Tirana / Tiranë – the capital city and the largest industrial and cultural centre of Albania. It lies 40 kilometres from the sea at the foot of Mount Dajti. As an interesting side note, I can add that it is on the same meridian as Cracow (Poland). The city was founded here in 1641 by Sulejman Pasha, but only after the World War II it noted the most rapid development.
There are traces that the modern Tirana’s neighborhood was inhabited as far back as the Paleolithic era, but it had never been of any greater importance, and until the end of the Middle Ages, it was nothing more than a little village.
For the first time the name of Tirana appeared in a Venetian document from 1418. A bone of contention is the name's origin, and one of the hypothesis derives it from the name of the castle Tirkan dating back to 1st century BC, the ruins of which one may still find on the slope of Mount Dajti. Another one connects it with the Greek word τυρός, meaning cheese, which is said to have been produced in this region.
As the city's founding date, the year 1614, when Süleiman Pasha Bargjini ordered to build a mosque, a market square, a bakery and a Turkish bath here, is assumed.
In 1703, Tirana had only around 4,000 inhabitants. In 1789, the construction of the Ethem Beja mosque started, and it finished in 1821. In that same year, Tirana had 12,000 inhabitants already, and the location of the city on the caravan route caused further increase in its importance, so that in 1838 there were already 38,000 inhabitants in the city.
On 8 February 1920, by virtue of the decision of the temporary government, established during the Congress of Lushnjë, Tirana became the temporary capital of Albania (on 31 December 1925, the decision was acknowledged to be the final one). It was a period of rapid development of the city, new streets were being marked out, the ministerial buildings, the National Bank, the City Hall and the Boulevard Zog I, who proclaimed the Monarchy in Tirana and declared himself King in 1928, came into existence.
On 8 April 1939, Benito Mussolini's armies took over Tirana, and King Zog I, who did not want to become an Italian puppet, had to escape abroad. On 12 April, the terrorized parliament voted through removing the king from power and uniting with the Italian nation under the King Victor Emmanuel III's crown.
In 1941, Enver Hoxha founded the Communist Party of Albania, and Tirana became the centre of the Albanian communists, who organized the local people there to fight with the occupant. After a fierce battle, on 17 November 1944 the city was liberated. Soon after that, a communist government, the lead of which took Enver Hoxha, was established.
After the war, the capital saw an intensive development. The Palace of Culture, the Theatre, the National Library, the Academy of Science, and the Museum of History were built. In 1990, the population of the city reached the number of 250,000 inhabitants, and nowadays there are already over 700,000 people.
The International Airport Mother Teresa is separated by a distance of about 25 km from Tirana, which one can travel by taxi for about 10-20€. The airline ticket for a family of four (the return ticket) from Warsaw, through Munich to Tirana (Lufthansa) cost us 2,200 zl in 2009. By car, it is less than 2,000 km. The travel from Tirana to other parts of the country poses no problem. There are regular bus connections to each of the bigger cities, and additionally many private minibuses, which for an appropriate fare can take you to a given place in Albania. One can get to Durrës by train, and from there to several cities (you will find more information about the trains in the guide to Durrës.)
The capital does not lack in hotels, of course. There is a five-star Rogner Hotel, a four-star Tirana International, a three-star Nirvana Hotel, and many others. Unfortunately, I have not tested any of them, so as far as they are concerned, I cannot give any information (if you would like to share your experience, please contact me). However, I can recommend cheap accommodation in the very centre of Tirana, at the Bashkimi family's place (they rent the rooms in their house). It may not be Ritz, but a room with a bathroom costs only 15 euro, and Mr Bashkimi and his family are very nice people. The canary-bird, which we got to our room for the time of our stay, was an additional attraction for our son. I recommend the place to all undemanding and looking for adventures travellers. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find one's way to that place (we searched for it with the help of some Albanian children for over half an hour), so just in case, I'm giving the address and the telephone number as well:
One day is absolutely enough to do sightseeing in Tirana and to buy a couple of souvenirs by the way. We may start the stroll from the railway station’s side, not far from which we will find a marketplace. On the other side of the street, the main artery of the city has its beginning. Boulevard Zog I leads us to the Skanderbeg Square, farther it becomes Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard (In English: Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard) and it finishes just at the university.
Just round the railway station, the marketplace begins. One can buy fruit, freshly ground coffee, live hens and Chinese boots here. If you feel like walking, you may just take a walk.
Going in the direction of the Skanderbeg Square, one can spot a university with a very intriguing name, namely the UFO University. It seems that it is simply a private college, but my first thought was that just here in Albania there is a big and quite serious university specializing in research on unidentified flying objects.
Going down the above-mentioned king Zogu I Boulevard, we will get to the Skanderbeg Square, in the middle of which there is, of course, an eleven-meter high bronze monument to George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. The monument was put up in 1968, on the 500th anniversary of the death of this Albanian national hero. At the square there are the buildings of: the National Museum of History, the Tirana Hotel, the Palace of Culture, the Opera (under which the foundation stone was put by Nikita Khrushchev) and of the National Bank. The National Museum of History (the building decorated with a characteristic mosaic, entitled Albania) was built in 1981. In 2009, the museum was open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and on Sunday from 9 am to 2 pm for the visitors. On Monday, it was closed. However, one should not be influenced entirely by this information, because the opening days may change by the year. We were misled by the information from the guide, which turned out to be out of date, which was the reason why we had not visited the museum. For those who will succeed, wide ranges of exhibits, from those dating back to prehistoric through modern times, are waiting.
At the Skanderbeg Square, we will find the Haxhi Et'Hem Bey Mosque and the Clock Tower. Molla Bey began to build the mosque in 1789, and his son (Haxhi Ethem Bey), great-grandson of Sulejman Pasha, finished it in 1823. It is worth visiting the mosque because of its beautiful arabesques.
Directly next to the mosque stands the Clock Tower (Kulla e Sahatit), also built by Haxhi Ethem Bey. Its construction started in 1822, and it finished around 1830. The tower is 35 meters high, and what is interesting, until 1970 it was the highest building in Tirana! The clock was equipped in a bell, brought from Venice, which stroke every full hour. In 1928, a new clock was bought, which came here from Germany, but it did not serve the inhabitants for long, because it was destroyed during World War II. In 1946 the clock taken from the church in Shkodra, which was finally replaced with a clock made in China in 1970, was installed in its place. As many as 90, coiled stairs lead to the top of the tower, where one can probably get free of charge.
Going farther down, on the right side of the boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit, you will get to the Youth Park, where on a hot day you can rest at a fountain. If you get hungry, you may eat something in the restaurant situated in the entertainment complex visible in the photo.
Going farther down, we will get to the Sky Tower, a skyscraper at the top of which there is a restaurant with the floor revolving on the building’s vertical axis. From my, very approximate, calculations it follows that it makes a full turn in about 140 minutes, so this is how long we would have to sit through in that place, not leaving the table, to see the full panorama of the city. Of course, one might simply go for a walk around.
The boulevard ends with the Mother Teresa Square, opposite which we will see the building of the University, on the left the National Archaeological Museum and Kolonat – a fast food restaurant strangely similar to McDonald’s. On the right, there is the Academy of Arts, and right next to it a monument to Frederic Chopin. There are many interesting exhibits in the Archaeological Museum, and the entrance ticket is not expensive, so it is worth popping over to the place.
On your way back, you can go down on the other side of the boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit and come up to so called pyramid standing on that side of it, built with (a trifle really!) 700 million dollars and put into use in 1988 as the Enver Haxhi Museum. Currently, it is the International Centre of Culture and fairs, displays, exhibitions and various international events take place in here. The very building does not look too presentable from outside and it could do with renovation. It seems that a renovation is now in progress inside; at least it looks like it through the slit in the structure.
You can go farther down along the river, and later cross it. Nearby, you should find the Tanners' Bridge (Tabak Bridge). It is a typical Turkish semicircular bridge from the 18th century.
If you feel it is not enough, you may plunge into the small side streets, where you can sometimes find a nice church, originally painted blocks of flats, or somebody to whom you can talk, or where you may just buy some souvenirs.
Going farther down in the direction of the Skanderbeg Square (possibly turning slightly right: unfortunately I do not remember it precisely now), you may find a couple of boutiques with souvenirs. We found one of them, though a bit more poorly equipped, at the king Zogu I Boulevard. However, it is generally best to buy souvenirs in Kruje. In Tirana, you may buy, for example:
a red T-shirt with a black Albanian two-headed eagle – 700 lek (about 25 zl)
that same T-shirt, children's size – 500 lek
the Albanian eagle in a ball filled with snow – 700 lek
an alabaster ashtray with a lid (in the shape of a bunker, of course!) – 1,600 lek
a beatiful folk balalaika – 4, 000 lek
a beatiful folk balalaika – 4, 000 lek
There has already been about bunkers...but I will remind those who haven't read the remaining parts that Albania is a record holder on this ground and in the times when Enver Haxhi ruled with absolute power, as many as 750 thousand of bunkers were built here, which ate up about 3 billiard dollars! As it turns out, it was easier to build them than to get rid of them now. However, on the other hand, maybe it is good. Though, in fact, the bunkers do not look pretty, they are, in a sense, a tourist attraction, and a monument to the socialist-paranoid stupidity.
Albania is still a somewhat wild country, but for me it is wild in a positive sense. The democracy has not been cemented yet, and perhaps thanks to that there are many domains, which the politicians have not taken care of yet. Unfortunately, Albania aspires to the membership in the European Union, so surely also here it's a matter of time. However, as for now in Albania one can still see, for example, families riding by small motorbikes without helmets or people who take the scales under their arms, go out into the streets and for a small charge weigh the passers-by. In our country (Poland) for something like that, a ticket from the municipal guard is guaranteed.
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