Albania not only has a fascinating and mountanous natural environment but also a very rich culture. Through the ages, the country has been ruled by different people who all left their mark on the culture. The climate in this southern-european country is sunny and warm.In 1990 Albania ended 44 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven difficult as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents. International observers judged local elections in 2000 to be acceptable and a step toward democratic development, but serious deficiencies remain to be corrected before the the 2001 parliamentary elections.
Albanian (Shqipja) is an Indo-European language with many Latin, Slavonic and modern Greek words. It has two main forms, Tosk and Gheg, which diverged about 1000 years ago. In 1972 the Congress of Orthography established a unified written language, which is now universally accepted for both languages. Italian is useful for travel in Albania; many Albanians learned it before 1943, but others have picked it up by watching Italian TV stations or through recent trips to Italy.
Traditionally, Albania has been 70% Sunni Muslim, 10% Roman Catholic (mostly in the north) and 20% Albanian Orthodox, making it the only European country to have a Muslim majority. From 1967 to 1990 it was also the only officially atheist state in the world, and many churches were converted into cinemas and theatres. The spiritual vacuum left after the fall of communism has in part been filled by US evangelists, but new churches and mosques are springing up all over the country.
Tirana has been the capital of Albania since W.W I. During the communist era the city expanded and became a major industrial center. The heart of Tirana is Skanderberg Square where the business center of Albania is situated. The city suffered considerably during the Second World War, which resulted in the destruction of numerous important historic buildings. Some of the most important monuments are : the Palace of Culture with its concert hall, the Mohammed Dashi mosque and the Museum of National History.
The main road of Tirana is Rruga Bajram Curri. Alongside this street are charming old houses that date from Ottoman times. Over the Lana river streches the Tanners Bridge, built in the 18th century. Furthermore, one can visit the Petrela castle (Greek-Roman times). What can be seen today are the ruins of the castle together with the remainders of an old mosque.
Tirana, the capital of Albania, is an ancient city with an early history enriched by the interplay of cultural forces originating in the Islamic and European Christian worlds. The area around Tirana has been inhabited since the neolithic age. It is the largest city and the chief industrial and cultural center of the country. Tiranë is located on a fertile plain that yields a variety of agricultural products. Its manufactures include metal products, agricultural machinery, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and foodstuffs.
The founding and later development of the city of Tirana were made possible by its geographic position on the fertile plain, rich in forest lands and water, and crossroads of the Adriatic and eastern Albania, and through the Qafa e K‘rab‘s valley and the Shkumbin river with the inner parts of the Balkan peninsula.
The name of the city contains an ancient root that is present in other places that have been inhabited by Illyrians. There was a system of castles on the surrounding hills (Petrel‘, Prez‘, Ndroq, Fark‘, etc.) that served as protection for Durr‘s and Kruja. The oldest discovery in the area of Tirana has been a mosaic with several other remains of buildings of the later antiquity, found at the Kroi i Sh‘ngjinit (Fountain of Sh‘ngjin), near a Medieval temple.Records of the first land registrations under the Ottomans in 1431-32 reveal that Tirana then consisted of 60 inhabited areas, with nearly 1000 houses and 7300 inhabitants.
According to the historian Marin Barleti in the 15th century there was a ‘Tirana e Madhe’ and a ‘Tirana e Vogël’ (Great and Small Tirana) in the 15th century. Barleti, a Catholic priest and scholar, was largely responsible, through his biography of him, for creating what became the cult of Iskander Bey, the title (in Turkish) (rendered in Albanian as ‘Skenderbeu’, and frequently anglicized as ‘Skanderbeg’) given to Gjergj Kastrioti, an Albanian nobleman who, after being forcibly brought to Adrianople as a youth and given military training, distinguished himself in a number of campaigns for the Ottomans, and was promoted to the rank of general, but then returned to Albania to liberate it, and spent the next 25 years, until his death, leading a successful guerilla resistance against the forces of the Turkish empire. Skenderbeu continues to be the national hero of Albania.
On November 26th, 1912, the people of Tirana, in accordance with Ismajl Qemali, rose the Albanian flag to end the rule of the Ottoman Turks in Albania. During the First Balkan War, Tirana was captured by the Serbian army.
A large population from Dibra, forcefully expelled from their homes by the Serbian army, in 1913-1915 and 1918-1920, took shelter and settled in Tirana. The inhabitants of Tirana and its surroundings took part in an uprising led by Haxhi Qamili in 1914. On February 8th, 1920, the provisional government formed at the Congress of Lushje moved to Tirana, and at this point Tirana became the capital of the country. This played an important role for the development of the town.
Most of the modern part of Tirana was built after 1920, when it was selected as the capital of Albania. A new residential quarter was built under Italian rule (1939-43). Also, an industrial sector was developed after the Second World war . On Jan. 11, 1946, the Communist government of Enver Hoxha was proclaimed there. In the early 1990s, Tirana was rocked by massive and often violent demonstrations that forced the Communist government to institute substantial political and economic reforms. After 1990 new industries sprang up in scattered locations around the city.
The center of the city is Scanderbeg Square, with the government buildings and the 18th-century mosque of Etchem Bey. The bazaar and the mosque of Sulayman Pasha are nearby. The city has a university (founded 1957) and the institute of sciences of Albania. The population of Tiranë is mostly Muslim.
Most visitors to Tirana begin at Skënderberg Square, a great open space in the heart of the city. Mt Dajti, 1612m (5030ft) rises to the east, and the market on that side of town is well worth exploring.
The first regulatory plan of the city was compiled in 1923 by Estef Frashëri. Durrësi Street was opened in 1922, and was called Nana Mbretneshë (Mother Queen). Many houses and surrounding properties were demolished to make way for it. The existing parliamentary building was raised in 1924, and first served as a club for officers. It was there, in September 1928, that Ahmet Zogu proclaimed the monarchy.
The centre of Tirana was the project of Florestano de Fausto and Armando Brasini, well known architects of the Mussolini period in Italy. The Palace of Brigades (of the former monarch), the ministries buildings, the National Bank and the Municipality are their work.
The Dëshmoret e Kombit (National Martyrs) Boulevard was built in 1930 and given the name Zogu I Boulevard. In the communist period, the part from Skënderbej Square up to the train station was named Stalin Boulevard.
The National Museum of History is the largest and finest museum in Albania, and you’ll find it next to the 15 storey Tirana International Hotel, the tallest building in the country. A huge mosaic mural entitled Albania covers the façade of the building. To the east, the Palace of Culture has a theatre, restaurant, cafes and art galleries, and the Soviet influence is apparent in its clunky architecture. The entrance to the National Library is on the southern side of the building. The Palace of Culture (Pallati I Kulturës), where the Theatre of Operas and Ballet and the National Library stand, was completed in 1963 on the site of the former Trade of Tirana building, with the first brick being placed by Soviet president Nikita Hrushov in 1959. The monument to Skënderbeu, raised in 1968, is the work of Odhise Paskali in collaboration with Andrea Mana and Janaq Paço. It commemorated the 500th anniversary of the death of the national hero.
Opposite that is the cupola and minaret of the Mosque of Ethem Bey, one of the city’s most distinctive buildings. The construction, by the best artisans in the country, of the mosque in the centre of Tirana was begun in in 1789 by Molla Beu of Petrela (a locale in Albania). It was finished in 1821 by his son, who was also Sulejman Pasha’s grand-nephew. The Clock Tower was started by Haxhi Et’hem Beu around 1821-22, and was finished with the help of the richest families of Tirana. Its installation was the work of the Tufina family. In 1928 the Albanian state bought a modern clock in Germany, and the tower was raised to a height of 35 metres. The clock was damaged during World War II, but was restored to full function in July 1946.
The monument to Mother Theresa, 12 metres high, was inaugurated in the Dëshmoret e Kombit cemetery in 1971.
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