Kalaja

Top choice fortress in Berat

Image by Rena Kuljovska Shutterstock

Hidden behind the crumbling walls of the fortress that crowns the hill above Berat is the small white-washed village-like neighbourhood of Kala; if you walk around the quiet cobbled streets of this ancient neighbourhood for long enough you'll invariably stumble into someone's courtyard thinking it's a church or ruin (no one seems to mind, though).

In spring and summer the fragrance of chamomile is in the air (and underfoot), and wildflowers burst from every gap between the stones, giving the entire sight a magical feel.

The highest point is occupied by the Inner Fortress, where ruined stairs lead to a Tolkienesque water reservoir. Views are spectacular in all directions. It's a steep 10 to 15-minute walk up the hill from the centre of town. For an even more impressive view, continue on right to the far southern end of the complex (the total opposite end from the main entrance) and you'll get to a viewpoint from where you can peer down onto the town far below. In summer men sell fresh fruit from a stall here.

The Kala quarter's biggest church, Church of the Dormition of St Mary (Kisha Fjetja e Shën Mërisë), is the site of the Onufri Museum. Ask at the Onufri Museum if you can see the other churches and tiny chapels in Kala (which are otherwise normally kept locked), including St Theodore, close to the citadel gates; the substantial and picturesque Church of the Holy Trinity, below the upper fortress; and the little chapels of St Mary Blachernae and St Nicholas. Some of the churches date back to the 13th century. Also keep an eye out for the Red Mosque, by the southern Kala walls, which was the first in Berat and dates back to the 15th century.

Although the fortress is open 24 hours, all visitors have to purchase an entry ticket from the main entrance gate and the ticket booth here is only open between 9am and 6pm.


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