Greek Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kostas Fragogiannis is paying a two-day visit to Argyrokastro (Αργυρόκαστρο, Albanian: Gjirokastër) in northern Epirus in southern Albania as of Wednesday to boost Greek-Albanian collaboration in intra-border issues of common interest.
Fragogiannis’ visit also aims to support the local Greek business community, and is by invitation of Albanian Tourism & Environment Minister Mirela Kumbaro.
The two ministers will first meet privately and on Thursday jointly inaugurate the trade show held by the local trade chambers of Ioannina and Gjirokastër.
The Greek minister is also scheduled to visit the facilities of businesses owned by ethnic Greeks in the region, and will hold a working meeting with business owners at the General Consulate of Gjirokastër.
Other scheduled meetings Fragogiannis will hold in the city are with Orthodox Metropolitan Demetrius, mayors of several cities, the regional governor of the metropolis, and the head of the ‘Omonia’ ethnic Greek minority organisation of Albania.
The city is considered one of the centres of the approximately 200,000-strong Greek community in Albania.
Gjirokastër appeared for the first time in historical records under its medieval name of Argyrókastron (Medieval Greek: Αργυρόκαστρον), as mentioned by John VI Kantakouzenos in 1336.
The name comes from argyrón (Medieval Greek: ἀργυρόν, lit. ’silver’), and kástron (Medieval Greek: κάστρον), derived from Latin castrum, meaning “castle” or “fortress”; thus “silver castle”.
Byzantine chronicles also used the similar name Argyropolýchni (Medieval Greek: Αργυροπολύχνη, lit. ’silver town’).
The theory that the city took the name of the Princess Argjiro, a legendary figure about whom 19th-century author Kostas Krystallis wrote a short novel and Ismail Kadare wrote a poem in the 1960s, is considered folk etymology, since the princess is said to have lived later, in the 15th century.
The definite Albanian form of the name of city is Gjirokastra, while in the Gheg Albanian dialect it is known as Gjinokastër, both of which derive from the Greek name.
The earliest known history of the Gjinokastër region comes during the Middle Helladic period (2100-1550 BC). A double tumulus was dug out in Vodhinë village in Gjinokastër county, with strong similarities to the grave circles at Mycenae, showing a common ancestral link with the Myceneans of southern Greece.
The Phrygian period of the region spanned from around 1150 BCE to around 850 BCE. Hammond argues that the region was checkered with a mosaic of small Phrygian principalities, with the principality of Gjirokastër and the surrounding region having its centre at Vodhinë. In the later part of the period, it appears there was a change of dynasty at Vodhinë.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that during the Bronze Age, the region was inhabited by populations who likely spoke a northwestern Greek dialect.
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the area around Gjirokastër were the Greek-speaking tribe of the Chaonians, which belonged to the Epirote group.
In antiquity the local urban centre was located in Antigonia, c. 5 kilometres (3 mi) from modern Gjirokastër on the opposite bank of river Drino.