Tepelenë is the hometown of the barbarous yet refined Ottoman Albanian ruler, Ali Pashë Tepelena.

In ancient times, Tepelenë was settled by the Illyrians, an ancient tribe that inhabited the Balkans. Later, during the Hellenistic period, the area came under the influence of the ancient Greek kingdom of Epirus. In the 15th century, the town fell under Ottoman rule and remained a part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. During this period, significant development occurred in Tepelenë and its surrounding areas, with the construction of many important buildings and the establishment of local government.

Tepelenë, located on a plateau above the Vjosë River basin, has a strategic position that has made it a natural defensive position throughout history, protecting it against potential invaders. In fact, Ali Pashë Tepelena chose to make Tepelenë his base of operations due to its defensible location. Born in Tepelenë in 1740, Ali Pashë (in office: 1788-1822) was a prominent Ottoman Albanian ruler, known for his military and political power, as well as his patronage of the arts and architecture. However, his methods of maintaining power were often brutal, and he was notorious for his cruelty towards his enemies. Despite this, Ali Pasha remains a revered figure in Albanian history, and his legacy can be seen throughout the country. He transformed Tepelenë into a regional center of power and built many notable structures, including his own residence and a mosque that still stands today.

The plateau also offers a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, which includes the Vjosë River, the Këlcyrë Gorge, and nearby mountains. The Vjosë River, which is the longest river in Albania, holds exceptional ecological and cultural significance. It is renowned for its rugged beauty and is one of the last remaining wild rivers in Europe. The river and its surrounding ecosystem provide a habitat for various plant and animal species, many of which are rare or endangered. Additionally, the river is a crucial source of water for agriculture and other human activities. The Këlcyrë Gorge, where the Vjosë River flows near Tepelenë, is an especially stunning natural feature with steep cliffs towering on both side of the river. The gorge is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and other recreational activities.

Kalaja e Ali Pashës

Kalaja e Ali Pashës [Ali Pasha’s Castle] is a historic fortress dating back to the Byzantine era. A defensive tower was originally built on the hill above the Vjosë River to protect the surrounding area. During the Ottoman occupation of Albania, the fortress was further developed and expanded, most notably by the capricious ruler Ali Pashë Tepelena, who made it his second residence alongside Ioannina. He transformed the castle into an imposing stronghold, featuring multiple towers, a large courtyard, and a mosque.

The castle was not only a residence but also served as a center of power for Ali Pashë, from which he controlled much of southern Albania and adjacent territories. He used the fortress to consolidate his military, political, and economic power, and as a symbol of his authority and prestige. The castle played a significant role in the political intrigues and power struggles of the time, with Ali Pashë hosting many notable figures, including foreign ambassadors, aristocrats, and intellectuals, in his residence.

In 1809, Lord Byron visited the pasha in Tepelenë during his grand tour of the Mediterranean. Byron was intrigued by the stories he had heard of Ali Pashë’s power and reputation as a brutal ruler, and he was eager to meet the man himself. During his visit, Byron was given a tour of the fortress and its surroundings, and he had the opportunity to witness Ali Pashë’s court in action. Byron later wrote about his experiences in his epic poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’.

Today, visitors can explore the different parts of the fortress, including the residential quarters, mosque and defensive towers, while learning about the history and culture of the area through the museum housed within its walls. Additionally, the castle also offers stunning views of the Vjosë River and the surrounding landscape. It is a popular tourist attraction and an important part of Tepelenë’s cultural heritage.


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