Sunday, 19 April 2015

Albania’s City Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. It would seem logical to find any links with English place names to be fewer the further we get from the British Isles, yet this is not always the case.

Tirana is often said to have been named by the Turkish general Barkinzade Suleyman Pasha, who founded the place around 1600 and naming it Tigran in honour of his home of Tehran. However there is enough evidence to show this was known as such some 1300 earlier and certainly the Emperor Justinian built a castle in the early 6th century named Tirkan. Thus it seems likely this city was named as ‘the village of Tirania’, this being the ancient name of Tuscany inhabited by the Etruscans. While the Etruscans gave their name to the Tyrrhenian Sea, this being the Greek version of their name, the names have never been explained.

Durres was once recorded as Dyrrhachion and this comes from the Greek and means something akin ‘bad shoreline’. Undoubtedly the rocky coastline around here would have made landing here extremely hazardous. Roman historians claimed this represented the hero Dyrrachius, yet if there is anyone to link with he will have been named from the place.

Vlore was first known as the Greek Aulon meaning ‘valley’, likely a Greek translation of the existing ancient name for the area. Later pronunciations, notably the Italian Valona, resulted in the modern form.

Elbasan shares an origin with the name of Albania, where the Indo-European alb has been seen as ‘place of eagles’ and has been influenced by the Turkish il-basan ‘the fortress’.

Fier is certainly not from the Italian fiera or ‘trade fair’ despite there being an important Venetian marketplace here in the 14th and 15th centuries. There is a record of this name well before the heyday of the market and comes from the Albanian word for ‘fern’.

Berat was earlier known as Beligrad, itself meaning ‘white city’ in the Slavic tongues and a reference to stone buildings.

Sarande has undergone several minor changes, these solely down to pronunciation differences as successive cultures came and went. This name came from the Greek for the Byzantine monastery of Agioi Saranada or ‘forth saints’. This refers to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, a group of Roman soldiers of the twelfth legion who were martyred on the orders of Licinius in 316.

Pogradec is another Albanian name of Slavic origin where po gradec literally means ‘under the city’. This not only defines the name of this place but also shows it was overlooked by the Illyrian settlement of Istarova located on the hill which still dominates the skyline.

Gjirokaster has often been recorded as being named after the legendary Princess Argjiro which, had she ever have existed, would be impossible as the name is known before her reputed lifetime in the 15th century. The true origin is Greek argyron kastron ‘the silver castle’.

Note the spellings are mostly English as the piece is written in English.

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