According to Countries in the Box, Albania has a number of breathtaking natural sites that attract the attention of travelers – the country’s landscape is rich in rocky peaks and picturesque mountains overgrown with dense forests, beautiful beaches under the warm Mediterranean sun and azure-blue waters of the Adriatic. The beaches are magnificent and could seriously compete with Croatia and Italy.
In addition to the beaches of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Albania can offer a number of historical attractions, the country’s architecture is a colorful mixture of many religions, styles and cultures, from monuments of the ancient Greek period to Muslim minarets, from idyllic mountain resorts, many of which were founded by the Romans, to monasteries all confessions. The relics of one of the most closed countries in the past in Europe are surrounded by citrus orchards, olive groves and vineyards. Dilapidated factories stand next to breathtaking mosques, the most beautiful Greek Orthodox churches can be a stone’s throw from pompous Stalinist-style palaces of culture.
Tirana. Tirana, the capital of Albania since 1920 (the city was founded in 1614), is quite compact and pleasant to explore on foot. Most excursions in Tirana start from the large Skanderbeg Square in the city center, bounded on the east by the heights of Mount Dajti (1612 m.). The nearby market is also worth a detailed study – it is unlikely that anywhere else in Europe you will be able to find a real oriental bazaar with all its attributes (including pickpockets).
The National Historical Museum is the largest and richest museum in Albania, it is located next to the 15-storey Tirana International Hotel – the tallest building in the country (a huge mosaic mural covers the entire facade of the building). To the east of the hotel is the Palace of Culture, which has its own theatre, restaurant, cafe and art galleries, and clearly stands out against the background of the low buildings of the capital with its “Soviet” architecture.
Along the Lana River embankment, south of the capital, rise the white marble walls of the former Enver Hoxha Museum (“Pyramid”), which is sometimes used as a center for various exhibitions and in the future will become an international Cultural Center (it is planned to house the largest disco in Europe).
The attractions of Tirana also include the Museum of National Culture, the Museum of Natural History and the excellent Art Gallery.
Shkoder. The city of Shkodra (Shkodra, in Italian – Scutari) is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the traditional center of the Ghegs cultural region. In 500 BC. e. the Illyrian fortress that lay in its place already guarded the trade crossroads to the west of the city, where the rivers Buna and Drin merge. The city is adorned with the imposing Sheikh Zamil Abdullah Al-Zamil Mosque, and next to it is the Museo Popullo (“Public Museum”), which has an impressive collection of historical photographs, including those showing the country’s recent “socialist” past, and also has a rich archaeological collection. located on the lower floors. Shkodra used to be also the most influential Catholic city in Albania, and the majestic Franciscan church on Ruga Ndre Mjeda is now again one of the main Christian churches in the country. The legendary Rozafa Fortress is 2 km away. southwest of Shkodra, near the southern tip of the lake of the same name. Below the fortress lies the multi-domed Leaden Mosque, the only mosque in the city that escaped destruction during the
Gjirokaster. Gjirokastra lies 120 km. south of Tirana, this is a strikingly picturesque museum city, spreading along the slopes of the mountain above the banks of the Drin River. The city was well known as a major trading center by the 13th century, but the Turkish occupation that began in 1417 brought it to decline. However, by the 17th century, the city flourished again, and was famous for its multi-colored bazaar, where they traded in exquisite local embroidery, oriental silk and the famous Albanian white cheese. Above the Bazaar Mosque, located in the city center, rises the monument to Memedhu, erected in honor of the “renaissance” of Albanian education in the 20th century. The city is dominated by a gloomy citadel of the XIV century, now it is the Museum of Weapons. Also of interest are the Museum of the National Liberation Movement, the Ethnographic Museum, the Mekate Mosque and the old Turkish baths in the lower part of the city. In Elbasan (54 km southeast of Tirana), the remains of Roman fortifications are still preserved, a fortress of the 15th century AD. which now houses a museum. Also noteworthy are the Turkish baths (XVI century), the Ethnographic Museum, the fortress walls of the era of the rule of the Turks, the Market Gate, the Royal Mosque (XV century), the Orthodox Church of St. Mary, the Catholic Cathedral and the Museum of Partisan War.
Durres. In Durres (Duraccio in Italian), 38 km. west of Tirana, an interesting ancient city, founded in 627 BC. e. Greeks. Roman ruins and fortifications abound in this main industrial city and commercial port of the country, the second largest city in Albania. For many centuries it was the largest port on the Adriatic and the beginning of the famous Via Ignatia, going all the way to Constantinople. Until now, the ruins of the Byzantine and Venetian fortresses have been preserved here, from the “Venetian Tower” in the harbor, the medieval city wall goes to the Amphitheater (I-II centuries AD), on the territory of which an early Christian crypt with a rare beauty of wall mosaics was discovered.
Apollonius. 12 km. from Fier (100 km south of Durres) lie the ruins of ancient Apollonia. The city was founded in 855 BC. e. Greeks and was an important city-state of the Mediterranean. The Amphitheater, the colonnade of the shops of the Roman city center, the Odeon (II century AD), the portico (III century BC) with niches for statues, the “Mosaic House” with a fountain, the Bouleterion (I century AD), fragments of the fortress walls (IV century AD), the monastery of St. Mary (XII century AD) with the Museum of Archeology and the Byzantine church. Not far from Apollonia, on the road to Durres, is the majestic monastery of Ardenica.
Kukes. Kukes, 100 km. northeast of Tirana, lies above the high shore of the picturesque mountain lake Fierza, just below the peak of Mount Galiki (2486 m.). The old city formerly stood at the confluence of two rivers – the White Drina and the Black Drina, flowing from Lake Ohrid, but in 1962 the city was moved to its present site when the government built a hydroelectric dam and the river flooded its former location. Now it is a very pleasant place to spend a few days enjoying the clean mountain air and the beautiful scenery of the reservoir, sandwiched by steep mountain slopes, and the local hotel “Tourismi” is one of the most luxurious hotels, famous for one of the best restaurants in the country.
Butrinti. The ancient ruins of Butrint (I millennium BC) lie almost on the southern border of the country with Greece, 160 km. south of Tirana, and are considered the pearl of the Adriatic coast. Virgil claimed that Butrint was built by the Trojans, but no evidence of this has yet been found, although the site has been studied in detail by archaeologists.
Berat. The city-museum of Berat (Berateto), lying 122 km. southeast of Tirana, known in the 3rd century. BC e. At present, such historical monuments are concentrated here as a fortress (XIV century) with many tiny churches, the Muslim quarter of Mangalem and the Christian quarter of Goritsa connected with it by a stone bridge of seven arched spans, the “Lead Mosque” (1555), the Royal Mosque (1512), Bachelors Mosque (Kholostyakov, 1827, today the Museum of Folk Art is located here), Alveti-Tekke tomb (“small shrine”, 1790), St. Michael’s Church (XVI century), Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God (1797) and the nearby Onufri Museum (named after the icon painter of the 16th century), the Church of the Holy Trinity (XIV century), the Church of the Evangelists (XVI century), the “White Hall” in which the first independent government of Albania.