Gjirokastëris a city in the Republic of Albania and the seat of Gjirokastër County and Gjirokastër Municipality. It is located in a valley between the Gjerë mountains and the Drino, at 300 metres above sea level. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate”. The city is overlooked by Gjirokastër Fortress, where the Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival is held every five years. It is the birthplace of former Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha, and author Ismail Kadare.
The city appears in the historical record dating back in 1336 by its Greek name, Αργυρόκαστρο, Argyrókastro, as part of the Byzantine Empire. It became part of the Orthodox Christian diocese of Dryinoupolis and Argyrokastro after the destruction of nearby Adrianoupolis. Gjirokastër later was contested between the Despotate of Epirus and the Albanian clan of John Zenevisi before falling under Ottoman rule for the next five centuries (1417–1913). Throughout Ottoman occupation, Gjirokastër was officially known in Ottoman Turkish as Ergiri and also Ergiri Kasrı. During the Ottoman period conversions to Islam and an influx of Muslim converts from the surrounding countryside made Gjirokastër go from being an overwhelmingly Christian city in the 16th century into one with a large Muslim population by the early 19th century. Gjirokastër also became a major religious centre for Bektashi Sufism. Taken by the Hellenic Army during the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 on account of its large Greek population, it was eventually incorporated into the newly independent state of Albania in 1913. This proved highly unpopular with the local Greek population, who rebelled; after several months of guerrilla warfare, the short-lived Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was established in 1914 with Gjirokastër as its capital. It was definitively awarded to Albania in 1921. In more recent years, the city witnessed anti-government protests that led to the Albanian civil war of 1997.
Along with Muslim and Orthodox Albanians, the city is also home to a substantial Greek minority along with a considerable Aromanian community. Together with Sarandë, the city is considered one of the centers of the Greek minority in Albania, and there is a consulate of Greece.
The city’s walls date from the third century. The high stone walls of the Citadel were built from the sixth to the twelfth century. During this period, Gjirokastër developed into a major commercial center known as Argyropolis (Medieval Greek: Ἀργυρόπολις, meaning “Silver City”) or Argyrokastron (Medieval Greek: Ἀργυρόκαστρον, meaning “Silver Castle”).