From Gjirokastra to Dropulli
All the villages inhabited by the Greek minority population are situated to the west of the National Road leading south to the Greek border at Kakavia. The road to the border is only 31 kilometres long and passes the well-known village of Lazarat, which hosts the 18th-century Tekke (lodge) of Father Zenel, a well-known Bektashi Dervish.
Driving south, on your right you will see the villages of Derviçan, Goranxi, and Sofratikë, all perched, like Gjirokastra, on the side of the valley.
Derviçan is situated 1 kilometre west of the national road. The recently restored 18th-century church, St Anna, is the main church in the village. Used as a warehouse in communist times, it is located above the modern settlement on a plateau of higher ground which was the site of the original 15th-century village. The Church of Burimi Jetëdhënës (Life-giving Spring), not far from the Church of St. Anna, was built in the same period. Another important piece of the local architectural heritage is the 17th-century house of Zaharo Sterjo built entirely of stone using a special technique characterized by “covers” laid out on top of one another, without mortar. It is related in style to the Gjirokastra dwelling houses.
Two kilometres further south is the village of Goranxi. The principal church is Saint Mary of Ravenjë, a building dating to around the year 1600. Also worth visiting is Goranxi gorge, just to the north of the village. This cuts into the mountainside in a dramatic fashion. A small late Byzantine church with frescoes lies on a rise near the mouth of the gorge. Further along, on the northern side, is one of the most remarkable prehistoric archaeological sites of the region. Several rock shelters cut into the side of the gorge were used for the fashioning of flint implements in the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Periods (c. 25,000-7,000 BC). Many thousands of these small flint flakes have been discovered and the quarries themselves are visible cutting into the northern gorge wall. Amongst the debris of these ancient industries are a number of stone built dwellings of the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Another village adjacent to the national road is Sofratikë. The village partly covers the site of the necropolis of the Roman city of Hadrianopolis, constructed by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd-century AD. It is suggested that Hadrianopolis was created to provide an administrative or military focal point for the scattered communities of the valley, which had been without a regional focus since the destruction of Antigoneia 400 years previously. It is thought that the settlement was inhabited until the 6th century AD. To reach the centre of the city and the only exposed archaeological remains, leave the main road at the Sofratikë turn and immediately left turn that runs parallel to the main road. After a few hundred meters there is a tunnel leading east under the National Road and out into the flood plain of the Drinos. From the village turn the walk will take around 10 minutes. The site is located near a series of isolated oak trees. The principal feature is a small Roman theatre, with a cavea, orchestra and scena frons; nearby are some excavated houses and other buildings.
Continuing south, the next village of Jergucat is located at the junction of the main road with the road to Saranda; The tall Church of St. Kozma will be visible. By the eastern side of the main highway, before the Saranda turn, are the remains of a large monumental tomb in the ‘Macedonian’ style of the 3rd century BC discovered when the road was built. The main tomb chamber survives as does the stairway. The doors, which were carved out of solid stone, survive in fragments. The entire tomb would have been covered by an earthen tumulus. The village of Zervat, which hosts a 10th-century church, is a few kilometres further along the main road.
A 16th-century monastery found in the village of Dhuvjan, on the road leading up to Kakavijë, is also an attractive site for visitors. Close to the boarder at Lower Peshkëpi lies the 10th-century church of Panaja, an ancient centre of the Bishop of Drinopull. It is encircled by a high wall of cypresses and is one of the oldest and most interesting churches in the area.
Further south along a side road from the main highway just before Kakavijë lies the village of Sotirë, a Greek minority settlement. This settlement is almost as far south as one can go in modern Albania and the mountains of the frontier are visible through the ancient oak and plane woods. The village is delightful with a 13th-century monastery in the centre.