It emerged from the shackles of totalitarianism in 1991 with basically no GDP and virtually no economy. While the country still has far to come to catch up with its neighbors in Europe, it’s making great strides towards lasting progress. Albania is a country with an unfathomably long history, almost 5,000 years, with influence from Greeks, Illyrians, Romans, Venetians, Byzantines, and Ottomans.
Yes, Albania has suffered, but it’s bouncing back with incredible fortitude and rightfully emerging as a tourist destination. To say it is unique is not enough and is the place to go if you are looking for a real European adventure.
There are more Albanians outside of Albania than within. Estimates of the number of Albanians residing abroad are anywhere from 7-10 million, mostly in other Balkan countries (Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece), but there are also a significant amount in Turkey, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States. The number of Albanians actually living inside Albania? Around 3 million.
In keeping with the aforementioned information, Albania has a pretty interesting history and you would be doing yourself a disservice by not reading up on a bit of it before you go. If not to understand that you are headed to a country that was totally isolated from the rest of the world for the latter half of the 20th Century because of a paranoid android Communist dictator, then to know what people are talking about when they say “Great Albania” because odds are, you are going to hear it mentioned at some point.
Driving through Albania you are probably going to notice quite a few concrete bunkers like the one pictured below. There were over 700,000 of them built during Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship to protect the country from an invasion that never happened so needless to say, many Albanians view them as unpleasant and annoying reminders of the 50 or so years of isolation.
Famous Albanian was Mother Teresa, although she was born in Skopje, FYROM, she spent a great deal of her life in India, and was a citizen of the world, Mama T (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) was Albanian by blood.
The largest port in Albania, Durres is just miles 25 miles (40km) from Tirana, making it an easy day trip from your cruise. Durres itself is home to a lively beach and the remnants of ancient days. Look for the amphitheater dating back to 100 A.D., Durres Castle, and the Byzantine Forum as you wind through the city on your way towards Tirana.
Tirana, the Albanian capital, is colorful, lively, friendly, and fun. Emerging from the dark days of Communist rule in the 1990s, the city has re-envisioned itself and is home to landmarks old and new. In the center of town is Skanderbeg Square, named for the national hero who fought the Turks in the 15th century. There is an impressive bronze statue of him in the square. Nearby, look for the more modern Piramida, a unique structure from the late 20th century. And all around are the whimsically painted concrete housing units. Perhaps one of the most interesting places to visit in Tirana is the former nuclear bunker turned museum. Both a memorial to the thousands of people imprisoned and executed during the Communist era and an exhibition of police history and tools used for the persecution of Albanians, it stands as a stark reminder of Albania’s recent past.
Note: To learn more about Albania, please visit here: Albanian National Tourist Office