Classic Tour of Albania
A day around Tirana, the National Historical Museum and
the Dajti Mountain Cable Car
became the capital of Albania in 1920. Before this it was a
small and unimportant town founded in the C17th. Very little
of Ottoman Tirana survives as buildings were demolished
during Communist times.
King Zog had established good relations with Italy and Italian colonists were settling in the area and Italian companies building roads and improving harbours. Tirana gradually assumed the appearance of a capital city under the influence of Italian planners who created a huge new square named after the national hero Skanderbeg and were responsible for the design of the municipal buildings along Boulevard Deshmoret e Kombit.
There was a massive growth of the city in Communist times when many older buildings were destroyed. The home of Enver Hoxha is one of the few to survive. This is empty and owned by the Ministry of Culture who don’t seem to know what to do with it.
After his death, the Pyramid of Tirana was built as a mausoleum for his body. This became a museum about him in the 1980s with a huge statue of him outside. At the fall of Communism in 1992, the statue was pulled down and the contents of the museum thrown out. The building was used for a book fair. There were plans to demolish the pyramid and use the area for a new parliament building, but it was saved after large public protests. It is now looking decidedly unloved and again its future is undecided.
Much of the city is covered with Communist era apartment blocks which are beginning to show their age. As there are no gardens, the balconies are used to dry washing, sit in the sun and grow flowers.
There has been a recent initiative to brighten up the city by painting these in bright colours, hence the description of Tirana as a 'city of colours'. If the residents agree to to repaint the outside of their block, the government pays 50% of the cost.
During the 1990s, there was rapid uncontrolled development in the city with huge high rise buildings. Many of these buildings have been pulled down leaving large squares and open areas planted with flowers and trees.
The Lane river runs through the centre of Tirana through a concrete water course with banks planted with trees, including brightly coloured Judas trees.
Checkpoint is a small open area developed as a memorial to Communist Isolation. It contains the concrete bunker that guarded the main entrance to Enver Hoxha’s house, the concrete supports from Spac which was a forced labour camp for political prisoners, and a fragment of the Berlin Wall, complete with graffiti.
The centre of Tirana around Skanderbeg Square was being pedestrianised when we visited in March 2017 in an attempt to remove traffic from the city centre. During the week traffic is very bad.
The National Historical Museum on Skanderbeg Square is the best museum covering the whole history of Albania from the earliest settlement by the Illyrians to post Communist times and Mother Theresa. It is a large building on three floors with different display areas for the different periods of history. Artefacts carefully displayed and information in both Albanian and English, but no photogrpahy is allowed. . It helps to have a basic understanding of the history before visiting as there is so much information to absorb. To do it justice needs several hours and there are few seats provided for tired legs. The ground floor covers Illyrian and Roman history with examples of pottery, glass, jewellery, weapons and a mosaic.
Upstairs covers the middle ages with covering feudal disputes and Skanderbeg’s resistance to the Ottomans. There are examples of household goods and costumes. There is a beautiful gold embroidered tomb cover, two silver reliquaries and a separate gallery of icons.
There is a copy of the Act of Independence ( the original was burnt). and a large display with a lot of written information about Independence, the interwar years and King Zog’s departure at the start of the Second World War. The section on the Second World War also covers the Partisan antifascist movement and the involvement of the British SOE. There is a gallery covering the rise of Enver Hoxha, the Communist period and the persecutions. This has a lot of information about people killed during the regime along with their blood stained clothes and person belongings.
The small shop sells a lot of books, post cards, replica Roman oil lamps and Albania costumes.
A highlight of Tirana is a trip of the Dajti Mountain Cable Car. This was built in 2006 by an Austrian company and takes visitors from the outskirts of Tirana to the National Park at 1050m with views of the surrounding area, play area, restaurants and walking trails.
The trip takes 15 minutes in cabins which will hold eight people (at a pinch). Unfortunately the perspex glass is badly scratched with graffiti making it difficult to take pictures.
The cable car climbs quickly out of Tirana up a steep shrub covered slope with a lot of white flowered heather. It then swings across a wide, fertile valley with isolated farms before beginning the final almost vertical ascent to the top cable station.
On a clear day there are good views from the top down to Tirana and across the surrounding countryside.
||Back to top