Once in a while, you come across an off the beaten path monument or attraction that there’s rarely any mention of it in Google or the Web. Normally, I’d read a few travel blogs or make a few inquiries to Lonely Planet for things to see and photograph. But in this instance, I discovered a historic monument by accident. Flipping through pages of an old Coffee table book at my hostel in Tirana I came across a photo of a distinctly Ottoman-style bridge.
I am fascinated with Ottoman style bridges, I’ve sought one out in Bulgaria three years ago but it was covered construction scaffolding. I visited one of most famous one in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina the same year and after seeing the photo from the coffee table book, I was intrigued.
I looked up the bridge on the web and there was little to nothing I could find about it. There’s a map website with a GPS coordinate indicating it’s in a village called Ferraj just on the outskirts of Tirana. I asked one of the hostel receptionist how to get there and apparently there’s a bus that goes to the village.
Curious, I punched in the coordinates on Google Maps to get driving directions. I was a mere 9 kilometers away. I could walk that in less than 2 hours! The receptionist suggested I rent one of their bikes and just ride there. With a bike, I can do the trip in 30 minutes one way so I agreed. Besides, I wanted to experience the traffic and find out how people drive in Albania.
There’s center divide that cuts through Tirana where people can walk and use as a bike lane. This leg of the trip was easy and relatively safe. But as soon as you get out of the center things to start to get messy. Half the time there’s not traffic lights in place and drivers won’t stop for you. The traffic can only be described as pure chaos.
A bike lane does exist near the center of Tirana but drivers constantly use it to park their cars. They also use it to weave in and out to cut and overtake other drivers. They block the center lane and go out of their turns on the traffic signal (what little there is). It was quite a harrowing experience but I managed to get out into the outskirts of town. I can only imagine what driving would be like in Albania!
It didn’t take long before I got some interesting glimpse of the Albanian rural area. The landscapes are green and lush. With verdant hills surrounded by taller mountains capped with clouds. It was a surreal and beautiful scene except for. The TRASH. It is EVERYWHERE. It’s on the side of the hills. The riverbed. The side of the road. Everywhere. I haven’t seen this level of rubbish since my trip to Peru and Bolivia.
Outside the trash, the scenery was good and I got to the destination following the coordinates from the map (41°22’47″N 19°51’33″E) without incident. The bridge didn’t look anything like the one in pictures. This one looks newer (also dirtier) and looks like it’s meant for cars, not medieval horses and carriages.
It turned out to be the new bridge that leads to the village of Ferraj and it’s only 25 years old. The bridge I’m looking is a lot older. I asked a random villager where the old bridge was. Since I couldn’t speak the language formed a half-circular sign with my hands to suggest connecting bridge (or something). It seemed to have worked as I was told to continue on the road next to the river.
I saw the first glimpse of the bridge down the river below amidst a pile of trash on the cliff side road. It was a strange and unnerving feeling seeing something that old (and important) be surrounded by mounds of trash. There was a narrow trail along the garbage that leads to the bottom of the ravine that I carefully navigated with the mountain bike to reach the bridge. The bridge is largely well preserved and apparently still used by villagers to cross the river.
From what little, I can gather from the web. The Ura e Brarit, which means the Bridge of Brarit, is an Ottoman-era bridge built within the ruins of an Ancient Roman bridge. The Ottomans built it around 350 years ago as a gift given to the villages by a Muslim sister (one of three). The engineers used sand mixed with beaten eggs to make the stones of the arch withstand the tests of time. The real coordinates of the old bridge are 41°23’2″N 19°51’36″E.
I was in awe of the bridge’s hardiness and how old it is. The old foundation of the Roman bridge is still clearly visible. I took several photos in different directions working with the confines of the litter that was there. The river’s water was murky, not the green that I saw on the coffee table book. You can either jump in the murky depths of the murky river or swim in the ocean of trash. Pick your poison. I just couldn’t believe the level of rubbish around the surrounding area. I wish the government would do something about preserving such a precious monument. If you ever find yourself in Tirana and are looking for something different to do. Pay this bridge a visit. Maybe you can help put it up in the spotlight so people can better take care of it.
How to get to the Ura e Brarit
- There are minibusses that run to Ferraj village. From the Tirana city center take the Orange bus to Kinostudio. From Kinostudio you can take a bus to Ferraj.
- Rent a bike like I did! It’s the cool way to explore the rural area of Tirana.
- Walk. It’s only 9 Kilometers from Tirana. It’s a good 2-hour walk.
- Car. You must be insane to drive in Albania 🙂
- Refer to the map below.