This rugged country lies in the Adriatic Sea. In the Albanian language its name means eagle, after the majestic eagles that soar over its lakes and high mountains. Historians believe that the Albanians are descended from an ancient people called the Illyrians whose kingdom ruled this country around 300 B.C. On the coastal plains the farmers grow corn, fruit and tobacco. They also raise cattle, sheep, and goats on the high pastures. Albania’s government instituted reforms to turn coastal lowlands into rich farmland. It also returned land and factories into private ownership when the communist rule fell from power in 1992. Tourism, rich deposits of iron, oil and natural gas bring wealth to the country and help sustain its progressive economy.
Here are the top ten not to be missed places in Albania.
Skanderberg Square – Tirana
in the capital City of Tirana is large, clean, well kept, and with many planted trees. Many attractions of the city can be found around this square like; the clock tower, the statue of Skanderberg -Albania’s national hero who lead the great battle against the Ottoman Empire, the Old Mosque, a Catholic church, National Theatre, the palace of the revolution and a long line of famous hotels in Tirana. It is the recognized center of all the civic and political life of the city. Everything here revolves around the statue of the national hero.
Tirana is a city that is growing over the years with clear signs of modernization shown on every design of the building that is constructed in the main center. It is the result of nearly a century of planning wherein all the industrial buildings (political, economic, cultural and religious) are all located within a stone’s throw away from each other.
It uses a lot of space, several roads that cross, the complete absence of traffic lights, zebra crossings and only the bike paths are allowed. You can walk safely even during the night where most of the clubs and bars enliven the atmosphere and tourists join in the fun.
National History Museum
The National History Museum presents the beginning of the Albanian civilization based from the findings of the Paleolithic era, the Bronze Age, the early rulers up to the contemporary history of the modern times. The interesting part is the section about how the Illyrians intermarried with the Romans, Venetians, Normans, and Serbs, who settled in Albania over the centuries. From 1468 until its first independence in 1912, the country was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The country became a communist republic under the leadership of Enver Hoxha in 1946. Articles inside the museum proves that Hoxha fears any outside or foreign influence, this lead to making a law banning the use of television, traveling abroad, and even religious worship.
It is best to understand every photograph, news clippings, early political campaign posters and everything else about the rich history of the country. Everything is well documented and the museum staff is truly dedicated on how to preserve every part of history which is a noble deed on their part. The rooms are spacious and properly divided per era of its glorious past. The atmosphere is subdued and quiet because every visitor tries to absorb the general impression of Albania during the early civilization. There are artifacts that are mostly objects and remains of damaged buildings, columns, mosaics, and icons. Learning the history and struggle for independence by the Albanians is an eye opening experience that every visitor must see in this huge museum.
Et’ hem Bey Mosque
The Et’ hem bey Mosque was preserved as a museum in the darkest years of the communist terror. It is the only historic and religious building that survived in the center of the city during that troubled era. Like other mosques built in the Balkan Baroque architectural design it presents the curious floral frescoes and the ornate porch details. Follow the signs that point to a narrow passage and a steep staircase that rises to the tunnel under the dome. Visit the minaret tower to see the beautiful landscape and a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains of Tirana. This mosque overlooks the square to the castle and monument where the national hero Skanderbeg proudly stands.
It is not as big as any other mosques but it has a magnificent view from the outside. There is a fresh and welcoming porch with frescoed walls. Visitors are required to take off their shoes at the entrance and modest behavior is expected from clothing to reverence of the place. The mosque provides a pleasant shelter from the chaotic traffic of the city. If you can make your visit coincide with Friday prayers at noon, you will see carpets on the pavements around the mosque are a part of a show. The arcaded gallery next to the clock tower side is very nice and the polychrome walls present every feature of the regions in Albania.
Butrinti – Sarande
There are several historical sites in Albania but the
ruins stand out among the rest because it is preserved and well maintained. The entrance gate is surrounded by different trees that are donated by the various representatives of the countries of the world.
There is an area full of olive trees inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site. You try the thrill of seeing a place out of time, get immersed in nature, walk on a promontory near a lonely lagoon and get lost through the remains of several buildings that stand mostly along shady paths. The gorgeous mosaic of the Baptistery is a must see but it is often closed for conservation reasons. The 4th century B.C. ruins are a place of great interest also for those who have great knowledge of archeology.
The Amphitheater, old baths, walls, and the castle ruins at the top describe the structure, organization and affairs of the city over the centuries. Its caretakers must be commended for putting great importance on the archaeological discoveries made and those that still remains to be done. Bring seedling and possibly a guide because it’s worth it. You can get there by car or direct bus from Sarande city center in about one hour.
Blue Eye (Syri Kalter)
After hitting a narrow road to the source you come to a place where it is quiet, you are surrounded by dragonflies and you can see how this resource creates a beautiful play of colors and crystal clear water. Reaching the
is not easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. If you are near Sarande, spend an afternoon devoted to this spectacle of nature. The eye is a natural cavity from which springs (which is why the water seems to boil) ice-cold water that helps trigger a limpid stream. The color of the water changes from green to turquoise depending on the light. The cavity has an unknown depth and you can look at it from above through a balcony specially built to see the blue eye.
From there you can see very well the eye shape and every color it manifests on certain times of the day. You can also take a dip in the water and swim but be aware that the water may rise to a freezing temperature during the winter months. The visit takes no more than a quarter of an hour to admire the blue eye, but a walk around there and a coffee on the porch floating on the stream will slip away with satisfaction the whole afternoon. The water spectacle is a must see if you want to find something unique.
Situated in the most important port in the country are the remains of the ancient
. It is a beautiful amphitheater built from the Roman era but discreetly kept undervalued. You should have a quick look inside it although you should not expect too much. The partly built amusement center over the excavation is located in a very poor and partially neglected state. The importance of this building seems to be appreciated only by the locals but little importance seems to be given regarding its historical value and presence.
Durres is one of the most important cities of Albania that is embraced by a beautiful coast and a wonderful city to discover. The
Fortress of Berat
is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has a magnificent medieval castle with stunning views over the city and a mountainous landscape. The highest mountain is the “Tomorri” which is 3000 meters in height. The castle has several churches, mosques and a large water storage tank. Within the castle is the busiest part of the old town which is still inhabited today. The houses are built in early architecture and are lovingly cared for and maintained for historical purposes. The castle is located high above Berat and houses the Onufri Museum. This museum exhibits an interesting icon collection. The tour of the castle takes about 2-3 hours.
Fortress of Berat
is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has a magnificent medieval castle with stunning views over the city and a mountainous landscape. The highest mountain is the “Tomorri” which is 3000 meters in height. The castle has several churches, mosques and a large water storage tank. Within the castle is the busiest part of the old town which is still inhabited today.
The houses are built in early architecture and are lovingly cared for and maintained for historical purposes. The castle is located high above Berat and houses the Onufri Museum. A beautiful river runs through the city and provides a scenic background to the nearby Tomorri Mountain. The monument protected old town is surrounded by an intact city wall. Of particular interest is the Museum Church of St. Mary from 1793 with a wonderfully carved and gilded iconostasis.
The wooden pulpit is unique. On the stone floor an old calendar of colored stone slabs is embedded. The fortress area is spacious and it is more fun to explore it on foot and admire the great views of the whole city from the top of the castle.
Gjirokastra or Gjirokastër is the capital of the prefecture of the same name in southern Albania. The oldest neighborhoods have been listed since 2005 on the World Heritage List of UNESCO but require more help to retain their charm. It is essential to spend at least two days to understand the charming presence of this city. Located by road in about 215 km south of Tirana (several buses travel per day) and 36 km from the border with Greece, and taking the direct bus from the city of Sarande, the Gjirokastra old town covers the slopes of the “Big Mountain” while the modern city reaches up to the banks of the Drino River.
The older neighborhoods remain an exceptional testimony to a society and a lifestyle influenced by the culture and tradition of Islam during the Ottoman period. The traditional Ottoman architecture is characterized by tower houses called the Turkish ‘Kule’, where the slope rises in the middle portion of the house. Some houses still have covered roofs made of gray slate and local stone, the visual effect is stunning even from afar.
was the first battleground during the fight against the Ottomans. The fortress is now in ruins and serves as a viewing deck to the nearby
which is the other main attraction of the city. The old castle sits on top of the hill and looks over the entire Shkoder County and the Adriatic Sea.
Beware of the slippery rocks made from polished stone that lead to the entrance of the castle and wear suitable shoes. The entrance fee is reasonable enough to explore and understand the symbol of the city.
Museum Of Memory (Muzeu the Kujteses)
The Museum of Memory (Muzeu the Kujtesës) or the Museum of the Crimes of Communism is also called the Museum of the sufferings of the communist dictatorship. According to the architect Viktor Dhimgjini who designed the building, the exhibition of the museum was conceived as a symbolic journey through a tunnel with a length of about 50 meters that show the distance traversed by the prisoners from the cells destined to preventive detention and leading up to the prisons.
The rooms of the former prison and the headquarters of the secret services (Sigurimi) that are to the left of the building have been preserved intact. The museum is a place of memory to recall what happened during the period of communist dictatorship mainly in Scutari (Shkoder) in Albania from 1944 until the 90s.