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The city appeared for the first time in historical records under its medieval Greek name of Argyrocastron (Greek: ), as mentioned by John VI Kantakouzenos in 1336.

The name comes from the Medieval Greek ἀργυρόν (argyron), meaning "silver", and κάστρον (kastron), from the Latin castrum meaning "castle" or "fortress", thus "silver castle".

During the Albanian Revolt of 1432–36 it was besieged by forces under Thopia Zenevisi, but the rebels were defeated by Ottoman troops led by Turahan Bey In 1570s local nobles Manthos Papagiannis and Panos Kestolikos, discussed as Greek representative of enslaved Greece and Albania with the head of the Holy League, John of Austria and various other European rulers, the possibility of an anti-Ottoman armed struggle, but this initiative was fruitless.

According to Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi, who visited the city in 1670, at that time there were 200 houses within the castle, 200 in the Christian eastern neighborhood of Kyçyk Varosh (meaning small neighborhood outside the castle), 150 houses in the Byjyk Varosh (meaning big neighborhood outside the castle), and six additional neighborhoods: Palorto, Vutosh, Dunavat, Manalat, Haxhi Bey, and Memi Bey, extending on eight hills around the castle.

It is considered a folk etymology, since the princess is said to have lived later, in the 15th century.

In 1417 it became part of the Ottoman Empire and in 1419 it became the county town of the Sanjak of Albania.

Byzantine chronicles also used the similar name Argyropolyhni, meaning silvertown (Greek: ).

The theory that the city took the name of the Princess Argjiro, a legendary figure about whom 19th century author Kostas Krystallis wrote a short novel and Ismail Kadare wrote a poem in the 1960s.

During the Ottoman period conversions to Islam and an influx of Muslim converts from the surrounding countryside made Gjirokastër go from being an overwhelmingly Christian city in the 16th century into one with a large Muslim population by the early 19th century.

Gjirokastër also became a major religious centre for Bektashi Sufism.

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