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
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
of Albania ! Let me bend mine eyes
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."
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The modest remarkable
Tirana house where, on November 8, 1941, the Communist Party of
Albania (later The Party of Labour of Albania) was founded.
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.
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
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
(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.
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.
reopened in March 1990, and 1991 resumed contacts with foreign
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.