The Pedestrian bridge across the Vjosë River

From Gjirokastër to TEPELENË

To get to Tepelenë, 40 kilometers from Gjirokastra, head north on the national road that runs along the Drino Valley.  The journey will take approximately 40 minutes. You will pass the Viroi Lake on your left 3 kilometres north of Gjirokastra. This is a small and very attractive manmade lake.  Particularly popular in the summer, there are a number of  good restaurants and a hotel around its shores. Continue on the national road ignoring the right turn to Përmet and you will shortly arrive in Tepelenë

View from the Castle of Tepelena

Tepelenë is a historic town well know as the birth place of Ali Pasha, Vizier of Ioánnina (1741-1822). His bronze statue, made by the famous Albanian sculptor Mumtaz Dhrami, is in a prominent position at the centre of the town.  The castle, built by Ali Pasha to enclose his palaces, is the most important monument in Tepelenë.  Covering 4.5 hectares, it was completed in 1819.

If you look down from the Castle, you will see a pedestrian bridge across the Vjosë River, which rests on a number of very old stone piers. The original bridge was built by Ali Pasha as a gift to his town.  You may cross the bridge and take the path up to the village of Beçisht, the birth place of Ali Pasha.  The remains of his house are still visible and any local inhabitant will be able to give you directions

A brief history of Ali Pasha

The Ali Pasha Statue in the main square in Tepelena

Ali Pasha was born in 1741. His father was a minor local Bey, betrayed by several of his partners he suffered an early death. Throughout his life the famous Pasha would carry with him the images of his father and mother, who took good care of him making sure he received a good education. Initially he was a brigand who ambushed and raided the caravans going through the gorges of Tepelenë on their route to Ioannina.  In a cunning move to secure safe passage, the Ottomans recruited him to police the route.  An early powerful patron ensured his promotion to the governorship of Trikala in Greece.  In 1788, he seized control of the governorship of Ioannina.  At the height of his power Ali Pasha controlled an area from the River Shkumbin in the north to the Peloponnese in the south, using his sons and grandsons as local rulers with this vast domain.   

The weakness of the Sultan and the Napoleonic Wars enabled Ali to become an almost independent ruler maintaining separate diplomatic relations with the Great powers, including England, France, and Russia, much to the irritation of the Sultan.  In 1822, the Sultan despatched an army to unseat him and he was besieged in his capital of Ioannina. Tricked by an offer of a pardon he went to meet a royal messenger on the nearby island in the lake of Ioannina, the Sultan instead sent soldiers who captured and beheaded him.  His body was buried in Ioannina with messengers taking his head to Istanbul as proof of his demise.  This gruesome relic was later permitted decent burial in an Istanbul cemetery where it remains today.  Thus, he became a man with two graves.

Always seen as a tyrant and despot, Ali was a firm but far-sighted ruler who encouraged trade and industry and suppressed brigandage.   He was a famous figure internationally, with diplomatic contacts across Europe.  Much has been written about him in the past and he was a pivotal character in Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo.
On the way back to Gjirokastra, it is worthwhile making a stop at the village Kardhiq, which a number of local individuals call Kardhicë.  Kardhiq is situated 3 kilometers away from the national road.  When Ali was a young man, his sister and mother were kidnapped by the village inhabitants and held hostage.  In 1811, 30 years later, Ali, now an absolute ruler of the area, wrought revenge by murdering all the males in the village.