From Gjirokastra to Labovë e Kryqit

One of the most interesting monuments in Albania, the church of Labovë e Kryqit, which is devoted to Saint Mary, is reached from the road to Libohova that runs east from the main highway south of Gjirokastra.  Follow this surfaced road, and then just before the town of Libohova take the left turn along the unpaved road to Suhë.   Follow this track, which is generally good, and at the fist main junction take the right hand turn and follow this uphill.  The road branches again, but both branches rejoin again at the top of the hill.  Labovë e Kryqit is a few kilometres further on, after the road regains an asphalt surface and enters the village.  The whole journey takes around 40 minutes.   The church of Labova e Kryqit is one of the oldest in Albania and once contained a holy relic believed to be a fragment of the true cross. It was from this relic that the village took its name. The relic was stolen during the civil unrest in the early 1990s.  The building is typically Byzantine with a high central cupola with nave and aisles arranged in a cruciform plan. A later narthex provides the principal entrance.  There are nine distinct levels of fresco painting on the interior walls. The church seen today is essentially a creation of the 13th century at the time of the Despots of Epirus, although an original foundation may go back to AD 527-565 and the reign of Emperor Justinian. The keys are held by the custodian Kristo Luzi who lives across the street.