In the south of Albania lies the extraordinary site of Butrint. It is about 24 km south of Sarande and is almost totally surrounded by water. Butrint is a microcosm of Mediterranean history, with traces of all the great civilisations of the region represented there. Legend says that the city was founded by exiles fleeing from Troy. The site was inhabited in the 8th century BC. In the 4th century BC a healing sanctuary was created, dedicated to the god Asclepius.

The theatre was part of the complex, as watching drama was considered to be a good treatment for illness.
When we visited in May, the area was partially flooded, due to a week of intense rain in the Balkans. Flooding was the reason the city was eventually abandoned, with the people moving north to Sarande.

It is a delight to wander through the eucalyptus groves, with nightingales singing overhead. The peaceful atmosphere of the whole site makes a visit a special experience. From Greek theatre to Roman bath-house to Venetian watch tower or Byzantine basilica, the remains are all worth viewing. And all around are glimpses of the blue water of the Vivari Channel, where fishermen are at work as they have been for thousands of years.Butrint

Since 1992 Butrint has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a Wetland Site of International Importance.


Gjirokastra [Part 2] The city of stone



Cascading downhill from the castle to the valley floor, the stone houses of Gjirokastra are unique. The tall buildings range from a simple tower structure, three or four stories high, to houses with one or two wings, as in the beautiful Zekate house near the top of the hill.

The finest example of an Albanian Ottoman house, built in 1813

The finest example of an Albanian Ottoman house, built in 1813


The ground floor was for storage and defence. Living quarters were on the higher floors, with one room having a large chimney hood over a fireplace. this was the winter room. In the larger rooms there were balconies for life during the heat of summer. The ‘guest room’, where visitors were received, was always the most ornate room, with carved and sculpted ceilings and fine rugs and cushions.

The roofs of all these houses are made of thick, stone tiles. This gives the city a uniform appearance when viewed from above. From below, there is a mix of white, Ottoman style walls, with the local grey stone. It is an attractive city. However, while the Museum zone of the town is protected, illegal building work goes on. In addition, every year some houses collapse beyond repair.
The house of the writer Ismail Kadare is under restoration after being destroyed by fire in 1999.

Gjirokastra, hauntingly beautiful. Part 1, the castle.

Gjirokastra is another picturesque Albanian city, which spread gradually downhill from its imposing castle. The castle is an enormous defensive fortification, brooding and watchful on top of its hill. It controls the Drinos Valley and the passes through the Lunxheria Mountains, a jagged mass topped with snow even in May.

The area inside the castle walls is vast. The main gallery now houses a display of cannon and there are several large parade grounds, one of them large enough to house the staging for the International Festival of Folk Music.

In 1929, King Zog had the vaults turned into a prison for his enemies, with punishment cells. There is a brooding atmosphere about the place, which may be lightened when all the planned restorations are completed.


Berat, living history.

View from the river

From the wide avenue by the river, everyone can look up at the old citadel of Berat as they wander up and down in the evening Xiro. There are cafes, kiosks, benches and a green park for those who need a rest during this activity. At the far end of this promenade area is the Picture Gallery with work by local artists, and in addition, five landscape paintings by English artist Edward Lear, who spent much of his life travelling in these eastern Mediterranean lands. His sketches of Albania in the 1830s and 40s are a fascinating record of  life in those times.

Also at the far end of the promenade is a collection of ancient buildings at the foot of the Rruga e Kalase, from which point you begin the long climb up the paved road through the ancient town, up to the enormous citadel on the hilltop. Berat is one of the oldest cities in Albania and it is extremely attractive, with the cascade of white Ottoman style houses, with gardens full of flowers and fruit trees as well as vines.

Mount Tommorri from Berat's citadel

From the citadel, there is a splendid view of Mount Tomorri, a long massif most of it over 2,000 metres high.

The Rosetta Stone



It was on 19th July in 1799 that the Rosetta Stone was discovered near Cairo in Egypt. It soon fell from the hands of the French to the English and was brought to the British Museum in 1802.  The stone bears an inscription written in three alphabets: hieroglyphics, Demotic and Greek. Many scholars attempted to unravel the hieroglyphs over many years before Champollion succeeded.


Rosetta Stone

My story, April and May, deals with an eccentric couple who devote their lives to Egyptian archaeology, while their niece, Rose, tries to keep the family in good order. In the following excerpt, they put on an exhibition of treasures they have brought back from Egypt at the British Museum. Rose, bored by the event, looks at the Rosetta Stone and wonders what the ancient language sounded like.

The exhibition was a success. Visitors had crowded in from the moment it opened. Two hours later, Rose could see her aunt and Helena still talking busily to a crowd gathered round the table where they had set out the papyri, together with sheets of paper showing some of the symbols. Judging by the noise in that part of the hall, everyone was excited by this ancient writing.
She glanced over to where her uncle and Max were escorting a group of gentlemen round the vast hall. She could hear animated talk and much laughter so it seemed they were enjoying their tour. All the artefacts found by the expedition had been set out, together with a number of statues and stone plaques brought back a few years earlier.
Rose’s task was to explain facts about the pots and figurines. She had a constant stream of young ladies and their mamas attracted to these fascinating items. She also kept an eye on the table where all her drawings of the pyramids at Giza were displayed. It made her smile to hear the exclamations of wonder at the grand scale of these buildings. To Rose’s secret surprise, Ancient Egyptian civilisation seemed set to become a fashion.
When at last there was a lull in the crowd, Rose wandered over to the Rosetta Stone with its perfectly chiselled lines of text in three languages. One day, perhaps, her aunt and Helena would work out the meaning of the hieroglyphs. She stroked a finger over the carved symbols, smiling a little as she wondered what that language would sound like.
Then a voice spoke behind her. She went rigid with shock, her finger still on the line of hieroglyphic text. Surely it was not possible… and yet, she knew that deep and mellow tone. Her heart began to beat faster.

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Time travel


Maybe one day we will all be able to flip backwards and forwards in time. Currently, we can guess at the future but not experience it. However, it is possible to savour the past through a vast mass of  information: archaeology, art and architecture, etc, etc – and through stories and films. Everyone has their own favourite period to explore. My personal choice is to discover all I can about Georgian England, especially that part known as the wider Regency period. I have Jane Austen to thank for opening the door into a world where I at once felt at home. Part of my exploration of that era is to write stories set in Regency times. But there is a twist – being a bit of a wanderer, I like to take my characters on journeys to far-flung places. The more research I do, the more people I find who lived, worked and adapted to life overseas throughout that era.

One famous example is Lord Byron. His connection with Greece is well-known. But he travelled extensively in the eastern Mediterranean. In the town of Tepelena, Albania, where he visited the ruler, Ali Pasha, in 1809, the main square is now called Lord Bajron Square. That is a wonderful tribute by a kind people, always eager to welcome visitors to their land, so long as they come in peace.