On Berat, the City of the Necklaces of Light
Author: Slender Luarasi
Affiliation: POLIS University
A lot of facts and stories have been recounted about Berat in history, by historians, architects, tourists, and travelers. But one questions has not been asked yet, or it is taken for granted: What is the form of Berat? We think we know it, given that we have seen so many pictures of the old quaint city, or have taken these pictures ourselves, particularly the famous one of Mangalem with on the right side and Gorica opposite the River Osum, as if to prove to ourselves that we have really been there… But no sooner one takes a pencil to draw the form of Berat (or its neighborhoods), the mental map disappears, as if sucked out by the narrow, empty ‘canyons’ of Mangalem, or the mute walls of Gorica. It is easier to draw the form of, say, Gjirokastra. One could start with the topographic or street lines and then infill nodes or buildings. The form of Gjirokastra has a rather legible syntax, predicated on distinctions and oppositions, the open and the closed, the continuous and the interrupted, the street and the building, the skeleton and infill, the public and private, the individual and the collective; Gjirokastra has parts that can be taken apart and analyzed; Gjirokastra is more modern… Berat, on the other hand, while sharing similar morphological features with Gjirokastra, it resists such binary structures. And if one were to insist, in an act of methodological obtusity and arrogance, to ‘divide and conquer’ Berat in terms of such structures, then one would find oneself either outside, or drowned in it, which amounts to the same thing… The old town, Berat, is “generous” (to quote Papastefani) on everything, except its ‘overall’ underlying form, if there is such thing at all...