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Tirana

 

 

 

Tirana is the capital city of Albania and the centre of a fertile lowland region, with well watered marl and alluvial soil.It occupies an attractive situation at the foot of the Dajti mountain at an altitude of 200 m above sea level, and the centre of the cultural and the political life of the country. Tirana has some notable individual buildings in the centre of the city, but has suffered from the vagaries of its history, and does not have the architectural coherence of the historic Albanian towns.

It was a small place with a population of only 12.000 people when it became the capital after the First World War and still has some of the atmosphere of a minor Ottoman provincial city. It was described by Joseph Swire, in the late 1920s as a jumble of crazy mud brick houses, threaded by cobbled alleyways. Parts of it remain so today.

The city has seen many historic events during the strugle for democracy in recent years of which perhaps the most dramatic was the demolition of colossal gilded statue of Enver Hoxha in Skanderbeg Square in 1991. Even in times of political tranquillity, the visitor should expect to find an atmosphere of intense politiocal discussion among many of the people they are likely to meet, irrespective of oocupation or background, recalling Swire's observation: "when in the Balkans a man talks, he talks politics".

Tirana has been inhabited since prehistoric times: Neolithic remains have been found in the vicinity of the city. The site did not have any particular importance in Illyrian or Classical times. Although the emperor Justinian built a Byzantine fortress in Tirana in AD 520, restored by Ahmet Pasha Toptani in the 18th century, a town to all intents and purposes only came into existence in 1614 when it was founded by a local feudal lord Suleiman Pasha Mulleti. Before then, the place had only been mentioned as a small village on the plain by the Venetian chronicler Marin Barletius, in 1418 under the name Plenum Tyrenae. In the middle Ages the region was dominated by nearby Petrela Castle, and there were settlements at Preza, Ndroq and Lalmi, in the vicinity.

The name Tirana, has the same etymological origin as the capital of Iran. The original fortress of Justinian may have been the building referred to by Procopius of Casarea called Tirkan in the 6th century AD.

 

 

The town founded by Pasha Mulleti was a small Ottoman provincial centre, with mosque, public baths and a commercial area. It grew fairly rapidly to be an important centre on caravan routes, particularly in the 18th century when the Mosque of E'them Bey was built.

 

In 1789, building began on E'them Bey's elegant Mosque, with its exquisitely-proportioned minaret. The Clock Tower, 35 meters high, which stands in the centre of the city today and is a national monument, was built in 1830.

 

It is perhaps the finest example of later Islamic architecture in Albania,best seen across the square early on bright winter morning with grey lignite smoke surrounding the white tower of the minaret.The latter is very thin and comes to a particularly sharp point.The portico is sheltered by a red tile roof, the dome with black lead. The scene can bring to mind Lord Byron's famous lines about Albania from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:

 

"Land of Albania ! Let me bend mine eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men !
The cross descends, thy minarets arise.
And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen.
Through many a cypress grove within each city's ken."

Tirana's prospects were adversely affected by the death of Kaplan Pasha in 1816, after which the city fell under the rule of the Toptani family the period of rule of the mentally deranged megalomaniac Esat Toptani being particularly harmful. Throughout the 19th century it continued as a town of modest size with little or no industrial development, until it was chosen as the new capital of the country by the Congress of Lushnja in 1920.

The first school had been opened in 1901, and a branch of the patriotic organisation Bashkimi in 1908. Many importantpolitical events took place in Tirana in the inter-war period, such as the assassination on 20 April 1924, allegedy on Prime Minister Zogu's orders, of the student radical who murdered Esat Pasha Toptani in Paris in 1920.

The Tirana Pact was signed in November 1926, between Italy and Albania, ostensibly a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance but in reality an important step leading to the ultimate annexation of the country by Mussolini. On 1 September 1928 Mehmet Zogu crowned himself King of All Albanians, in Tirana.

The city was occupied by the Italian puppet government from 1939-1942. After the liberation on 17 October 1944, following the Battle of Tirana between the retreating Axis troops and the Partisans, Enver Hoxha set up the communist-dominated Provisional Government on 28 November 1944. The city grew considerably in size in the communist period, and has become an important industrial centre.

 

Skenderbeg Square

 

Skanderbeg Square

 

Skenderbeg square in its present form is entirely a creation of the communist period. It was laid out on the basis of town plans developed between 1952 and 1956. During the 'The Battle of Tirana 'in the Second World War (1944) between the Partisans and retreating Axis forces, which lasted three weeks, the area in and around the square was particularly hard hit, with losses of historic buildings of major importance, particularly the Mosque of Suleiman Pasha

Before the postwar redevelopment, much of the west side of the square was occupied by the Turkish baazar quarter. Until 1991 a huge gold-leaf covered statue of Enver Hoxha stood here, something that many people who saw it felt belonged in spirit to the world of the later Roman emperors, when the 'divine' nature of the imperial office holder was forcibly imposed upon the minds of millions.

 

Palace of Culture

The Palace of Culture was complete in 1956 to Soviet designs, although the building programme suffered from the break with the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Soviet technical experts.It is a solid, rather unattractive concrete structure.It houses a concert hall, at the moment the home of the National Opera, which seats 1100 people.

The National Library has several hundred thousands books. It was found with the assistance of the British philanthropist and friend of Albania, Lady Carnarvon, in the 1920s. It was then known as the Herbert Library, after her son, the late Hon, Aubrey Herbert MP. The British Foreign Office made a donation of books in 1934.

Tirana Hotel Internacional

 

This was Albania's first high-rise concrete building, with 324 rooms. It was opened in 1979, and was very much in the atmosphere and arrangements of many East European and Eastern Mediterranean hotels of the period. It was refurbished in 1993/94 by southern Italian entrepreneurs and is now a centre of their new business culture in the city.

National Historical Museum

 

The museum contains works of art of great importance .It is also exceptionally well laid out and informative, and perusal of the displays will give the uninitiated visitor a sense of the many comlexities of Albanian life and history from the earliest times to the present day. The impressive large mosaic on the facade shows ancient Illyrians, Albanian nationalists, and anti-Axis guerillas fighting for Albanian freedom.

The Communist Party House

 

The modest remarkable Tirana house where, on November 8, 1941, the Communist Party of Albania (later The Party of Labour of Albania) was founded.

International Center of Culture.

 

Formerly the Museum of dictator Enver Hoxha, it has been turned into the International Center of Culture.

The Battle of Tirana

The Battle of Tirana was fought between 15 September 1944 (when the First Partisan Brigade received the order to march on the capital) and 17 November of that year, when the last phase of the battle was concluded. In the preparatory phase, between 25 September and 29 October, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Brigades left bases in Dibr, Kerrabe and elsewhere and began systematic attacks on enemy communications and suply lines. On 10 October formations from the 1st and 4th Brigades moved into the capital and attacked the German headquarters in the Medrese (Islamic School) building, killing a number of officers and also setting fire to various installations elsewhere in the city. At this time the partisans faced a German garrison of about 2,500 troops in the city, based in ex-King Zog's Palace, the central Post Office, the National Bank and the Tomorri cinama. The 1st and 4th Brigades were then reinforced by the newly-formed 23 Brigade in the capital.

The main phase of the battle began on 29 October and lasted 19 days. In bitter house-to-house fighting the Axis troops were gradually cleared from Tirana, after an initial assault from the first Brigade coming from the direction of Elbasan road. Local people constructed barricades to protect the soldiers and suffered very heavy casualities -substantially higher than the partisan troops themselves. Particularly bitter fighting took place in the Old Bazaar area, which was more or less destroyed.

In the second phase of the battle German aircraft bombed the city on 7 November and partisan reinforcements engaged German troops in a wider area, including areas on the periphery of Tirana and outside it. German forces were reinforced by troops evacuated from Greece in the later stages of the battle. The city was liberated in the morning of 17 November. A victory parade was held on 29 November 1944.

Petrela Castle

The site of the "CASTLE " was ocupied from very early times. The name appears to be mixed Greek and Latin origin, from Petra Alba, the White Rock. In the centre of the existing ruins is a tower dating from about AD 500, around which much later Byzantine fortifications dating from the 11th century to the 14th have been built. Access is by small iron gate, halfway down the rock, on the east side. If locked, it is possible to scramble to the top by a steep path on the south side

In general, construction followed a rough triangular plan, around the contour of the top of the hill, with round towers at the corners and double walls. During the Ottoman invasion, the castle was said to be the residence of Skenderbeg 's sister, and played a part in the resistance to the Turks. After Ottoman power in Albania was securely established, the castle was garrisoned by Janissaries (infantry conscripts from non-Islamic villages) for a time but soon fell into disuse and ruin.

From the iron gate a narrow road about 4 meters wide winds round the hill towards the central entrance gate of the castle. The road appears to be of late Byzantine origin, with a pebble base. There are very fine flowers along the road and recessed into the hill are the foundations of a small mosque. Is is surrounded by Byzantine brickwork on the edge of the hill and the mosque may have been constructed from an earlier Byzantine building. It was built for the first Turkish garrison of janissaries, probably soon after the Ottoman conquest. A little further up the road on the same side are the foundations of a larger mosque, probably built a little later when the garrison was reinforced.

The Bektashi Tekke of Tirana

 


Headquarter (Kryegjyshata) of Bektashis in Tirana

This is a very interesting excursion, which only takes an hour or two, and offers the visitor a chance to see something of the religious life of this little-known sect which has played such an important part in Albania, particularly the 19th century nationalist movement. The tekke (teqe in Albanian) is situated near a complex of apartment blocks in Rruga Ali Deme on the extreme eastern outskirts of Tirana.

The tekke is a large, not particularly attractive 1920s building, restored in 1990. After the assault on the building by pro-atheism campaigners in 1967-8, it was used as an old peoples's home.

It is headed by Baba Reshat Bardhi. He is a well-known figure in Tirana and a mine of information on the sect, its docrines, history and place in Albanian society. In this tekke there are portraits of prominent Bektashis. Also there are photographs and other documents illustrating the connection of this tekke with the Bektashi tekke in Detroit, members of which are assisting the restoration of this building. In this tekke there are some very interesting paintings on Bektashi themes. The men prayer room is at the rear of the building, a simply-furnished, not to say austere room, with an embroidered cloth hung in the east end showing the foundation of the sect by the Persian Haji Bektash Veli.

The tekke reopened in March 1990, and 1991 resumed contacts with foreign Bektashi organisations.

On the south side of the tekke, the remains of two leading Tirana Babas, Salih Dede (1876-1941) and Ahmet Ahmataj (1916-1980) have been disinterred and reburied in an impressive new mausoleum with a green and white fluted roof. Sheep reared for sacrificial purposes graze around the buildings.

 

 

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