legatus Lucius Apustius, who razed the walls and massacred the male population of the city.
The town became part of the unstable frontier of the Byzantine Empire following the fall of the Roman Empire and, along with much of the rest of the Balkan peninsula, it suffered from repeated invasions by Slavs and other "barbarian" tribes. During the Byzantine period, it was known as Pulcheriopolis.
The Bulgarians under Presian I captured the town in the 9th century and renamed it "Beligrad" (White City). It became one of the most important towns in the Bulgarian region Kutmichevitsa. The Bulgarians were driven out in the 11th century but retook the city in 1203 during the rule of Kaloyan. During the 13th century, it fell to Michael I Ducas, the ruler of the Despotate of Epirus.
Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos sent letters to the Albanian leaders of Berat and Durrës in 1272 asking them to abandon their alliance with Charles I of Naples, leader of the Kingdom of Albania, who had captured and incorporated it at the same period in the Kingdom of Albania. However, they sent the letters to Charles as a sign of their loyalty. In 1274 Michael VIII recaptured Berat and after being joined by Albanians who supported the Byzantine Empire, marched unsuccessfully against the Angevin capital of Durrës. In 1280-1281 the Sicilian forces under Hugh the Red of Sully laid siege to Berat. In March 1281 a relief force from Constantinople under the command of Michael Tarchaneiotes was able to drive off the besieging Sicilian army. Later in the 13th century Berat again fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire. In 1335 Albanians from Epirus Nova invaded the area of Berat and appeared in Epirus for the first time, while in 1345 the town passed to the Serbs. During the second half of the 14th century the noble Albanian family of Muzaka and became the capital of the Principality of Berat.
In 1417 it was captured by the Ottoman Empire, while in 1455 the League of Lezhë tried to recapture the city. Although the Albanian forces won a tactical victory, they didn't manage to capture it.
During the 18th century Berat was one the most important Albanian cities of the Ottoman Empire. In the early modern era the city was the capital of the Pashalik of Berat founded by Ahmet Kurt Pasha. Berat was incorporated in the Pashalik of Yanina after Ibrahim Pasha of Berat was defeated by Ali Pasha in 1809. In 1867, Berat became a sanjak in Yannina (Yanya) vilayet.
During the early period of Ottoman rule, Berat fell into severe decline. By the end of the 16th century it had only 710 houses. However it began to recover by the 17th century and became a major craft centre specializing in wood carving. During the 19th century, Berat played an important part in the Albanian national revival. A Greek school was operating in the city already from 1835. It became a major base of support for the League of Prizren, the late 19th century Albanian nationalist alliance, while the city was also represented in the formation of southern branch of the league in Gjirokastër. From October 23 to October 30, 1944 the second session of the Council of National Liberation of Albania was held in Berat, where the National Liberation Movement-controlled Anti-Fascist National Liberation Committee became the Provisional Democratic Government of Albania, with Enver Hoxha as its prime minister and minister of defence.
By the 18th century the economy and society of Berat was closely connected to the city's craft guilds partly related to various tax exemptions that existed since the late Middle Ages. By 1750 there were twenty-two guilds, the most important of which were the tanners', the cobblers' and other leather-working guilds. Other guilds included metal-working, silver-smithing and silk-making ones.
Berat Castle is built on a rocky hill on the left bank of the river Osum and is accessible only from the south. After being burned down by the Romans in 200 BC the walls were strengthened in the 5th century under Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, and were rebuilt during the 6th century under the Emperor Justinian I and again in the 13th century under the Despot of Epirus, Michael Komnenos Doukas, cousin of the Byzantine Emperor. The main entrance, on the north side, is defended by a fortified courtyard and there are three smaller entrances. The fortress of Berat in its present state, even though considerably damaged, remains a magnificent sight. The surface that it encompasses made it possible to house a considerable portion of the town's inhabitants. The buildings inside the fortress were built during the 13th century and because of their characteristic architecture are preserved as cultural monuments. The population of the fortress was Christian, and it had about 20 churches (most built during the 13th century) and only one mosque, for the use of the Muslim garrison, (of which there survives only a few ruins and the base of the minaret). The churches of the fortress have been damaged through the years and only some remain.
The Church of St. Mary of Blachernae dating from the 13th century, has 16th century mural paintings by Nikollë Onufri, son of the most important post-medieval Albanian painter, Onufri. In a small tree - planted square, on a hillside inside the walls of the fortress, stands the 14th century Church of the Holy Trinity. It is built in the form of a cross and has Byzantine murals. Outside the ramparts is the Church of St. Michael (Shën Mehill), built in the 13th century. This church is reached by a steep but perfectly safe path. Near the entrance, after a guardhouse, is the little Church of St. Theodore (Shen Todher), which have wall paintings by Onufri himself. The most interesting is the cathedral of St. Nicholas, which has been well restored and is now a museum dedicated to Onufri. Onufri was the greatest of the 16th century painters in Albania. Not only was he a master of the techniques of fresco and icons, but he was the first to introduce a new colour in painting, shiny red, which the French called "Onufri's Red". In addition, Onufri introduced a certain realism and a degree of individuality in facial expression.
The first inscription recording Onufri's name was found in 1951, in the Shelqan church. The Kastoria church has a date July 23, 1547 and a reference to Onufri's origin : I am Onufri, and come from the town of Berat. Onufri's style in painting was inherited by his son, Nikolla (Nicholas), though not so successful as his father. In Onufri's museum can be found works of Onufri, his son, Nikolla and other painters'. There are also numbers of icons and some fine examples of religious silversmith's work (sacred vessels, icon casings, covers of Gospel books, etc.). Berat Gospels, which date from the 4th century, are copies (the originals are preserved in the National Archives in Tirana). The church itself has a magnificent iconostasis of carved wood, with two very fine icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The bishop's throne and the pulpit are also of considerable quality. Near the street running down from the fortress is the Bachelors' Mosque (Xhami e Beqareve), built in 1827. This has a handsome portico and an interesting external decoration of flowers, plants, houses, etc. The 'Bachelors' were the young shop-assistants (in practice generally unmarried), whom the merchants in Berat used as their own private militia. The King Mosque (Albanian: Xhamia e Mbretit), the oldest in the town built in the reign of Bayazid II (1481–1512), is notable for its fine ceiling.
The Lead Mosque (Xhamia e Plumbit), built in 1555 and so called from the covering of its cupola. This mosque is the centre of the town.
The Halveti Tekke (Teqe e Helvetive) is thought to have been built in the 15th century. It was rebuilt by Ahmet Kurt Pasha in 1782. It belongs to the Khalwati Sufi order. It is composed of the prayer hall with a square plan, a small ambience for special religious services and a gracious portico in front of the entrance to the prayer hall. In the prayer hall is a mafil carved in wood and decorated. On the eastern side of the prayer hall is the mihrab decorated with stone stalactites. The inner walls have been decorated with eight frescoes, depicting dwelling houses, Muslim religious buildings and landscapes. The walls below the frescoes are covered by holes that improve the acoustics in the prayer hall. The ceiling of the prayer hall is made of wood and is decorated with paintings valued as the most beautiful of the time. The ceiling has been decorated in the Baroque style adopted in Islamic art and is covered with 14 carat gold plates. The inner decorations were carried out by Master Dush Barka. Attached to the prayer hall is a room in which once was the mausoleum of Ahmet Kurt Pasha and his son. The portico of the tekke has five has five stone columns which were taken from the ancient Greek city of Apollonia. Above the main door in the portico is an inscription dedicated to the values of the tekke and to Ahmet Kurt Pasha.
Near of tekke is purported to be the grave of Shabbatai Zevi, a Turkish Jew who had been banished to Dulcigno (present day Ulcinj) who created controversy among his followers upon his conversion to Islam.
The town is still renowned for its historic architecture and scenic beauty and is known as the "Town of a Thousand Windows", due to the many large windows of the old decorated houses overlooking the town.
It is unclear whether it really means "Thousand" (një mijë) or "One over Another" (një mbi një) windows. Indeed, the quarter is built in a very steep place and windows seem to be one over another. Similar views can be seen inGjirokastër, as well as Catanzaro in Italy, where an Albanian minority once lived.
The Citadel overlooks the river and the modern city as well as the old Christian quarter across the river. It is a well preserved area containing narrow streets, Turkish houses and Orthodox churches.
Modern Berat consists of three parts divided by the Osum River: Gorica ("little mountain" in Old Church Slavonic), Mangalem and Kalaja, the latter being a residential quarter within the old Byzantine citadel that overlooks the town. The town also has a 15th century mosque and a number of churches of the Albanian Orthodox Church, whose autocephaly was proclaimed there in 1922. Several of the churches house works by the renowned 16th century painter Onufri.