The first folkloristic festival organised on the castle in Gjirokastër took place between October 8th and 16th 1968. From that point it was being organized regularly for five years until 1988. Later on for some reason it was discontinued - it may have been the result of the changes of political system in Albania. Festival was restored in 1995, but this time it was organized in the fortress of Berat. Successive editions (2000, 2004 and 2009) were already held in Gjirokastër. The next one is planned to be organised in 2013.
Festivali Folklorik Kombëtar (FFK), which in literal translation means National Folkloristic Festival is the biggest of such events in Albania. There arrive folk bands not only from all the parts of the country but also from abroad. The festival already enjoyed performances of the bands from Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and even the USA.
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We arrived at Gjirokastër on September 24th - on the first day of the festival. The city looked very festive and in the streets which were very colourfully decorated there strolled people speaking in different languages. On the castle the last preparations and rehearsals took place. Artists coming from different parts of the world were changing into folk costumes and were slowly gathering in the city centre, where at 4.30 the formal opening of the event was to begin.
On the balcony of the Çajupi hotel there appeared the Albanian master of ceremony and in a resonant voice he announced it to all and sundry that the festival was open. Later on from the stage situated opposite the balcony the representatives of the town officials and probably of the Ministry of Culture formally greeted all the guests.
After the official part of the celebrations the artists started playing instruments and dancing trying to involve the passers-by in the fun. Slowly, the colourful and swirling crowd began pouring in the narrow streets of the old part of Gjirokastër. Folk costumes from different parts of the country mixed together giving the guests like us an opportunity for making comparison.
All the costumes were beautifully sewn, I have to admit that some of them really had strange shapes, though. The most intriguing thing were beautiful girls wearing big wooden planks (probably) on their bottoms. It is difficult to guess the intended use of these items of clothing.
On the stage situated on the crossing of two stone-paved streets a short concert was held and the guests (both natives and from around the world) took commemorative pictures with the artists. After this short introduction the parade started down the steep streets in the direction of the castle, where the proper performances were to begin at 6 p.m.
Gjirokastër is a beautiful old city, registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. On the hill there towers a medieval citadel in the walls of which there was a stage installed. Over a thousand artists were to perform there in the following six days of the festival.
On the first days the groups from Tirana, Korçë and Kosovo performed. Unfortunately, the fact that we do not know Albanian made it impossible for us to understand the lyrics of the folk songs – we could only enjoy the colourful dances, acrobatic exercises and the sound of unknown folk instruments.
Another proof of Albanian openness. We had three girls sitting next to us. The youngest of them was probably a bit older than our son, the other one was approximately at the age of our daughter Maja, the oldest, beautiful and a little timid girl, was around fifteen. Even though the children did not know English, they made friends very quickly. When the parting time came, the Albanian friend gave Maja a bracelet as a gift. A small gesture, but Maja still remembers that some Albanian girl she practically did not know and whom she did not have time to ask her name gave her a present – just out of sympathy. We are sending our best regards.
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