Albania is a sunny Balkan country with coasts on the Adriatic sea. It has beautiful beaches, mountainous landscapes, traditional cuisine, archaeological ruins and unique traditions, all of this combined with low prices and authenticity. The country has a great historical heritage as a member of the Roman and Ottoman Empires, with a significant Greek population.
During classical antiquity, Albania was the homeland of many Illyrian tribes, but also Thracian and Greek tribes came from this area and Greek colonies were established. In the 3rd century BC, the region was annexed to Rome and in the 9th century it was incorporated into the Bulgarian Empire. In the 14th and 15th centuries, most of Albania was ruled by principalities, which were later conquered by the invading Ottoman Empire. The idea of an Albanian nation dates back to the late 19th century. Albania remained under Ottoman control until 1912. A few short-lived monarchical regimes prevailed until World War II (1939-1945), then the occupation by Italy and by Nazi Germany.
After the collapse of the Axis powers, a one-party communist state, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, was established, dominated by the dictator Enver Hoxha.
For almost half a century, Albania experienced a kind of extreme communism, even compared to the rest of Eastern Europe. A fatal mix of isolationism and dictatorship has kept this tiny Balkan country as the poorest and most oppressive in all of Europe. During his forty years of leadership, the Albanian leader banned religion, forbid exiting the country, and outlawed private property. Any resistance to his rule was met with heavy reprisals, including internal exile, long imprisonment, torture and execution. His dominance in the political, economic and social life of Albania was absolute. In 1967, Hoxha turned Albania into the world’s first atheist state. He closed all churches and mosques and destroyed many religious buildings of important cultural heritage. The priests were among the first to be purged and few survived. He built his personality, similar to that of Kim Jong-Il in North Korea. His particularly bleak, autobiographical works were obligatory readings in schools. Albania became a state completely isolated internationally, not only from Europe and the United States, but also the Soviet Union and even neighboring Yugoslavia.
After Hoxha’s death in 1985, his political successor, Ramiz Alia, was forced out of power in the late 1980s following the broader collapse of the Eastern Bloc. When Hoxha died, Albania was officially the third poorest country in the world, with a GDP equivalent to that of a small city and an average income of $15 a month. Four decades of collectivization had starved the population in the countryside, where Hoxha’s aggressive isolationism had forced the use of agricultural technology of the 1920s. When the regime finally collapsed, it left behind a tired, hungry, confused and frightened population.
The transition to democracy did not prove smooth as governments had to deal with high unemployment, poor infrastructure and political corruption.
Albania followed a path towards westernization, with the milestone of joining NATO in 2009. In 2009, it officially applied for membership in the European Union, and in 2014 it received candidate country status. Today it’s a country fast developing country, with intense reconstruction and investment.
Traditional Albanian culture highly values the concept of hospitality. The people are particularly hardworking and patient despite the difficulties they faced. A large percentage of the population was forced to follow a refugee route but managed to adapt and prosper.
The coastline that stretches north from Avlona to the border of Montenegro includes many sandy beaches and attracts the largest tourist mass. To the south of Avlona, the Albanian Riviera consists of rocky shores with impressive turquoise waters.
Tirana, the capital of Albania, is a vibrant city that combines history, culture and modern development. The central square of the city is called Skanderbeg Square – in honor of the national hero – with his emblematic statue and the impressive National Historical Museum. Tirana is now a cosmopolitan city, the center of which has been modernized in recent years, with trendy cafes, restaurants, shops and businesses, centered around the area of Blloku and Tirana Castle. Dajti Mountain is a nearby attraction, with cable cars and panoramic views of the capital.
Durres is a coastal city on the Adriatic Sea, with a rich history and nice beaches.
Perched on a hillside, Kruja is a historic town that played an important role in Albania’s resistance against the Ottoman Empire. In Kruja Castle, there is the Skanderbeg Museum, dedicated to the national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg who was born here. In the narrow streets of the Old Bazaar, one can find traditional handicrafts, souvenirs and local delicacies.
The city of Shkoder, located in the northwestern part of Albania, is one of the oldest and most historic cities in the country. In the narrow streets of the Old Town, there are houses from the Ottoman era, quaint shops and cozy cafes.
Just outside the city of Shkoder is Lake Shkoder, the largest in the Balkans and a haven for nature lovers. The lake is home to many species of birds, some beaches for swimming and traditional fishing communities.
In southern Albania, the influence of the Turks and the Greeks is strong. Important historical cities are Girokaster, Berat, Korçë, Tepelena.
The variety of Albania’s destinations offers a special, alternative travel experience.
Bunk’Art are 2 museums and art spaces in Tirana. They are located in former nuclear war shelters built during Enver Hoxha’s communist regime between 1972 and 1978, which were meant for the country’s political elite. After the fall of communism in 1991, they were abandoned and left unused.
In recent years, they have been converted into museums and cultural centers, offering visitors an experience of the oppressive regime that ruled the country for several decades.
A series of exhibits present the history, ideology and daily life under the communist regime. Visitors can explore the rooms and corridors of the refuge, which have been preserved and restored to resemble their original state. The museum presents a multitude of objects, photographs, documents and multimedia depicting the political and social climate, the monitoring and control mechanisms of the regime, the political propaganda and the lives of the people of the time. It also sheds light on the persecution and imprisonment of political dissidents and opposition figures.
The “Pyramid of Tirana” or Enver Hoxha Museum, is a concrete architectural structure in the center of Tirana. It was built as a museum and memorial dedicated to the country’s former communist leader Enver Hoxha in 1988, by a team of architects led by Hoxha’s daughter, Pranvera Hoxha. The structure is 33 meters high and has a stepped shape. After the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, the Pyramid became a symbol of the country’s oppressive past and became the subject of controversy, with many proposing that the structure be demolished. Eventually due to neglect and lack of maintenance, the building fell into disrepair.
In recent years, new ideas have been proposed to preserve it and turn it into a cultural center or museum. In 2018, a new project was filed, to transform the pyramid into an IT center for youth, robotics and startups named TUMO Center Tirana. The renovated structure opened to the public in May 2023. I personally think it was worth the effort.
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