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Albania Travel Guide
Albania Guide Introduction
Albania has a rugged and craggy territory, but its shores are fertile and perfect for agriculture. The coastal climate is typically Mediterranean, with hot and dry summers and mild and humid winters. Within the mountainous regions, especially in the north, the winters are harsher. More than 1/3 of Albania’s territory is covered with forests and marshes, these natural obstacles isolating the country from the surrounding nations. Albania’s population is one of the most homogeneous in Europa, 90% are Albanians and only 10% are Greek.
The tourists can fully enjoy Albania’s wild and mountainous landscape, as well as its sandy beaches and beautiful lakes. The southern coast provides activities like swimming, scuba diving, boating and fishing. There are two priority areas for the development of tourism – the coastal areas, especially between Velipoja and Karavasta in the north, between Llogara and Vlora bay, as well as the Ionian coast, up until the border with Greece in the south and the areas in the mainland that are covered with lakes and mountains.
Albania’s history and culture are fascinating. Butrint is one of the worlds’ archeological wonders and the south side of the country provides an incursion through the Mediterranean civilizations from the Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods. In this country Mother Theresa was born as well as the 15th century hero, Skanderberg, in present times the country offering the travelers, besides beaches and mountains, the cities’ vibrant life and a background of cultural café.
The Main Tourist Attractions
- Discover architectural examples from the beginning of the 19th century, like the Ethem-Bey mosque and the 35 meters tall clock tower from Tirana. The city center and the public buildings date from the Italian era, creating the impression of an Italian provincial town.
- You can see the best view of the Tirana city from the Cemetery of Martyrs, where you can also find the monument of Mother Albania.
- In Durres, the second largest city in Albania, the medieval walls lead from the Venetian tower to the amphitheater constructed in the second century B.C. which contains a crypt from the beginnings of Christianity, with rare mosaics.
- In Roman times, Apollonia, 12 kilometers away from Fier, was a wealthy city, placed near the river Vjosa, where there are still many artifacts to be excavated. The amphitheater, some shops and some other parts from the Roman city are opened to the public. Here you can see the monuments of Agonothetes and Odeon, the mosaic house and the fountain. Unfortunately, some sculptures have been moved to other countries, before 1946. The remaining artifacts have been placed in the museum established in a monastery from the 13th century. In the monastery’s court there is the Byzantine church St. Mary, which is believed to have been constructed in the 14th century. Not far from Apollonia, on the way to Durres, you can find the Ardenica monastery.
- Vlora is not only a big port, but it also has a historical importance – this is the place where the assembly that proclaimed Albania’s independence convened and they established the first national government, led by Ismail Quemali. As an outcome, Vlora was named “the hero-city”. The Muradiye Mosque was designed by the the famous architect Minar Sinan, whose family originates from Albania. On a hilltop above the city you can find touristic center Liria, which provides great views of the beach and the city.
- The old town of Butrin was once an important center for Lirian affairs. The settlement here has been recognized since 1000 BC and throughout history it belonged to both the Greeks and Romans, who have given the settlement a rich heritage. You can visit some sites dating from the first and 4th centuries and the Temple of Aesculap, Nympheum, The Lions’ Gate, The Dyonisos’ Shire, the houses and Roman baths. Don’t miss the baptistery with its colorful mosaics. Close by, Ksmail provides the beautiful lakeButrint, the island and olive and citric plantations.
- At the foothills of MountMorava, near the border with Greece, Korca is the place where you can find the Mirahor Mosque, dating from 1466.
- Kruja is an attractive medieval town, visible from a few kilometers, located on a rock north from Tirana. This was the Albanian center for the Ottoman Turks led by Skanderberg, the national hero. The road that leads to the castle was built in the Turkish bazaars’ style.
- Located on the lake Scutari, that separates Albania from Montenegro, Shkodra is dominated by the Rozafa’s fortress ruins, one the oldest Lirian castles, built on top of a cliff. Visit the MesiBridge, 8 kilometers away from Shkodra, and the Monument of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderberg from Lezha.
- Since the mountains and hills cover 2/3 of Albania’s territory, skiing, climbing, hiking, mountain biking and cave exploring are popular sports, available in Dajti, Llogaraja, Dardha, Bozdoveci, Voskopoja, Valbona and Thethi. Korka is particularly popular for skiing.
- Make the best of Albania’s 450 kilometers of coastline and beaches. Durres and Golem are the biggest beaches. Water sports are popular in most places on the coast.
- Go fishing on the lakeOhrid, the deepest lake in the BalcanPeninsula, renowned for its clear waters and the abundant fish life.
- In Tirana there are a lot of museums, like the National Museum of History, the NationalArtGalleries and the Folkloric Art Exposition. Tirana’s Pyramid, which was built as a museum for the former communist leader Enver Hoxha, was converted into an international cultural center. In Tirana you can also visit the Culture’s Palace, which houses the Opera, Ballet and the National Library.
- In port Durres there is an excellent archeology museum, but also the seaside resort Durres Plazh.
- Both Berat, known as “the city of a thousand windows”, and Gjirokastra, in the south, have been declared museum-cities. The OnufriMuseum from Berat, dedicated to the 16th century painter and his contemporaries, houses restored icons and an orthodox church. Gjirokastra is dominated by the fortress from the 12th century, which was extended by Ali Pasha in 1811. Now it houses the National Museum of Armory. The museum’s collections range from medieval armors to American spotters. The surrounding area is known for its vast number of mineral springs.
- Visit the National Museum of Medieval Art in Korka, the EducationMuseum and the bazaar neighborhood that is degrading.
The food is typically Balkan, with Turkish influences – burek, kofte and shish kebab. The national specialties are “fergese tirane”, made of meat, eggs, liver and tomatoes, and “tave kosi”, a dish made of ram meat and yoghurt. The deserts include oshaf, pudding, apple pies and confined fruits. The national drinks are raki and Albanian cognac. The Turkish coffee is also popular, but most bars offer Italian espresso.
It’s debatable if the Albanians are the oldest nations in the south east of Europe. They are believed to be the descendants of some immigrants, including Illyrians, Macedonians and Epirotes. The area was ruled by the Romans since 229 BC. That was until the first century, when Christianity gained more and more followers in Illyria. After the Roman Empire divided, Albania entered in its Byzantine period, but in the 7th century it was invaded by Serbians. Until 1478 the Turkish troops had ruled the country. Under the Turkish rule that lasted for four centuries, Islamism had become the official religion for the region of Albania.
The San Stefano Treaty from the 19th century forced Turkey to give up a large part of Albania to the Balkan Slavic nations. Then the Balkan Wars took place – the first in 1912, and afterwards in 1913, when Albania was occupied by the Serbians. After these wars a meeting with the ambassadors of the great political powers established the borders of Albania in 1913, giving much of its territory to Montenegro, Serbia and Greece. In the beginning of the First World War Albania was a battlefield between Serbians, Montenegrins, Greek, Italians, Bulgarians and Austrians. In 1939 the Italians used Albania as a military base. Through the years 1943-44, the external war had enhanced the tensions inside the country between the partisans and non-communist troops. In 1944 the communist troops had gained control over the country. In the ‘60s Albania was China’s only ally in the communist Eastern Europe, the alliance resisting until 1977. In 1976 the government voted for the NationalSocialistRepublic. In 1991 protests took place against the government and the Labor Party was elected. The, in 1992 and again in 1996, the Democratic Party had won. Meanwhile, in the past 20 years, the country fought against poverty and the economical depression.
In 1997 the Parliament declared state of emergency, because the rebels had gained control over some territories in southern Albania and they threatened to invade the capital city. Thousands of Albanians fled to Italy and in 1997 the international troops entered the country to restore the order. The socialists won the elections in June and the, in 1998 and 1999, Albania was invaded by refugees from Kosovo.
Up until de present, Albania seems to recover slowly from the period of transition. The economy is starting to develop, the infrastructure is modernizing and the democracy is turning to the European standards. This process can be easily observed in Tirana, where the civic artist Adi Rama has enriched the old communist buildings with lush colours and imaginative patterns. Also, Ram restored the parks, the streets and encouraged the night life.
Other Useful Info
Almost half of the population lives in the urban centers, the other half having a peaceful, rural life. Some of the Albanians’ characteristics resemble the Greek ones, especially in the rural areas. For example, nodding your head up and down means “no”, moving your head from the left to the right means “yes”. The way to address men is Zoti, for women is Zonja, after the disappearance of the former Shoku (tovarish). If you are being offered raki, coffee or sweets, don’t be shy to accept them. There is this tendency of overpricing goods for strangers, compared to the price the locals pay. Ndalohet Duhani or “Ndalohet pirja e duhanit” means "smoking is forbidden".
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