TIRANA – ALBANIA
Tirana has been the capital of Albania since 1920. It is relatively new city was established in the year 1614 from Sulejman Bargjini of Mulleti, feudal of the area at the time who built a settlement in the area around the modern intersection of Rruga Barrikadave and Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi. The statue of Sulejman Bargjini of Mulleti stands today in the little square close to that crossroad. Until Tirana was designated as the capital of Albania in the year 1920, it was just a small, unimportant town whose main virtue for Albania’s political leaders was it’s geographical position, more or less in the center of the recent independent country of Albania, on the fault line dividing the northern Ghegs from the southern Tosks. Tirana remained a bit of a back water town for several years afterwards, as Albania struggled to stabilize itself in the face of internal lawlessness and invasions by its hostile neighbors. The city began to grow at the beginning of the 18th century. “Tirana “, it is thought that comes from the word “ Theranda”, mentioned in the ancient Greek and Latin sources, that aborigines called Te Ranat, because the field was formed as a result of stiff materials that the waters from the surrounding mountains brought. Today Tirana is not only the most populated city in Albania, but also the biggest political and economic center in the country. The Adriatic Sea and Dajti mountains are near to the city. It takes you less than one hour drive to reach the sea. A Great Park with an artificial lake is located immediately at the southern part of the city.
It was not until Italian influence became pervasive in the late 1920s that the center of Tirana took on the appearance of a capital city. Italian planners created the huge new square, which was named after the National hero of Albania Skanderbeg, and the wide typically Fasist boulevard; Italian architect designed the ministry buildings, the National Bank and the town hall at the southern end of Skanderberg square, as well as the Dajti hotel, the Royal Palce on Rruga Elbasanit, and some of the embassies. During the communist era, the few old buildings still standing on Skanderbeg Square were demolished and the opera house, the National Historical Museum and the hotel Tirana were added as were the public buildings further down the boulevard. All of these 20th century accretions, plus the destruction caused by earthquakes and by the battle for the liberation of Tirana in 1944 means that there is not very much left of the Ottoman Tirana. A good deal of what survived into the 1990s has subsequently disappeared under glittering high rise apartment blocks and shopping centers.
Tirana is well known for its brightly painted apartment blocks. This idea began in the beginning of the elections of the year 2000, which saw an artist and former minister of culture becoming the mayor of the city of Tirana. The new mayor, Edi Rama (the country’s prime minister) began by restoring the ministries on and around the famous Skanderberg Square the okra color which they had when they were first built in the 1930s; He went on to also paint the old apartment buildings on the nearby streets, choosing bright colors which, although they did not convince the population of Tirana, at least had the merit of brightening up the city. The colors and patterns became livelier and livelier until even the most progressive citizens of Tirana began to complain that their city was starting to look like a circus. Happily for them, the harsh summer sun bleaches out the brightest colors after a year or two. As well as its strange mix of architectural styles, Tirana has very special museums, lots of green areas and a ranch of cultural activities. There are hundreds of cafes, modern bars that are very popular to the younger people, numerous clubs, some with live music, especially on the weekends and many restaurants. New bars and restaurants open all of the time in the capital city of Albania. The more ephemeral lists all of the latest fashions in eating, drinking and dancing.
Tirana also has many infuriating aspects, mainly the very bad traffic and the Balkan noise level. In general, however, the city center makes an attractive area to stay and its excellent public transport links make it the best base for exploring the rest of Albania.
Getting to Tirana:
BY AIR: The only international airport in Albania is located in Tirana, the airport is seventeen kilometers, an 30 minute drive from the main city. Approved airport taxis can be booked at a kiosk in the area of reclaiming your baggage or hired as you exit into the arrivals hall. You should agree a fare with the taxi driver before accepting his services. The going rate for going into the center of Tirana is 20 Euros. Alternatively, unofficial taxis wait across the road from the perimeter fence of the airport and they charge slightly less. From 7.00 – 19.00 an hourly bus service runs from outside the perimeter fence, into the main city of Tirana. The one way fare is 250 lek. In the center of the city, the bus leaves from the junction of Rruga e Durresit with Rruga Mine Peza, where there is a clearly marked bus stop with a timetable. The last bus to the airport leaves at 18.00.
There are several hotels located near the airport, which are useful for early morning departures or late night departures. (See the official website of Tirana airport).
BY ROAD: Buses and mini buses run to Tirana from all of the other areas of Albania. In the other direction, Tirana does not have a central bus station and sometimes it is difficult to establish where the bus that you want leaves from. As a general rule, buses and mini buses to Durresi and destinations in the north leave from near the Zogu i Zi roundabout, buses to the south west leave from a bus station just off the Rruga e Kavajes and buses to Elbasani and the south east leave from the Northern side of the Qemal Stafa Stadium. The most simple way to locate the vehicle that you need is to hire a taxi and say something like “autobuset per en Durres (the bus for Durres) to the driver. The receptionist at your hotel should also be able to help you.
There are international buses to and from the main cities in all of the neighboring countries. The majority of the bus companies have their office where information is available and tickets can be bought on Bulevardi Zogu i Pare which runs between Skanderbeg Square and the railway station.
There are no trains to or from Tirana. The old train station has been demolished and the railway lines have been asphalted over in order to build yet another highway.
GETTING AROUND TIRANA: Local buses are run by private companies and licensed by the municipality of Tirana. The buses can get very crowed at certain times but they are also incredible cheap with a flat fare of 30 lek which is collected by a ticket collector on the bus itself. The two routes which are most useful for visitors to the city are the Unaza, which goes around the north of the city in a big loop and then along the Lana river and the Tirana e Re/Stacioni i Trinit which begins near the train station and goes right down the boulevard, before turning off along Rruga Abdyl Frasheri and then making an even wider loop around the western part of the city of Tirana. Other buses depart from the various bus stops around Skanderbeg Square. The buses are different colors depending on the destination and can be boarded or alighted at any of the bus stops along their route. A tram route which will cross the whole of the south east of Albania to the North West axis of the city is planned and will soon be ready.
In the center of Tirana, within the ring road, taxis charge 400-500 lek. For longer journies, crossing the ring road, please agree on the fare before setting off. There are taxi ranks at several place in the center of the city, along the side of “THE BLOCK” at various points along boulevard Zogu i, convenient for the railway station and buses to and from the north, and beside the Academy of Arts on Mother Teresa Square. Tirana has a few radio taxi companies, the easiest numbers to remember are +355 2244444, +355 2355555 and +355 2377777 all of which are reliable firms with reasonably new vehicles.
Cars can be hired in the city center and at the airport of Albania. Tirana’s cycle hire scheme has bicycles in racks at various points around the center, the back packer hostels also have bikes available to rent. It should be noted that driving and especially cycling in the center of Tirana is not for the faint hearted.
ACCOMMODATION IN TIRANA
Tirana has a wide range of hotels that suit most kinds of people. The very top of the market will charge around 120 Euros a night and these hotels are the Cheraton (down by the university of Mother Teresa Square), the Rogner (on the boulevard opposite the presidency building), and the Grand, (on Rruga Ismail Qemail, opposite Hoxha’s villa). All of the aforementioned hotels offer comfortable rooms, good restaurants and swimming pools.
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ACTIVITIES IN TIRANA
There are available one day tours of Tirana that you can ask for via this website or at the tourist information office in Tirana. The favorite destinations are Mount Dajti and the Pellumbasi Cave (See sightseeing in Tirana, below).
Walking tours of Tirana
SIGHTSEEING IN TIRANA
Skanderbeg Square: Although the square is no longer the hub of commercial or social life, the square is still referred to as the center of Tirana and it makes a very convenient starting point for a cultural tour of the city of Tirana. On the northern side of the square , you will find the National Historic Museum of Tirana and the Tirana International Hotel, to the west side is the National Bank and the eastern side is entirely taken over with what was once known as the Place of Culture, which still houses the opera house and the National Library. The tables that are outside the Opera House Cafe are wonderfully cool in high summer, thanks to all the marble surrounding them. bisecting the square is the wide boulevard designed by Mossolini’s emissaries and is perfect for Fascist parades. To the south of the square down until the university building, it is called Bulevardi Deshmoret i Kombit (the martyrs of the nation boulevard). The northern section is Boulevardi Zogu i Pare, a statue of King Zog now stands at its junction with the ring road. An equestrian statue of Skanderbeg stands at the head of Deshmoret i Kombat. The sculptor was Odhise Paskali, 1903 – 1985, a native of the town of Permet which is located in the far south of Albania. Across the road from the statue are the Mosque of Et’hem Bey and behind it is the clock tower. The 18th century mosque is one of the few really old buildings left in Tirana, and is perhaps also one of the most beautiful buildings. Its minaret was shattered in the battle for the liberation of Tirana but it was subsequently repaired and the status of the mosque as a cultural monument kept it from being damage or destroyed during the atheism campaigns of the late 1960s. There are frescoes on its external walls and more paintings inside the mosques, slim visitors can climb up the narrow, spiral staircase to the gallery from where there is a better view of these. Excellent views of the city can be enjoyed from the top of the 35 meter high clock tower (built in the 1820s). The opening hours are 9.00 – 13.00 on Mondays and 9.00 – 13.00 and 16.00 – 18.00 on Thursdays. Visits are other times may be requested by telephoning +355 2243292. There is also a small exhibition of models of clock towers in Albania which can be seen on request.
THE HISTORY OF TIRANA
Tirana is the capital and the largest city of the country of Albania. Although a new and modern capital city the origins of Tirana as an inhabited center are quite old with several theories and myths associating its current name with ancient versions. One version is that it’s name derives from the word ‘Theranda’ that Greek and Latin sources employ to refer to the area, after the term ‘te ranat’ used by the inhabitants, meaning ‘fallen material’, in reference to the composition of the terrain out of hard earth swept down by water from the nearby mountains. Another theory is that it comes from the word ‘Tirkan’, the name used by the sixth century Byzantine historian Prokop to refer to a castle, first built in the first century BC, on Mount Dajti, and the ruins of which are extant. Some say it comes from ‘tyros’, the old Greek word for ‘dairy’, on the hypothesis that it was in the field there that the shepherds of surrounding areas gathered to trade dairy products.
Whatever the case the name Tirana has been used in the present form from at least beginning of the 15th century as mentioned in a Venetian document of 1418. Records of the first land registrations under the Ottomans in 1431-32 reveal that Tirana then consisted of 60 inhabited areas, with nearly 1000 houses and 7300 inhabitants. A century later in 1583 the population had tripled reaching 20 000 inhabitants Modern Tirana was founded in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini ‘Pasha’, a local ruler from Mullet who constructed a mosque, a bakery and a hamam (Turkish sauna).
The city began to grow at the beginning of the 18 century, but it remained an unimportant town until it was proclaimed Albania’s capital in 1920. This was mainly due to its geographical position more or less in the middle of the country, on the fault-line between the northern Ghegs and the southern Tosks. It wasn’t until the late 1920 when Italian influence became quite strong, that the centre of the city took the appearance of a capital city.
Well known architects of the Mussolini period in Italy Florestano de Fausto and Armando Brasini, where the masterminds which build the main square, which today bears the name of Albanian National Hero Scanderbeg, the huge boulevard, ministry buildings, national bank, the town hall and the Palace of Brigades (former royal Palace, today Presidential Palace). Today Tirana is the center of the political, economical, and cultural life of the country with over 700 000 inhabitants. In the last few years Tirana has seen substantial changes in its appearance. The dull communist-style apartment blocks have been painted over in bright colors and abstract patterns by an artist turned Mayer. This is not only a quick fix but also an uplifting experience for inhabitants and visitors alike. Furthermore it has seen an increased development in modern infrastructure contributing to the city’s metropolitan look.
USEFUL INFORMATION IN TIRANA
The tourist information office in Tirana is located on Rruga Ded Gjo Luli, behind the National Historical Museum. Unfortunately, it is only open from 1..00 until 16.00 on week days and does not open at all on weekends, this is the reason that we want to give you as much information as possible about the capital of Albania, Tirana. The tourist information office offers you a range of free leaflets and brochures about Tirana and other towns in Albania. The staff speak English.
UNIQUE CULTURE OF ALBANIA
The Albanian culture is an exotic blend of traditions that have evolved over thousands of years. From the ancient Illyrians and Greeks to the Romans and the Ottomans, the language, music, arts, and cuisine of the Albanian people are a rich and vibrant mix of many civilizations. Once you discover our culture, you are bound to fall in love with this new destination on the Mediterranean.
Hospitality is in our nature. Welcoming guests and ensuring their comfort is a hallmark of Albanian heritage and is epitomized by our very own Nobel Peace Prize recipient: Mother Teresa. The spirit of cooperation and friendship thrives in Albania, and it is not uncommon for guests to be invited to eat and drink with curious locals wishing to learn more about you.
Besa is a concept related to the Albanian code of honor and is an idea that is very important to the Albanian people. In the Kanun (a set of traditional Albanian laws), Besa is described as the highest authority, so essential to personal and familial standing as to be virtually a cult. Besa has been the subject of some stories and novels by Albania’s foremost modern novelist, Ismail Kadare, a Nobel Prize Candidate for Literature and winner of several international prizes. Kadare’s work has been published in over forty countries and translated into more than thirty languages, making Kadare the best ambassador of Albanian literature worldwide.
If we are speaking about the food and drinks of Albania, then we must mention the country’s deliciously-unique cuisine. It has many similarities to Turkish and Greek dishes, but offers a healthier, Mediterranean twist. Come try our wide variety of phyllo dough delicacies, including a melt-in-your-mouth sensation called byrek, or the original sweet treat known regionally as baklava.
Albania also has a long tradition of wine craftsmanship, which is lately being revived to its former glory. While you’re here, taste a sampling of our wine, produced from a rich soil that has been under cultivation since the ancient Greeks and Romans. Regardless of your culinary inclinations, we guarantee that our rich history and culinary traditions have created a menu of mouth-watering specialties for you to try.
Each region of Albania likes to specialize in its own brand of music, thus giving the music aficionado an incentive to explore the entire country in search of each community’s sense of style. For example, UNESCO has classified a type of music from southern Albania, known as Iso Polyphony, to have tremendous cultural value to humankind. Our music has even given rise to a few prominent artists of global acclaim, including opera lyric soprano, Inva Mula, and the distinguished violinist, Tedi Papavrami.
In regards to style, when you arrive in Albania, you will notice that the men take great pride in their appearance and will often don a suit and tie when in public. Even if their errands only involve a short trip to the grocery store, the men will dress to impress.
Depending upon the type of festival or time of year, you might even catch a glimpse of Albanian men in traditional folk attire. The National Folk Festival held in Gjirokastra is a prime example. This special autumn event is held once every four years and attracts artists from around the world.
The women of Albania also share a flair for style, especially at traditional Albanian weddings. At these events, the families of both the bride and groom will gather together in their finest dress and celebrate with great fervor. Weddings are often the ideal opportunity to witness the best of Albanian culture all in one event, and if you’re invited to one, the experience will undoubtedly be extraordinary.
Albanian culture is unique in many ways and we hope you’ll visit us to see it firsthand. We say ‘yes’ by shaking our head from side to side, both men and women greet each other with a kiss on either cheek, and our conversations are loud and passionate in an effort to entice others to join in. Visit Albania and discover why our culture is a new Mediterranean love.
MAP OF ALBANIA
PHOTO GALLERY OF TIRANA
MAP OF TIRANA