Gjirokastra is a city in southern Albania at 4004N 2008E / 40.067, 20.133Coordinates: 4004N 2008E / 40.067, 20.133 with a population of around 34,000. Lying in the historical region of Epirus, it is also the capital of both the Gjirokastr District and the larger Gjirokastr County. Its old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as "a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate." Located in the south of the country, at 300 meters above sea level, Gjirokastr is situated in a valley between the Gjer mountains and the Drino River. The city is overlooked by a large castle (Kalaja e Gjirokastres) which dates back to Pre-Christian times.
Gjirokastr is an ancient city with traces of human habitation dating back to the 1st century BC. It is located on the slopes of the Mali i Gjer ("Wide Mountain"), overlooking the Drinos river. The city was probably founded some time in the 12th century AD around a fortress on the hillside.
The city was part of the Byzantine Despotate of Epirus in the 14th century before passing to the Ottoman Empire in 1417. It was captured in 1811 by the Albanian-born Ali Pasha, who carved out his own semi-autonomous fiefdom in the southwestern Balkans. In the late 19th century, when the city was the capital of the sandjak of Ergiri in the Yanya vilayet, it became a centre of resistance to Turkish rule. The Assembly of Gjirokastr, a key event in the history of the Albanian liberation movement, was held there in 1880.
Gjirokastr suffered severe economic problems following the end of communist rule in 1991. It was particularly badly affected by the 1997 collapse of a massive pyramid scheme which destabilised the entire Albanian economy. The city became the focus of a rebellion against the government of Sali Berisha and violent anti-government protests took place which eventually forced Berisha's resignation. On December 16, 1997, Hoxha's house was blown up by unknown (but presumably anti-communist) attackers.
The city is remarkable for its great natural beauty, as well as his harmonious intercultural mix of Albanian, Byzantine and Ottoman heritage and tradition, which is obvious on the many historical buildings and sites. Many houses in Gjirokastr have a distinctive local style that has earned the city the nickname "Town of the Stones", because most of the old houses have roofs covered with stones. Due to Gjirokastr's importance to the Communist regime, its city centre was spared at least some of the thoughtless redevelopment that afflicted other cities in Albania, but its designation as a "museum town" unfortunately did not translate into maintaining the old town. Consequently, many of its historic buildings have become dilapidated, a problem that is only slowly being resolved.
The first Albanian school of Gjirokastr was Drita School opened in 1908. Eqerem University of Gjirokastra is the highest education school.