Tirana is the capital and most populous city in Albania and a fun and interesting place to visit. Don’t miss out on it! Compared to the rest of the Balkans, Tirana is very inexpensive and newer city with improvements to cultural facilities being made every day.
The most impressive place in Tirana is Skanderbeg Square with a big Skanderbeg statue standing in at the head of it (replacing a statue of Stalin). Also found here are the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet and National History Museum.
Skanderbeg is the hero of Albanian history of the15th century, the first person to unite and rule Albania as one, even if it was for just a few years.
Summer in Tirana gets really hot and our guide told us crossing the square in 40+ degree (Celsius) heat was like crossing the Gobi desert. There is a type of water fountain built into the stones for aesthetic as well as not overheating. But in mid-May during a cold spell it was just lovely in the square.
I heard a lot about Mother Teresa on this trip through the Balkans because Mother Teresa she was born in Skopje, Macedonia (where I started my trip) to immigrants from Albania. She has a hospital and square dedicated to her in Tirana.
The gorgeous and modern Resurrection Orthodox Church:
While the food in Albania was nothing to write home about (it was fine, just simple), the beer was delicious and there was always a lot of fresh food.
There was a big market near my hotel and I wandered through a few times for some fresh berries and olives.
Albanians are very fond of bananas as bananas were one of the first “Western” goods to cross into its’ borders after the fall of Communism. I really wondered about that because bananas are everywhere in store windows, bakeries, etc.
After the fall of Communism in Albania the remaining statues that were not destroyed were taken for safekeeping. Some of the few that remain were placed behind the National Art Gallery by the loading dock and dumpsters. You are definitely allowed go see them but they are no longer displayed and celebrated.
The peace bell is a super-tall bell made from bullet cartridges that encourages very tall people to try and ring it. The tallest member of my group (at 6’5”) was able to jump and ring it on his second attempt. Everyone in the park clapped for him.
This was my favorite building in Tirana- the Ministry of Urban Development and Tourism. No, I didn’t over-process this photo. The building is really that orange! I love it!
Albania is full of bunkers (around 175,000 scattered across the country). They were built in the Communist era when war with Yugoslavia and Greece was the big concern. A few of the bigger ones have been turned into museums,
art galleries, and places for vagrants to use the toilet (ick!).
The museum underneath was a sad place, recounting the terror instilled by the government and secret security services over many decades. The air inside was very stale and the lack of light really brought the sense of eeriness to the entire place.
On our last night in Tirana there was supposedly a free concert of traditional Albanian music in a big park pavilion with the Tirana Orchestra. It turned out not to be free so we did as many of the Albanians did and stood outside the fence and listened. It was a fun last night in Albania.
Tirana is a fantastic city to spend a few days exploring. It gets hot in the summer but the rest of the year is great for exploring one of the newest countries to Western culture.