During communist times religion was banned in Albania, and many religious buildings were destroyed under this regime. However, some buildings were too beautiful to destoy, were only partly destroyed, or simply survived throughout times despite poor maintenance or negligence. So today you can still find many beautiful old churches and monasteries, some of which have already been restorated to save them from further detoriation. Some of the most beautiful monasteries are hard to find, or you need to hike up a hill, so we’ve done the work for you and selected the 12 most incredible churches and monasteries in South Albania that are worth visiting.
The Monastery Of 40 Saints is located on the hill behind Saranda, from where you have one of the best views over the city. The monastery was a Byzantine pilgrimage site built in the 6th century AD and was named after the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. Despite being bombed during World War II, large parts of the building have survived making it worth a visit.
Just outside Saranda, on the Hill of Dema, you can find the incredible 14th century Monastery of Saint George, which remains in a very good condition. From the main road, it takes a short hike up the hill, but apart from the monastery you’ll also be rewarded with views over the Ionian Sea on one side, and Lake Butrint on the other side.
The Monastery of Saint Mary can be found on the hill in Kakome Bay, about 12 kilometers north of Saranda. It was built in the 16th-17th century and expanded and fortified in the 18th century. You can drive down the road that leads towards Kakome Beach and park there, from where you can reach the monastery on a short hike.
If you visit Lukova you can find the Church of Saint Friday by walking down the cobbled streets of the old town and then continue for about 100 meters into the forest, where the church lies on the slopes of the hill, facing the sea. The church was built in the 17th century, but due to negligence nature started to take over. A much needed renovation took place recently to save the historic church.
Another monastery dedicated to Saint Mary can be found on the hill above Piqeras, overlooking the Ionian Sea. The monastery was built in 1672, but parts have been destroyed by now, so the building could use some renovation, but the main dome is still intact. A visit is definitely recommended if you like hiking, as it takes about 30 minutes by foot to reach the monastery from the village.
You can’t miss the Monastery of Saint Mary when visiting Dhermi, as its belfry is an eye-catcher on the top of the hill that can be seen from afar. The dome-shaped church inside the monastery dates back to the 13th-14th century and is covered with beautiful frescos on the inside. The views from the monastery are absolutely stunning as you overlook the old town of Dhermi, the mountains and Ionian Sea.
The Saint Nicholas Monastery Church, located just outside Mesopotam, was built in the 11th century on top of the site of an earlier orthodox monastery complex. The church itself is in a good state and beautifully decorated on the inside. Around the building, you can find some excavations of the old monastery complex and some stones that date back to the Hellenic period.
This Monastery of Saint Mary, which is located in Kostar, has been built in a unique location at the face of a steep cliff. It’s literally been carved out of a rock and offers spectacular views. The original building dates back to 1332 and as of today it is still used as a pilgrimage site.
Just outside of Delvina, you can find another beautiful monastery, which dates back to 630 AD: the Monastery of Kamena. It’s located on the slope of Mount Sopot, in the middle of the nature, with lots of green around.
The Church of Dormition of the Theotokos is another church dedicated to Saint Mary, and can be found in Labova e Kryqit. The original church dates back to the 6th century and was built by Justinian, but the building has undergone several changes and renovations and has remained in a good shape.
Another Saint Mary’s Church can be found in nearby Peshkepi, overlooking the beautiful Drino Valley. The church dates back to 619 and it’s byzantine architecture is very similar to the one in Labova e Kryqit.
The last church on our list is the furthest away from Saranda, but still worth a visit. You can find the Saint Mary’s Church of Leusa via a 30-40 minute hike up the hill from Përmet, a town that is increasing in popularity among visitors due to the spectacular nature of the area. The church was built in the 18th century and has been very well preserved with many beautiful decorations. The hike up the hill is also breathtaking, with amazing views over the Vjosa river valley.
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