First Impressions

Qeparo is a beautiful Albanian village, which has maintained its form through centuries of political turmoil, and bears a weathered, wizened, and calm feeling, as if nothing could phase it. To walk through Qeparo is to encounter ways of life that have been lost for a century. To walk through the houses, to feel the scale of the yards and to understand their position during times of far greater uncertainty than now is a powerful experience. Qeparo and the other villages in the region offer this in abundance. On a typical day in May, one may encounter no more than a handful of other people, finding even a coffee isn’t always obvious there. In exchange for that lack of amenities though, one can find true silence in Qeparo. The village bears the traces of many centuries of history and even relative prosperity, still left unaltered from the way they deteriorated decades before. Qeparo is connected by a small steep winding road that cuts quickly up a hillside covered in olive trees. In fifteen minutes one can make a trip that even during communism would have been a two-hour hike, and a much more substantial separation from the rest of civilization. The culmination of that road is a fairly formal urban approach: one may park and the obvious route to the town square is just thirty meters to the north. It is there the town ceases to be obvious, and frays into a tangle of medieval whitewashed streets to be explored. The oldest portion of the village, at a precipice on the north side the buildings, seems to cling impossibly close to the edge and provides incredible views of the water below and the original idea of the village as a rugged, but cultured outpost protected by the extreme terrain.

The People

Qeparo is one of the larger of the historic towns in the Himarë Province: a recent census showed 1,200 inhabitants. A stroll through the town in the low season though belies a truth in the place that it has dealt with since the fall of communism—that very few people actually live there permanently. Today the people of Qeparo are mostly elderly, those who preferred to stay put rather than migrate. Those who did move typically chose Greece. But there was opportunity at the bottom of the hill too, and many simply relocated closer to the water to tap into the tourism and real estate economies. Like Kudhës, the people of Qeparo are proud, well educated, and boast a rich history of important contributions to Albanian culture. That sense of pride is immediately obvious in the people sitting and chatting in the square. Qeparo has attracted recently a fair amount of foreigners buying real estate, which in the context of Albania continues to carry some degree of novelty. The people and the town of Qeparo have an air of cosmopolitanism and sophistication. And yet, much of the village remains in ruins. The town’s school, which is the largest in the area, as well as its cinema, which during communism was grand, today are both closed and caved in. Today, the institutions that remain are the church and the village café, physically central to both village life as well as tourism.

The history

The old village of Qeparo rises on a rocky ridge about 300 meters above sea level, which because of the precipice is equipped with a natural protection from the north and west. The name Qeparo appears for the first time in the Ottoman Defter of 1431–1432. The name of the village appears again in the Ottoman records from 1551–1583, with a counting a total of fifty houses. In commemoration of its effective and continuous resistance to the Ottoman conquest, Qeparo bears the epithet “Village of Captains”—Fshati i Kapedaneve. The folklore and oral tradition of the village is rich in legends about Ali Pasha of Telepena, which is considered to be an indication of the historically friendly relations between him and the inhabitants of Qeparo. During the period of the Albanian National Renaissance, several personalities from the village were very active. One of them was Sokrat Leka, who was a member of the League of Prizren. Leka rejected the deployment of the Greek army in the beach of Qeparo in the late nineteenth century, which aimed to destroy the fortress of Saranda and Lekurs. The name of this patriot is found written on the icon of St. Spyridon, which he donated to the church of St. Spyridon in 1859. With the declaration of independence of the Albanian state on March 17, 1913, Qeparo and the other villages of Himarë responded positively to the request of the Government of Vlora to join the new Albanian state.

Economic Activity

Qeparo’s proximity to the sea has led to a relatively well- diversified economy. The mountainous terrain creates very suitable conditions for the development of animal husbandry, while the mild climate of the sea enables the cultivation of vineyards and agriculture, mainly citrus fruit. More recently, fishing has provided a small but important economic source.

The setting - urban fabric

The dry, beige hill above which Qeparo rises, the traditional whitewashed stone houses, and the azure sea below lend the appearance of a classical Mediterranean village. The riverbed far below the village, which leads to Kudhës, contains ancient terraces built to cultivate olive and throughout the. Even further, the beaches of brilliant white pebbles blaze in the summer sun. Old Qeparo has a castle like urban setting. The compact traditional core develops around a central church and the square. The built environment is compact and produces particularly interesting typologies of open and close spaces, routes and connections; such as the arched passages.

The setting – architecture

In comparison with other villages of the coast, Qeparo has the best preserved traditional architecture and urban fabric. That fabric is characterized by the great compactness of constructions, which have created a dense network of traditional sokak and cobblestone paths, where in many cases dwellings were established through cylindrical vaults in order to ensure crossings. The whole surface of the hill upon which the village is established was used for their construction—some dwellings are built directly on the edge of the precipice, creating the impression of a fortress with high walls. The authentic architecture of a coastal village is completed by the presence of a large and ancient oak tree situated in the center of the village, as well as the Church of St. Mary with its magnificent bell tower. The church was built in 1796. The modern town is situated at the foot of the old village, near the sea, and rises in some low hills below.

The Castle of Karos

The Castle of Karos belongs to a more advanced stage of prehistoric settlements of Chaonia. It is situated in old Qeparo, in a place called Gradishta, and is mounted on a high rocky hill, 450 meters high. The Karos fortification system consists of three rows of walls. Its external enclosure wall is 340 meters long and has the shape of an arch that follows the terrain with edges skirting the brink of the abyss. On its eastern side is an entrance—the only one on the entire external surrounding wall.

Tower of Ali Pasha or Tower of Vlashaj

The Tower of Ali Pasha or Tower of Vlashaj is located in Qeparo, about one kilometer north of the village, and is connected by an ancient walking trail. The complex features a three-story tower and on the ground floor has three rooms, the uppermost of which are supported by beautiful arches on stone columns. It is unknown why Ali Pasha would build this beautiful villa so close to the small Ionian harbor instead of further inland where it would have been protected by the tough mountainous terrain of Labëria. Indeed the complex has fortress-like qualities and defense was certainly a consideration; it is separated from the village and in a strategic position, and would present practical challenges to aggressors. One theory holds that in the event of an imminent danger, when Ali Pasha would have to leave the country and move westward by sea, this tower could have offered a kind of strategic decoy. Not far from here is Porto Palermo, where Ali Pasha built a coastal military fortress as well, from which his attempts at control over the Ionian Sea were issued.

The Church of St. Demetrius

The Church of St. Demetrius was built within a small campus that also contains a school and small living quarters for the church personnel. The naos of St. Demetrius is cross-shaped with a dome, and it is fairly small: its internal dimensions are less than eight meters long. The cross arms are not equal—the east and west wings are longer and higher than the northern and southern ones. What would otherwise be angular ceilings are covered with cylindrical vaults that open to the central nave, which is wider than the two lateral naves. Coverage of the central core is enabled by curved crossings.

The dwelling of Minella Gjika

The dwelling of Minella Gjika is a well-preserved house in Qeparo built with unique architectural features. The house is three stories and features a platform held by a cylindrical vault on the ground floor. The first and second floors are connected by wooden stairs. The chamber of the second floor has a delicate, decorative ceiling, which is rare for the architecture of the area. The house also features a six-pointed star as a rosette, and the corners of the ceiling contain a typical bow with three centers.

The legend of the Stone pillar and the Candle wick

One of the oldest legends of Qeparo has it that the original village was established on its present-day site no less than 500 years ago. In this legend, the founding tribes of the village were the families of Mertokaj, Gjinobogdan, and Rreza, who previously lived in the surrounding hills. One day, a shepherd from the family of Gjon Kondi was herding in the forest. Suddenly a stone pillar appeared before him, in whose vault an icon was wedged. Intrigued, Gjon pushed deeper into the forest where he discovered a candle wick hung on the branches of a large oak. Upon returning home, the shepherd told his fellow villagers the miracle and explained to them that this must be a sign that the place was holy and desirable to build upon. Agreeing, the families dispersed in the hills came together and built their homes in this place, thus establishing Qeparo village.

Facts & figures

The village of Old Qeparo, up in above sea level, impresses with the stunning beauty, the harmony with the terrain and the stone houses with their typical traditional architecture, as in other coastal villages. It is very well preserved, in spite of the fact that a number of historic houses are being The Old Qiparo or Qeparo castle has very reduced number of inhabitants, 450- 500 and including the residents of Qeparo Field (Fushe) there are approximately 2000 inhabitants.

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