Himarë is a bilingual region and municipality along the Albanian Riviera in southern Albania and part of the Vlorë County.
Apart from the town of Himarë, the region consists of seven other villages: Dhërmi, Pilur, Kudhës, Qeparo, Vuno, Iljas, and Palasë.
The region of Himarë is predominantly populated by an ethnic Greek community.
The Himara region is a strip approximately 20 km long by 5 km wide, bounded by the 2000 metre high Llogara mountains to the northeast (known in antiquity and in the local Greek dialect as the Ceraunian mountains (Greek: Κεραύνια Όρη, Keravnia ori, "Thunder Mountains") and the Ionian Sea to the southwest.
There are long white sandy beaches and the few hills close to the sea are terraced and planted with olive and citrus trees. The villages of Himarë are perched up high on the spurs of the Ceraunian range in positions which offered natural defences against the nearby Lab Albanians during the Ottoman era.
The area has a great potential for tourism, with the major characteristics of the municipal town being its seaside promenade, the Greek tavernas and the traditionally preserved old town built on a hill. The town of Himarë consists of the old town, Kastro, situated on and around the old castle and the coastal region of Spilea, which is the touristic and economic center of the region.
Other parts of the town are Potami, Livadhi, Zhamari, Michaili and Stefaneli. North of the town of Himarë lie the villages of Vuno, Liates, Dhërmi, with its coastal region Jaliskari, and Palasë. Dhermi contains a number of recently built beach resorts. On the mountains lie Pilur and Kudhës, while Qeparo lies to the south of the town of Himarë.
The region has several Orthodox churches and monasteries, built in the traditional Byzantine architecture, like the Monastery of the Cross, Athaliotissa, Saint Theodore, Virgin Mary in Dhërmi and Saint Demetrius. Moreover, a number of churches are located inside the castle of Himarë, which was initially built in classical antiquity, like the Church of Virgin Mary Kasopitra, Episkopi, which is built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo, as well as the Aghioi Pantes church, in the entrance of the castle. Additional monuments in the castle include the mansion of the Spyromilios family and the Greek school.
In antiquity the region was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The Chaonians were one of the three principal Greek-speaking tribes of Epirus, along with the Thesprotians and the Molossians. The town of Himarë is believed to have been founded as Χίμαιρα, (Chimaira, hence the name Himara) by the Chaonians as a trading outpost on the Chaonian shore. However, another theory according to the name suggest that comes from Greek χείμαρρος (cheimarros), meaning "torrent".
In classical antiquity, Himarë was part of the Kingdom Epirus under the rule of the Molossian Aeacid dynasty, which included King Pyrrhus of Epirus. When the region was conquered by the Roman Republic in the 2nd century BC, its settlements were badly damaged and some were destroyed by the Roman General Aemilius Paulus.
Himarë and the rest of the southern Balkans passed into the hands of the Byzantine Empire following the fall of Rome, but like the rest of the region it became the frequent target of various attackers including the Goths, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, Saracens and Normans. Himarë is mentioned in Procopius of Caesarea's work of 544 called Buildings as Chimaeriae. He mentions it of being part of Old Epirus and that a new fortress was built in its location. In 614, the Slavic tribe of the Baiounetai invaded the area and controlled a region from Himarë to Margariti called Vagenetia.
The use of the name "Chaonia" in reference to the region apparently died out during the 12th century, the last time it is recorded (in a Byzantine tax collection document). In 1278, Nicephorus of Epirus surrendered to the Angevins the ports of Himarë, Sopot and Butrint. As a result, Charles of Anjou controlled the Ionian coast from Himarë to Butrint.
In 1372 Himarë, together with Vlora, Kanina and Berat region was given as a dowry to Balša II due to his marriage with the daughter of John Comnenus Asen. After the death of Balša II, his widow and his daughter which married Mrkša Žarković, managed to keep the possession of the region up to 1417 when Ottomans captured Vlora.
The Ottoman Empire overran northern Epirus from the late 14th century, but being a natural fortress, Himara was the only region that did not submit to Ottoman Turkish rule. It became a symbol of resistance to the Turks but suffered from an almost continuous state of warfare. In the summer of 1473 the chieftain John Vlasis, with a small unit from nearby Corfu as well as with native Himariot support, took control of the entire coastal region from Sagiada to Himara, but when the ongoing Turkish-Venetian war ended (1479) the region was again under Ottoman control.
In 1481, one year after the Ottomans had landed in Otranto in southern Italy, the Himariotes joined the forces of Gjon Kastrioti, son of Skanderbeg in his uprising against the Ottomans. The uprising failed, but the Himariotes rose again in 1488, and between 1494–1509, destabilizing Turkish control but failing to liberate their territory.
The Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent personally mounted an expedition in 1537, that destroyed or captured many surrounding villages but did not manage to subdue the area. The Ottomans found it necessary to compromise with the inhabitants of Himarë by grading them a series of privileges: local self-government, the right to bear arms, exemption from taxes, the right to sail under their own flag into any Ottoman port and to provide military service in time of war.
However, despite the privileges, the Himariotes revolted against Ottoman authority during the following conflicts: Turco-Venetian War (1537–1540), War of the Holy League (1571), Morean War (1684–1699) Ottoman–Venetian War (1715–1718) and the Russo-Turkish wars of the 18th century. On the other hand Ottoman reprisals depopulated the area and led to forced Islamizations which finally limited the area's Christian population by the 18th century to the town of Himarë and six villages.
Additionally the Himariotes were often attacked by the Labs, a nearby Albanian tribe, on the grounds of race and religion. In one occasion, in 1577, the chieftains of Himarë appealed to the Pope for arms and supplies promising to fight the Ottomans. They also promised to transfer their religious allegiance to Rome, provided that they will retain their Eastern Orthodox liturgical customs since the majority of the population was Greek and didn't understand the Frankish language.
During these years, the people of Himarë established close links to the Italian city states, especially Naples and the powerful Republic of Venice, and later with Austro-Hungary, which controlled Corfu and the other Ionian Islands. It was at this time (18th century), that many Himariotes emigrated to Italy, while they still maintain their Greek identity.
The first school in the region opened in 1627, where lessons were held in the Greek language. The following years (until 1633) Greek language schools opened also in the villages of Dhërmi and Palasa.
In 1797, Ali Pasha, the Muslim Albanian ruler of the Ottoman Pashalik of Yanina, led a raid on the town of Himarë because they supported his enemy, the Souliotes, and more than 6,000 civilians were slaughtered. Two years later, Ali Pasha tried to create good relations with the Himariotes after declaring their enclave part of his emerging semi-independent state, by financing various public works and churches.
A church he built near Himarë, opposite of the Porto Palermo Castle is the largest and most magnificent in the region and still stands today as a major tourist attraction. Ali Pasha's rule over Himarë lasted about 20 years until it was abruptly terminated by his murder at the hands of the Ottoman agents. Himarë subsequently reverted to its status quo ante of an enclave surrounded by Ottoman territory.
To emphasize the region's special status, the terms that the Himariotes had reached with Suleiman the Magnificent were inscribed on bronze tablets at the request of their leaders, who wanted to record the agreement on a durable medium. These tablets are preserved to this day in the Topkapi palace museum in Istanbul.
When the Greek War of Independence (1821–1830) broke out, the people of Himarë rose in revolt. The local uprising failed, but many Himariotes, veterans of the Russian and French Army, joined the revolutionary forces in today southern Greece, where they played a significant role in the struggle.
In 1854, during the Crimean War, a major local rebellion broke out, with Himarë being one of the first towns that joined it. Although the newly founded Greek state tried tacitly to support it, the rebellion was suppressed by Ottoman forces after a few months.
During the First Balkan War, on November 18, 1912, the town revolted under Spyros Spyromilios and expelled the Ottoman forces in order to join Greece. In March 1914, the "Protocol of Corfu" was signed, which established the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus, of which Himarë formed a part, though the Autonomous Republic itself formally remained part of the newly formed Albanian state.
However, in the Panepirotic assembly in Delvinë, that aimed at the ratifications of the terms of the Protocol by the Northern Epirote representatives, the delegates of Himarë abstained, insisting that only union with Greece would be a viable solution.
During the First World War, Himarë was under Greek administration (October 1914-September 1916) and then occupied by Italy. The Italians used Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war to build a road running through Himarë, which greatly reduced the region's isolation. In 1921 the region came under the control of the Albanian state.
The locals rose in revolt, in 1924, protesting against a series of measures aiming at Albanisation, and demanding the same privileges they enjoyed prior to incorporation to Albania. Other uprisings followed in 1927 and 1932, both suppressed by the government of king Zog of Albania.
Later, Himarë was again occupied by the Italians as part of the Italian invasion in Albania. During the Greco-Italian War, the 3rd Infantry Division of the Greek Army entered Himarë, in December 22, 1940, after victorious fighting against the Fascist Italian forces deployed in the region. The town briefly re-joined Greece until the German invasion in 1941.
The population of the Himarë region is 11,257 inhabitants, with the ethnic composition of both the town and region predominantly Greek. The possibility of victory by the Greek minority Unity for Human Rights Party in the municipal elections in the past triggered nationalist rhetoric, both at the local and even national level, and heightened tension in the town.
The Unity for Human Rights Party secured the greatest number of seats in the current municipal council, during the last municipal elections, however the mayorship was won by the Socialist party, and mayor is Gjergi Goro in the town of Himara (2011). In the last governmental elections (2013), the region of Himara voted 48.3% for the Socialist Party and 25.5% for the Unity of Human Rights party. On the other hand, the latest official census in Albania (2011), which has been widely disputed due to irregularities in the procedure, shows that 60.38% declared as Albanians and 24.56% as Greeks.
Today, the inhabitants of Himara are Orthodox Christians. In 1577, 38 chieftains of the Himara region appealed to Pope Gregory XIII for arms and supplies against the Ottomans. They promised to switch allegiance from the Orthodox to the Roman Catholic Church, and recognize Philip II of Spain as their sovereign. They asked to retain their Orthodox liturgical customs 'since the majority of the population is Greek and does not understand the Frankish language'.
From 1577 to 1765 the population accepted the Pope as the religious head of the community and identified with the Roman Catholic Church. The success of the Roman Catholic missionaries among the Eastern-rite Albanians in Himarë led to the region becoming a refuge for Orthodox prelates that had converted. Himariotes thus largely adhered to Christian faith, although individual conversions to Islam were recorded from early 16th century.
One of them, Ajaz Pasha, became Grand Vizier and was sent by the Ottoman Sultan to put down the 1537 revolt of Himariotes. Even so, crypto-Christianity appeared, particularly in the villages of Fterre, Corraj, and Vuno. Moreover, Basilian missions were sent by Rome since 1682, founding a number of Greek schools.
The vast majority of people in Himarë, who call themselves "Horiani", meaning locals in the local Greek dialect, are bilingual in both Albanian and Greek, while 85% of the municipality's population use Greek as their mother tongue according to the municipal authorities.
In the town of Himarë as well as in nearby villages of Dhërmi and Palasa mainly speak a unique local Greek dialect that preserves many archaic features no longer found in standard Modern Greek. This dialect has small variations in the way it is spoken in every town, especially in the accent.
On the other hand the surrounding towns of Ilias, Vuno, Qeparo, Kudhes and Pilur mainly speak the Tosk Albanian dialect with heavy Greek influence; for example 'thank you' is 'ju haristisem', please is 'ju parkales', and 'village' is 'hora'.
In the spring of 2006, a private Greek-language school opened in the town of Himarë, at the precise location where the Orthodox missionary Cosmas the Aetolian founded the Acroceraunian School in 1770
While the situation of the Greek minority in Albania has improved since the fall of communism, ethnic tensions in Himara remain high. During the 1994 trial of the Omonoia members, an organization that represents the Greek minority in Albania, three local Greeks were arrested and beaten by the Albanian police after they were found in possession of leaflets calling for the release of the arrested Omonoia leaders.
In 2008, a number of protests took place with the locals demanding land ownership and autonomy for the region. The house of former mayor of Himara's, Vasil Bollano, has been the target of a bomb attack twice, in 2004 and again in May 2010.
On August 12, 2010, ethnic tensions soared after ethnic Greek shopkeeper Aristotelis Goumas was killed when his motorcycle was hit by a car driven by three Albanian youths with whom Goumas allegedly had an altercation when they demanded that he not speak Greek to them in his store.
Outraged locals blocked the main highway between Vlore and Saranda and demanded reform and increased local Himariote representation in the local police force. The incident was condemned by both the Greek and Albanian governments and three suspects are currently in custody awaiting trial.
The census of 2011 will include ethnicity for the first time, a long standing demand of the Greek minority in Albania and of international organizations, though the details remain to be approved by the Albanian Parliament. However, Greek representatives already found this proccedure unacceptable since according to article 20 of the Census law, there is a $1,000 fine for someone who will declare anything other than what was written down on his birth certificate. In 2005, after years of unanswered demands, President Berisha authorized the opening of a Greek-language school in Himara partially funded by the Greek government. The school now has five teachers and 115 pupils.