Available documents indicate that Himarë has been inhabited by a native Albanian population continuously since the early Middle Ages. The population of this area has been called Allvani, Albanezi, or Arnaut, by successive Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman rulers. In the medieval period, men from the Himarë province migrated westward offering their services in both manual labor and their combat skills at the service of European kingdoms. Albanian migrants fought as hired mercenaries for the Kingdom of Naples and in the French armies of Napoleon.
The population of Himarë has historically been farmers, with olive cultivation and olive oil processing being the most common agricultural activities. Himariots have longtraded olive products as exports with the Ionian Islands of Corfu, Zakynthos, and Lefkada, as well as Albanian territories. Apart from olives, Himara also produces a great deal of citrus. Today, Himarë livelihoods have shifted toward tourism. Numerous residents have started small businesses catering to both domestic and international tourists. These businesses cluster near the sea, where a number of resorts and tourist hotels have been built, significantly helping the region’s economic transformation. Traditional Himariot cuisine features meat prominently, with fish being relatively uncommon. Spit-roasted lamb and goat is an ancient tradition of these areas. Savory pies known as byrek, eaten throughout the day, are folded with a wide variety of fillings: cabbage, pepper and tomato, spinach, or cheese. Another traditional food is kukurreci: lamb, beef, or goat wrapped in cattle entrails and roasted over an open fire. All the villages of Himarë (the village being the capital of the municipality) preserve a tradition of dolli—toasting with raki or wine in hand.
Residents of Himarë differ in their folk costumes from those of residents of the surrounding provinces. The traditional Himariot dress for men consists of the white kilt (known as fustanella), which hangs to the knee, a white wide-sleeved shirt with a colorful vest crafted with gold thread, and a black bustina hat. One of the most identifiable cultural elements maintained by residents of Himarë is its unique form of song. The population sings multipart folk songs, categorized as a part of UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” in 2005. Iso-polyphonic singing, as it is called, consists of a minimum of four voices singing unique parts simultaneously, which combined, form a single “voice.” The polyphonic song of Himara is also often accompanied by a wind instrument called the dyare, which is visible in works of ancient art. The musician Neço Muka (Himarjoti) composed music for the lyric singer and artist Tefta Tashko-Koço, who together with Koço Çakali recorded two songs for the first time on gramophone records for Radio Paris in 1934. Another poet who highly influenced the appreciation for the Himara polyphony is Lefter Cipa, from Pilur, Himara.
In antiquity, Himarë was called Kimera, or Himera, and was the capital of the region and of a population known as the Chaonians. This tribe has been mentioned in documents dating to as early as the fifth century BCE, and later by a series of ancient Greek and Roman authors, such as Thucydides, Titus Livius, Strabo, and Pliny. Himara’s famous harbor in antiquity, as Strabo mentions, was “Panormou,” or the present day Porto Palermo. The ancient Greek historian Thucydides considered the population of Chaonia to be a “barbaric population”— that is, not Greek. The Chaonian tribe became more established in the fourth century BCE, when together with Thesprotia and Molossia they established the “Molossian League” or the League of Epirus. Under the domination of King Pyrrhus, Chaonia become one of the most important powers of this alliance, and the league became one of the greatest military powers of the ancient world, approaching and threatening Rome itself in its military campaigns. In the fifteenth century, as Balkan territories fell one after another under Ottoman conquest, Himarë and the surrounding province resisted fiercely, though eventually it too fell. Even after the Ottoman conquest in 1417, the population of the province appears in the chronicles in a state of constant rebellion. In 1473 and into the beginning of the sixteenth century, John Vlasi (Gjon Vlash) led the Himariots in a joint offensive with John Castriota (Gjergj Kastrioti) to an unexpected victory, which remains a milestone in the annals of the history of this area.
Of the ancient buildings that exist in the entire outhern region, the Himarë Castle is the most grand. The fortification is perched atop a 140-meter-high hill, and afforded natural protection from the northeast and southeast precipice. Ancient traces of an eighthcentury BCE wall is what has defines the line of the current form. These ancient walls are combined with trapezoidal outcroppings, which surround the hill from the northeast to the northwest, leaving the precipice that rises above the Visha River unfortified. In the middle of the old city stands the surrounding walls of the medieval castle, the foundations of which are the remnants of an earlier castle. The entire extension of the city began there and spread over the centuries well beyond the walls of the medieval fortress. Since the fall of communism, the town has extended its perimeter to the south along the coast, ignoring the traditional urban structure and building multistory buildings by the seaside.
There are a great number of preserved medieval buildings in the city of Himarë, but the fabric is mainly composed of dwellings built at the end of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This generation of buildings used stone and mortar as raw materials, with wooden floors and ceilings. The majority of houses take advantage of the hilly terrain by creating by small gardens walled in by dry-stack stone. In the old city center, houses located within the surrounding walls of the castle are very densely packed, and the streets are narrow and generally paved with cobblestone. Notable houses in Himarë are the dwellings of Llazar and Goro families. The other notable architectural monuments of Himarë are churches, which appear inside the castle walls as well as in outside quarters and suburbs of Himarë. Churches carry architectural and historical values, and some of them date back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Important visualizations of the Himarë region occurred in the nineteenth century. Traveling diplomats, missionaries, and artists, influenced by the ideas of the European Enlightenment, came through the territories of southern Albania, documenting what they saw along the way. This wave of foreign travelers produced its first maps. There are a series of paintings, engravings, watercolors, and sketches, which address the characteristic subjects of landscape, costumes, and the area populations of the time. Among the prominent artist travelers are the Britons Cartright, Richard Caton Woodville, and the painter Edward Lear. Lear undertook two long trips in the province of Himarë, the first in 1848 and again in Apart from his travel diaries—in which he marked in great detail his contacts, conversations, and the characteristics of places he visited—Lear drew a large number of landscapes of Himara and its surrounding environments in watercolor, almost all of which are stored in the archives of Harvard University. The paintings of Edward Lear, stored in the archives