The museum was organised in the year 1979 in a traditional Berat house. This type of building was mainly built for the land owning classes who lived in the town on the rent of their farms and estates. It is a two- storey house, with a veranda on one side. The ground - floor lobby is productive rather than domestic. The connection with the upper floor is via a stone staircase supported by a stone arch. The building was constructed in the 18th century and it is a typical creation of the local schools of arts and crafts, designed and constructed by the local masters. The main focus of the building is the open spaces of the lobby and of the veranda. Like many period Ottoman buildings the interior is fitted with wall storage which served to contain domestic objects, such as open cupboards and niches, wall cupboards, built-in cupboards, fireplaces, and also a well. It has several rooms, a living room, utility room, dining room, bedrooms, and kitchen. The museum space comprises a combination of the actual domestic spaces together with the objects on display. The well was the focus of an area that was used for domestic production and included a grinding stone as well as the wooden olive press. Also, a massive ceramic vessel which served as a liquid container is located here.
The museum has been organised in one of the most characteristic and interesting houses of the town, a rich assemblage of traditional objects (more than 1000) is one of the principal examples of Berat’s long history and culture.
The medieval Bazaar. The ground floor.
Reconstruction of a medieval bazaar in the town of Berat
This room has been rebuilt to illustrate the types of shop that were to be found in one of Berat’s old bazaars. The road passes through the rows of booths to either side displaying their wares: embroidery, products of blacksmithing, of shoemaking and tailoring, wool processing and silversmithing. The shops were divided into quarters based on the type of craft practised, not on religion. Often craft shops whose owners were of different religions lay adjacent to each other and respected each other’s religious events, exchanging festive gifts. However, it could happen that one craft was traditionally practised mostly by one religion rather than the other. For instance, the leather workers craft was almost always run by the Muslims of the Çelepia quarter; the craft of the wool manufacturers was always operated by the Christians of the town. There were also mixed crafts such as tailoring, blacksmithing, and painting.
One of the main elements on display is the clothing of men and women with its elaborate decoration and embroidery in gold and silver, in particular the women’s outfits. There are also male and female clothes from the mountain areas, and a variety of other household objects and decorative elements like copperware. In the year 1670, a Turkish scholar, Çelebi, who travelled all over the Ottoman world, wrote a description of the city in which he was astonished by the traditions and culture of the region of Berat and especially by the embroidered clothes of women which were actually crafted by the hands of young men in the garment trade. The decorative patterns consisted mainly of flowers and leaves inspired by natural examples. Just as interesting are the decorations executed in precious metals among which gold is most prominent. Impressive is also the relief work on objects of daily use.
Masterworks of gold, silver and silk decorations embroidered traditional costumes. The most typical costumes of the region of Berat that have been displayed in the museum date to the 19th and early 20th century. The costumes of city women were mainly worn for ceremonial occasions. The material of which they are made is velvet, wool, and silk.
Women’s silk costume
This is characteristic of Southern Albania. It was comprised of baggy trousers, a shirt, a waistcoat, stockings, and white shoes. The silk clothes have been embroidered with silver, while the stockings were decorated with threads of gold.
Women’s velvet costume
This consisted of velvet skirt, silk shirt, long gown, socks, a silk veil and black shoes. All parts of the costume are decorated in gold.
Female peasant costume
This was to be found in low-lying areas of the region of Berat, and especially of the great plain of Myzeqe. It consists of a skirt, top, waistcoat, apron, socks, veil, and shoes. All of these are made of cotton and decorated with multicoloured cotton threads.
The embroidery workshops were run by young men as it was immoral for women to be seen working in shops but they could work embroidery from home.
The tin workers
The products of the masters who worked copper and lead containers using the ‘beating’ (hammering) technique and added the relief and incised decoration and who also repaired and polished old vessels. The examples on display are objects for daily use, such as bowls and baking trays. They mainly date to the 19th century.
These craftsmen made jackets, coats or other heavy duty clothes made from goat wool. Male costumes from the mountainous areas of the region of Berat consist of woollen trousers, waistcoat, shirt, hat and moccasins decorated with a crest. Often, during the cold season, over this costume a woollen cape made of goat wool was worn. The decorative motifs are simple and consist of lines along the sides and pockets picked out in black woollen threads..
Master craftsmen who worked with gold, silver, and bronze. The technique used by them was that of beating (hammering) over formers, and then stamping applied decoration or filigree work in silver and gold threads. The displayed products date mainly to the second half of the 19th century. Besides the decorative objects such as belts, bags and buckles, pouches, there also could be found tools.
The upper floor
This covered balcony occupies the central position at the front of the building. During the warm season it became the main living space. Its size permitted a number of domestic activities to happen here. This can be seen at its corners (this raised area for special activities is called a stand) which are higher and pierced by windows as if they were a living room. The balcony is the most important element of the veranda and was provided with a corner sitting which was its focus. It is surrounded by wooden benches with wool covers and carpets. The main stand occupied the entire width of the veranda, while opposite it was the second stand at a higher level from the veranda floor, which was reserved to special guests. The front of the veranda was protected by a wide overhanging roof. As an open space, the veranda is built of wood unlike the rest of the building which is of stone. The absence of a ceiling is explained by the agricultural processes that were carried out in the veranda. In many buildings with a veranda there are traces which indicate the place where the loom was installed. The veranda placed in the corner of the building is one of the most characteristic features of traditional architecture. In many of the houses in Berat, the veranda was eventually blocked in to create additional room for expanding families. Three windows placed on the northern side are very practical and they are kept open in the hot summer days, letting in the air to cool the interior which lowers the temperatures considerably. The open veranda communicates with all inner rooms of the house through four high and imposing doors.
The loom room
It is where clothing and fabrics items of for all household uses were produced. There are currently two functioning looms displayed here, one of which is two centuries old. Besides the looms there also many combs which served for the making of rugs and carpets. The wool comb, the distaff, the hand spindle and the spinning wheel are displayed here. The work on looms was carried out by women, who also looked after the children and cooked, forming the core of a busy household.
Village guest room
This room has been arranged to illustrate a village guest room in the Berat region. There are mattresses in two corners of the room, one of which was reserved for the head of the house to sleep on and the other to the guest. The others sat next, following an order that was determined by their age. The low table was placed in the centre of the room to hold the serving dishes, bowls and utensils. On each side of the room stood the open cupboards where vessels for daily use were placed. The copper jug (a water container) was hung by the fire place and often the metal baking cover(baking tin) was also placed there. This room has an area for women and wardrobes as well as wall cupboards. On either side of the fireplace there is a niche. This is the room where guest ate, chatted and slept. The room has an attached bathroom where they washed.
It has the central position in the house, between the village room and the town room. It is interesting for the way it is illuminated from above, through the dormer window which in itself constitutes a splendid architectural solution as, due to its position, indirect light is not sufficient. All objects of daily use are placed in the kitchen, on the open cupboards and by the fireplace.
Berat guest room
This characteristic room is abundantly lit by many windows and it has a functioning area. Te room was completed with an interesting fireplace, two niches, and a typical hearth, wall and wooden cupboards indicating a special building tradition and habitation in the late medieval period. In the middle of this room stands a large tray with relief decoration on which a typical complete dining service is placed. In the area of this room the women of the house remained when the guests were not close relatives of the family, as the moral rules of the time did not permit for them to be seen by strangers. When the guests were close relatives women would join in, and the servants or the children would stay in this area. Here, there were all the necessary conditions for them to take part in the festive ceremony without violating the social norms of the time.
Through the wooden bared windows the women followed all the activity of the men folk, while men were unable to see women. In this room there are low wooden benches, which served for sitting and sleeping. All the services offered to the guest such as laying food on the table, washing their hands and feet, making their bed, were undertaken by the men of the house. The door to the town guest room is very interesting. It has a double function as it opens into the men’s guest room and shuts the door on the steps to the area and vice-versa. According to tradition, when the guest arrived, before entering this room, he had to hand over his gun and give his oath to the owner of the house. He would be given his arms back and would be accompanied to the outer gate on his leave taking.