Located in the (sometimes-chaotic) southeast of Europe, Albania is a country with a proud history and rich culture we just can’t wait to explore!
Want to learn more about Albania?
- Capital (and Largest City): Tirana
- Population of Albania (2016): 2,886,026 (136th)
- Total Area: 28,748 km² (143rd)
- Language: Albanian
- Currency: Albanian lek (ALL)
History of Albania
The age of antiquity saw Albania inhabited by many different groups. Illyrian tribes were the preeminent power in the region for centuries, despite inroads made by the Greeks…at least until the Romans conquered the land in 167 BCE. Albania remained under the purview of the Romans until the collapse of the Western Empire, following which it passed to the Byzantines and, later, the Slavs.
After the Slavic peoples came to Albania, the country found itself conquered once again by the burgeoning Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century CE. For most of the Middle Ages, Albania was at the centre of a struggle between Bulgaria and the Byzantines – until both powers weakened and Serbia stepped in to fill the void.
An independent Albania came to fruition in the late Middle Ages thanks to much politicking and further weakening of regional rivals under Charles of Anjou. Though Albania enjoyed its newfound ‘kingdom’, further incursions by Serbia presented difficulties – at least until the powerful Ottoman Empire began to take notice. While the disparate principalities of Albania were briefly united, the country was mostly occupied by the Ottomans come the year 1431.
For nearly 400 years, the Ottoman Empire ruled in Albania. While there were initial resistance movements, the Ottomans succeeded in consolidating control – while also introducing the Islamic faith to the country. This resulted in a large degree of Ottoman support for the now majority Muslim nation within the Balkan context – as it shared the religion of their overlords.
Movements for independence began to take shape near the end of the 19th century. After efforts by the League of Prizren, it was the 1912 Albanian uprising that resulted in the Ottoman government recognizing the claims of the revolt. Independence was declared on November 29, 1912.
Albania and The First World War
Albania didn’t have much time to enjoy its newfound independence, as chaotic international politics and the largest war the continent had ever seen ripped the nation apart. Nearly every neighbouring country had a hand in the pie during WWI. Following the conflict, a principality persevered, before being replaced by a Republic and, later, a monarchy.
Albania and The Second World War
For much of WWII, Albania found itself occupied by the Axis Powers (first Italy and later the Nazi’s). The war proved devastating for Albania with widespread destruction and conflict between the communists and nationalists. In 1944 the communist partisans succeeded in liberating the country and soon formed their own government.
Communism in Albania
The communist era in Albania saw widespread industrialization, large-scale growth across nearly all sectors of the economy, and a widespread crackdown on religion. During this time, Albania was ruled for 40 years by Enver Hoxha – who classified Albania as the “world’s first atheist state”.
After Ramiz Alia took over in 1985, many Hoxhaist elements were rolled back. As the Soviet Union fell a few years later, Albania began transitioning away from communism, resulting in elections and the eventual rise to power of the Democratic Party in 1992. The early days of post-communist Albania were characterized by widespread corruption and Ponzi schemes (with many government officials taking advantage of them). As these collapsed in the late 90’s, criminal enterprises moved in to fill the void (even looting armories after the desertion of police and Republican Guard forces). After UN peacekeeping initiatives and new elections, a modicum of stability ensued.
While the Kosovo War in 1999 resulted in a large amount of Kosovar refugees, Albania has largely been on a positive path since then. The country became a NATO member in 2009 and is currently an official candidate for EU membership.
Albania has a rich and long-standing cultural tradition across everything from art and architecture to folklore, literature, and music. Folk music and traditional dress in particular are a couple of the most commonly seen elements of Albanian culture.
Flag of Albania
Albania’s flag is easily recognizable thanks to a black double-headed eagle on a red background. The red denotes valor, strength, and bravery while the eagle is a symbol of the Albanian state.
The cuisine of Albania is strongly influenced by its central location and long history. Elements of Turkish, Greek, Italian, Serbian, and other Balkan foods can be tasted across Albania. Lunch is the most important meal of the day (and is often served with salad), while slow cooked meat and veggies are also popular.
Sports in Albania
Albania has a long sporting tradition, with soccer, basketball, weightlifting, swimming, tennis, rugby union, volleyball, and gymnastics followed throughout the country. The national soccer team qualified for their first major tournament this year (Euro 2016), and was able to beat Romania, just narrowly missing out on progression to the knockout stages.
Geography of Albania
The majority of Albania is mountainous and features large natural borders blocking it off from neighbours. In addition, the country features coastlines along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, which enjoy a climate typical of Mediterranean regions (as opposed to inland where it can get quite snowy and cold in the winter).
Cities in Albania
The largest city in Albania is the capital, Tirana, which is home to slightly over 850,000 people. With no other cities even coming close to this, Tirana is the cultural, commercial, and industrial capital of the country (as well as being its, you know, actual capital).
Facts about Albania
- John Belushi (of The Blues Brothers and SNL fame) had an Albanian father
- There are around 10 million Albanians living outside of Albania
- Stuffed animals and other objects hung from incomplete homes are meant to ward off evil spirits
- Lazarat has been renowned as a marijuana hotbed, though law enforcement has cracked down in recent years
- Through most of the 70’s, Albania’s only international ally was China
- Nodding your head means no, shaking it means yes
- Euros are widely found throughout Albania
It has been a rocky road to independence and prosperity but Albania now seems to be pushing forward brightly!
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