Tepelenë is a town and a municipality in Gjirokastër County, in the south of Albania. The town is located on the left bank of the Vjosa River, about three kilometres downstream from its union with the Drino.
Until the abolition of Districts in 2000, Tepelenë was the seat of the Tepelenë District. Its location is strategically important and there is a ruined citadel occupying a point 300 metres above the river. Ali Pasha of Tepelenë was born at the nearby village of Beçisht. In 1847, the British writer Edward Lear visited the town and noted the devastated buildings.
The Byzantines built a defensive tower which was successively developed during the Ottoman Empire epoch in the 15th century and by Ali Pasha in the early 19th century.
The Young Turk revolutionaries met in Tepelenë in February 1909, in an attempt to persuade Albanian nationalists to join them.
In 1920, an earthquake severely damaged the town which was completely rebuilt afterwards. Local tradition says that if Tepelenë exceeds 100 buildings it will be destroyed. In the same year, 400 Italian soldiers surrendered to the Albanians during the Battle of Vlora.
On 7 April 1939, Italian forces landed in Albania and took control of the country and Tepelenë in the beginning of World War II. After the Italian invasion of Greece in October 1940 failed, the Albanian troops in Tepelenë under the command of Colonel Prenk Pervizi deserted the Italian army. The colonel protested by telling the Italian command that the Albanians were not cannon fodder. As a consequence, Colonel Pervizi as well as other officers and Albanian troops were transferred into the mountains of northern Albania and isolated there.
Greek forces counter-attacked and advanced towards Tepelenë in a general offensive on Vlorë. Despite several attacks and assistance for the Greeks by the British Royal Air Force, the Italians managed to hold the town and in late April 1941, following the German invasion of Yugoslavia, the Greek army was forced to withdraw.
Later, the post-war Communist regime converted the local Italian army camp into a forced labour camp, referred to as the “Albanian Belsen” due to the levels of brutality and disease seen there. Among those detained were influential Albanian families which the Communist regime wanted to annihilate. Many died and their graves were concealed by plowing the land and sowing rye at the burial spot. The camp was closed in 1954. At one point a cholera epidemic killed many inmates.