National Iconographic Museum ‘Onufri’, Berat
Berat, the city of a thousand windows is a city so beautiful that it barely needs any traditional attractions like museums to justify a visit there. Nevertheless, should you find yourself in town, it would be a mistake to miss out on the National Iconographic Museum. Named after the renowned Albanian painter of the medieval age, Onufri, the museum is home to a fine collection of Byzantine art and icons. Indeed, what finer home for such a collection than the late 1700s Orthodox Dormition Cathedral within the famous Berat Fortress?
Over the past 700 years, Albania has had a rich tradition of icon painting. Onufri is perhaps its most famous name. Even Onufri’s son Nikola was a skilled painter, and his work is showcased alongside that of his father here. It is important to remember that Onufri painted these icons during a period of Ottoman rule in Albania, in an effort to retain some of Albania’s pre-Ottoman culture.
Entering the rather gloomy church, your eyes will be taken to the stunning gilded iconostasis, which dominates the space. The museum offers the rare chance to go into the area beyond the iconostasis, known as the Holy of Holies. This is an area that in any functioning Orthodox church is out of bounds to all but the High Priest. You can make out the remaining fragments of wall paintings inside on the cupola.
A visit here shouldn’t take too long, perhaps an hour or so would suffice. As well as the main church, there is a further two rooms housing the icons. When buying your admission tickets, you’ll be given a laminated sheet with information about the artworks in English.
Do you like to see the religious artworks of a bygone age, or do you prefer to skip this kind of stuff?