Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hidden In Plain Sight

Another view of the walls

You never know what you are going to find when you are out and about exploring in Albania.  Case in point a castle we stumbled upon this past weekend.  En route from the beach in Spille to Karavasta Lagoon, we took the back way instead of the main highway. We bumped along your typical rutted and mud filled roads passing through fertile farmland and small enclaves of traditional houses.  We passed the requisite sheep in the road and detoured around a building that had somehow been erected in the middle of the road.  As is the case throughout so much of the country we saw evidence of a new and improved  road being built.  And then as we were driving along a ridge we spotted what appeared to be the ruins of a castle smack dab in the middle of the field below us.
Now we've explored our share of castles since arriving in Albania.  All of them have either been perched atop mountains or clinging to the side of the sea serving as lookout points for invading armies.  Most were built by the Illyrians during the fourth and fifth centuries BC as a part of Albania's civil defense system.  This castle felt and looked different.  While near a river and a bit inland from the Adriatic Sea, Bashtove Castle is situated in the middle of a low lying field offering it no visibility to approaching armies.  Perhaps it had more visibility in earlier times but during our visit the only thing we could see from the castle's walls were herds of grazing sheep. Built in the 15th Century by the ruling feudal family of the area, Bashtove Castle is considerably younger; there is speculation however that the existing castle was built on top of a castle built during the Byzantine Empire in the 6th Century.  (By American standards this castle is still very, very old).

Inside the castle--notice the sheep grazing in the background
Strangly enough, we were able to drive right up to and into the castle through its main entryway. Yes, if you look at the picture to the right you can see our bright yellow SUV parked in the middle of the castle grounds that on most days probably has sheep grazing in it.  Although we were the only visitors at the moment, we clearly weren't the first people who had driven into the center of the castle ruins.  (As with so many historical sites in Albania, visitors have accessibility that would be unheard of in the rest of the developed world.  This accessibility, however, concerns me since historical and cultural preservation can not co-exist with continued easy and open access.  The area was relatively trash free though............).  Climbing up the steep stairs at one end of the compound and walking along the perimeter of the walls was an incredible experience. Every time I visit any ancient site I am impressed with the durability of these structures.  For a relic to be so old yet so well preserved is truly remarkable.  These ruins are all the more impressive since the "technology" of the time revolved around building everything by hand, one stone at a time.  Knowing this puts a whole new spin on the term manual labor.  

And here are a few more pictures to give you a better feel for Bashtove Castle. 

A rather well preserved niche

Our "walking path"
The once grand entrance

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