Kept under iron rule by an isolationist Communist government for nearly fifty years,Albaniawas long the mysterious cousin amongst the Balkan states. After the death of its Communist leader, Hoxha, the country began to change politically and opened its borders to trade and travel. However, after years of institutionalised neglect, the infrastructure of the country was in terrible disrepair and as high unemployment and disruptive political opposition stirred up the population to widespread unrest and many Albanians left the country to seek work and life elsewhere in Europe.
The country is now finding its feet and its capital, Tirana, is a charming city with beautiful architecture and vibrant nightlife. Whilst visiting, there are a few places well worth visiting to get a feel forAlbania’s history and rich cultural heritage.
Et’hem Bey Mosque and Clock Tower
The Mosque and Clock Tower, located on Tirana’s largest square –Skanderbeg Square– are some of the earliest buildings in the city. The mosque dates back to the mid-1800s and has some fine artwork and decorative features inside.
The Clock Tower has become an internationally recognisable symbol of Tirana and nearby you can visit the Albanian Clock Towers museum, charting the importance of this feature in the civic landscape across the country.
Mother Teresa Square
Mother Teresa is a very important figure inAlbaniaand her life and work are commemorated around Tirana. If you fly into Albania, you’ll likely fly intoMotherTeresaAirportin Tirana. In addition to the airport, the city’s largest civil hospital is named after her.
Located in the centre of Tirana,Mother Teresa Squareis a masterpiece of Fascist-era architecture and design. Built in the 1940s while Tirana was under a Fascist puppet government controlled byItaly, the Italian architect Gherado Bosio created his grand vision of a municipal square in the heart of Tirana.
The square has served as an important centre of Albanian official and ceremonial life, playing host to Enver Hoxha’s funeral in 1985. After dictator Hoxha’s death, Mother Teresa was the first religious figure to visitAlbania, earning her a devout and loyal following. The second largest square was renamed in her honour, complete with a statue of her likeness.
The buildings around the square include the Archaeological Institute andAcademyofArts, both of which are worth a visit while you’re in the area.
During the years of hard-line Communist rule, The Block was a highly secured area of Tirana where only senior members of the Party were allowed. The area, known as Ish-Blloku in Albanian, contained the residence of Hoxha and other Party members and officials, along with Party offices and other official buildings.
Following the overthrow of the Communist regime in the early 1990s, The Block was opened up and became a favourite haunt of young people in Tirana who took this formerly forbidden area of the city back for the people. Today, The Block is lined with restaurants, bars and nightclubs and is extremely popular with locals at the weekend when they head there to see and be seen.
The Block is a great central place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat in the city. From there, all the main sights of the city are within reach in 15 minutes or less. It’s a great place to pause and watch the people of the city, too, and there will be plenty of people to watch at any time of day.
Tirana is a thriving city that’s growing in confidence and shedding its former Communist skin. Its emergence from a strictly isolationist period has brought to the fore the Albanians’ hospitality and a warm welcome will be offered wherever you visit.