Japanese Media on Theth: A Place Out of a Fairy Tale


A slew of international media has sung its praises to the spectacular Albanian Alps throughout the last decade. But, this is the first time that Japanese media focus on the small, but mighty, alpine village of Theth.

Mizuho Ota, the well-known Japanese travel journalist has dedicated one of her signature detailed columns in the newspaper Asahi Shinbun to none other than Theth. For those of you who have been there, you know why! Theth, as Ota claims, is one of the most paradisiacal places on earth where times has stopped.

“The mountain range with peaks that reach over 2,000 meters above sea level, are also called the Albanian Alps. Theth, a beautiful village, looks as if out of a fairy tale. It is located only 15 kilometers from the border with neighboring Montenegro. Theth River gracefully crosses the entire village, passing by many characteristic old stone houses that seem frozen in time. It’s a tourist’s paradise, which is why they rush here during the summer,” writes Mizuho Ota.


National Park of Theth, Photo by IntoAlbania

Ota describes her visit to Theth in detail, including her new local acquaintances, most of them guesthouse owners like Gjon Shpella, of Shpella Guesthouse. Shpella recalls the Communist era for the Japanese journalist, during which all the mosques and churches were either demolished or given new functions. For instance, the Church of Theth, the icon of the village, was once a clinic. “It’s where I was born,” Shpella says.

Around 200 families lived in Theth when the Communist regime fell in 1991. The villagers faced especially challenging times ahead with most eventually emigrating to neighboring countries. However, with the passing of the years, tourists found their way to Theth, eventually helping the small village become the “must-see” it is today.

Gjon was one of the people who returned from emigration to invest in his birthplace and satisfy the growing demand from both local and international tourists. In the very beginning, he says, the number of guests was around 200 but, in a decade, it has grown to more than 8,000.

Especially now, people are looking for replenishing vacations, fresh air, soothing vistas and distance from crowds and pollution. Theth is bound to have more guests this summer!

Lock-in Tower of Theth


Once a Daunting Site, Now a Fascinating Touristic Attraction

Rising over the center of the spectacular alpine village of Theth, this tower holds the history of an entire region, told in detail by one of the tower owners’ descendants.

The Lock-in Tower of Theth, also known as the Tower of Nikoll Koçeku, is one of the most valued historic and architectural monuments of Albania’s highlands. A unique structure that contains hundreds of years of history, in the village of Dukagjin, this tower is known for having imprisoned all of those who had committed serious crimes against the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjin, a set of oral traditional Albanian laws coded in the 15th century.

Located in the center of Theth Village, the tower is one of the main touristic attractions of the surrounding mountainous region. It has historically belonged to the Koçeku family and, in fact, one of the family’s descendants, Sokol, serves as its current guide. He can truly recount its history in full and vivid detail which usually includes an accurate and dramatic interpretation of the Kanun.

Reconciliation and Imprisonment

The tower is a four-sided structure made entirely of stone and topped by an alpine roof, a construction which creates total isolation, typical of the country’s northern region. This type of fortress structure is widespread in the area as it provided the maximum level of defense. The towers’ small windows, called frëngji, gave the locals an advantage over the enemy as the former were constantly aware of the movements outside of the towers’ walls.


In addition to its main function of defense, the Tower of Theth served to imprison those who violated the Kanun. Yet, it also served as a spot for reconciliation among the families who were affected by the crimes, who would meet and discuss their conflicts while the imprisoned would await his sentence.

The tower contains very few furnishings, only adding to the dramatic effect of this daunting stone structure. An old wooden furnace, a few leather cloths as bedding, simple cookware and, next to them, a fire weapon, necessary for defense. The tower served as a structure of defense until fairly late, with the Communist era ultimately doing away with its original function.


The Tower of Theth is mentioned by one of the most renowned Hungarian scholars, Franz Nopcsa, who ventured in northern Albania and is responsible for the very first geological map of this mountainous region. Nowadays, northern Albania, its ethnography and legendary lock-in towers, attract thousands of curious visitors annually.
Cultural heritage and Kadare’s Tale

These types of towers are a vital part of Albanian cultural heritage which, thanks to tourism, is becoming more and more accessible. The towers’ mysticism and strange fates of their people inspired Ismail Kadare’s famous novel “Broken April,” an artistic testament to the unforgiving life of the mountains and to the power of the Kanun which, as the writer has said, forgets neither good nor evil.

Church of Theth


The Picturesque Landmark of the Northern Village

Situated in the epicenter of the village of Theth, it seems as though the gorgeous mountain ranges and the iconic Theth rooftops revolve around this at once simple and extraordinary church.

The ruins of the old church date back to the year 1892 and it was precisely here, in the same location, that the new church of Theth was erected. As modest as it is striking, this church is inextricably linked to the image and history of the scenic village of northern Albania. Long ago, the first parishioner of the church lived right next to it, in the attached presbytery. Nowadays, however, with the reconstruction of the new church, this sacred place has become home to all the village locals, a mostly Roman-Catholic population.

The history of the church is connected to the names of various Albanian patriots and clerics who served their country and contributed to national culture. Father Shtjefën Gjeçovi, for instance, is one of the heroes behind the cultivation of the Albanian language. Back in 1917, he opened the first Albanian school in this area, a tradition which was highly supported and shared by other clerics and teachers as well as by the post-1921 Albanian government, which quickly followed suit.


During the Communist dictatorship, the church was closed though fortunately not destroyed, like many other religious structures during the time. Instead, the church assumed another function and served as a civic center where many community services took place. After the 1990s. with the collapse of the Communist regime, Theth’s inhabitants along with their family members, who by now were immigrants in various countries in Europe, financed the reconstruction of the new church.

The new church has assumed a similarly significant and dominating presence as its predecessor. Perfectly situated on the tranquil valley, this small grey structure warmly welcomes all those who are lucky enough to visit this magical village. The construction reflects the traditional structures of the deep highlands. Resembling a tower, the entire structure rests on a single massive column, with quaint rooftops which reach varying heights, culminating with the grand cross. The back of the church is semicircular with the various roofs enhancing the wonderful architectural harmony of this structure. Though small in size and fairly intimate, the dominating position of this church is unquestionable and worth witnessing live!

When to see it

The church is particularly breathtaking on early spring and summer mornings. At these moments, the especially bright Theth sunlight turns everything to a shimmering shade of silver, in the middle of which the matching silver-hued church seems to appear as if by magic. In early fall, you may witness the beautiful seasonal shades appear on the foliage of the trees that surround the church as well as on the entire landscape. Winter may be the most magical of them all, although, unfortunately, access to Theth during the coldest months is challenging, if not impossible. Locals will tell you that the image of the snow-covered valley and the sun rays hitting the church of Theth is simply mesmerizing!

The waterfall of Gjeçaj


Once you have entered into Theth and you are descending to the center, above the national road, you will see Gjeçaj Waterfall, which is quite beautiful and distinctive, and about 25 meters high.

The walks through the National Park provide the possibility to familiarize yourself with the natural and cultural resources that Thethi has. The Church which is preserved and maintained very well, the ethnographic Museum or the Tower of Lulash Keqi, the Isolation Tower. The waterfall of Grunas and that of Gjeçaj, the caves of the Harapi top, stone tubs of Nderlysa, and the Blue Eye of Kaperre, the glacial lakes of Peja neck are of unparalleled beauty. In this village, you can stay up to one week, and still, this time is not enough to enjoy all the beautiful places.

Grunas Canyon in Theth Albania


The Grunas Canyon has large carbon formations. The canyon is around 2 km long and 60 meters deep and varies from 2-3 meters to 30-40 meters wide. There is an incomparable beauty, and all the time, there is enough water to canoe sailing fans. The water of the Thethi River is crystal clear at any time and very cold. The visits to the site are not advised without local guides, or the appointment should be in groups. The Grunas Canyon was and remained a challenge for all foreign and Albanian tourists that are passionate about canyons.

Ethnographic Museum of Dukagjini


At the valley of Thethi, one can see buildings made of stone, standing tall and strong, which are known for their defensive character. One of the more unique towers is the tower of Lulash Keq Boshi, which was built at the top of jagged rock, 9 meters tall, which is connected to the foundation organically and functionally. The tower is placed near the fertile soil with minimal construction, which is a favorable environment for the growth of cereals.

The tower is a semi floor with a horizontal expansion of 87 m2. On the north-west side, it’s the way to the underground level where the cattle are kept. On the surfaces of the first floor is the floor where you enter the building through some stone stairs. On the south-west side of the wall is found the small window called “frangjia”, which is built functionality and architecturally wise. “Frangjia”, is a solid construction that worked with the sculpted rock that comes out of the tower walls. In addition to the below floor, where is the room where the family stay, it’s also found the guest room, which is higher up from the floor where the family lives?

An unusual element of the guest room is the fact that it has a fireplace, wooden ceiling and is treated with a lot of care. Usually, this room is more beautiful than in other areas of the building. This shows the Albanian tradition of preparing the best for guests.