Gjirokastra on the Drinos river in southern Albania was classified a ‘museum city’ by the former Communist regime, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It is a city of fortress-like houses with thick stone walls and tiny windows, built between the late 17th century and about 1860, and clustered along narrow winding streets. The town has a bazaar dating from the 17th century but rebuilt in the 19th. The oldest part of the town, the Palorto district, reflects the distinctive economy and social life of an Ottoman city. Some of the houses are under restoration and are open to the public.
The Ethnographic Museum displays something of the complex political history of Gjirokastra, and of Albania generally. It stands on the site of the birthplace of Enver Hoxha (1908-85), Communist dictator of Albania from 1944 until the end of his life. After Communist rule ended in 1991 ancient tensions erupted between the substantial number of Greeks living in Gjirokastra and the police force, comprised of people of Albanian descent. The museum on the site of Hoxha’s birthplace, built in 1966 and displaying aspects of 20th century political history was blown up in 1997. It was subsequently replaced by the Ethnographic Museum, a 4-storey building replicating traditional houses in the city. Its displays show the rich heritage of craft manufactures in the region, including carpets, furnishing fabrics, leather goods, tools and above all intricately carved woodwork.