Whilst staying in Gjirokastra, we visited the archaeological site of Antigonea, located in the Drino Valley at 600m above sea level.
Our guide for the day was Irving, who had a good command of English which he said he’d learned from watching TV, as had many Albanians we chatted to.
On route, Irving told us about the 5 ghost villages; Asim Zeneli, Arshi Lengo, Krinë, Tranoshisht and Saraqinisht which form the municipal unit of Antigonë. They were all agricultural villages, allowing people to live near the fields they worked. The road was the narrow twisting steep variety and it took around 30 minutes.
On arrival at the entrance, we found a barrier manned by a ‘jobsworth’, who for some reason wouldn’t let our car, a small Vauxhall Astra through. However, he provided a leaflet and having abandoned the car, we set off on foot. We hiked for around 20 minutes before seeing the first sign. We passed a 4WD with two British tourists who had obviously been allowed in, but who dogged us which was irritating bearing in mind the scale of the site which is around 90 hectares. We suspect they were taking advantage of our guide’s knowledge by following our route.
Having read the Bradt guide, I had high hopes, but basically all we saw were a few stones meaning lots of imagination was required. The leaflet, as well as providing an extensive overview of the site’s history, listed 16 numbered points of interest.
Unfortunately, many of the accompanying photos were aerial shots and it was hard to get the same impression at ground level. The first site we came to was a dwelling which, according to the leaflet, was a leather workshop in the 3rd century BC. The second, was thought to be a carriage driver’s house as discoveries made, had included a wagon wheel and coins.
There were a few green way markers but there really wasn’t much to see apart from flies buzzing irritatingly around us, geckoes and a variety of small butterflies. We were pleased we were wearing hiking boots we as the grass was relatively long.
To be honest, the views of the white mountains, the clouds over them and the town of Gjirokastra in the distance was more interesting than the ruins. Annoyingly, we appeared to be on a tight timetable and had to turn around before we got to the ‘highlights’ of ruins and mosaics, which were at the fare end of the site. There was also a building, said to be a B&B.
This was a very disappointing experience, although maybe more time and a guide who could bring the site to life would have made a difference.
Back into the car, we set off the drive to the Church of Labova e Kryqit which involved retracing our tracks back down the hill and up another. On route Irving said, ‘I’m quiet as I’m going to spill my guts when we arrive’ which made us unsure which films and TV channels he’d been learning his English from.