Albania, the Bunkerland

For nearly half a century, a communist regime was installed and ruled Albania. Therefore, it was clear that Albania would not escape the Cold War, since the “imperialists” were trying their best to destroy our socialist “prosperity”. On the other hand, dedicated to a strict Stalinism, the communist leadership of Enver Hoxha, could not tolerate the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where Nikita Krushchev denounced the personality cult of Joseph Stalin.

So, the two superpowers of the planet become potential enemies. How could a small country resist a possible American or Soviet invasion? The answer was simple: by building bunkers.

Over 700.000 bunkers were built in Albania, one for every 3-4 people, with an average of 24 bunkers for every square kilometer. Too much energy and money was spent on them, but they were never used. No matter the location, alongside the border or in Tirana (capital city), the bunkers were ready for everyone.

Nowadays, most of this bunkers are derelict, though some have been reused for a variety of purposes including residential accommodation, cafés, storehouses and shelters for animals or the homeless.

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Rescued in Albania

Albania is the only country in Europe to emerge from World War II with a larger Jewish population than before but not too many people are aware of this fact.

According to the Albanian census of 1930, there were only 204 Jews registered at that time in Albania. But when the war was over, nearly 2ooo Jews were living there. How could this happen?

When the Nazi Germany was sending thousands of Jews to the concentration camps, the Albanian embassy in Berlin was still giving visas to this community. This country was proving to be a safe heaven for them due to the help they got from the local population, offering shelter and security. On the other hand, the authorities refused to give the lists of Jews to the German forces.

Even Albert Einstein benefited from Albanian help. In 1935 he was granted an Albanian passport, which he used to travel to America.

In 2006, a plaque honoring the compassion and courage of Albania during the Holocaust was dedicated in Holocaust Memorial Park in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York.

Tirana

Lana river

"Martyrs of the nation" boulevard First albanian university, 1957 Why not some colors? The pyramid Albanians celebrating 100 years of independenceTirana is the capital and the largest city in Albania. It hosts most of the Albanian public institutions such as the parliament, presidential palace, ministries etc.The city was founded in 1614 and was declared as capital city in 1920.

While in Tirana, don’t forget to visit:

1. National historical museum

2. National gallery of art

3. Mosque of  Et’hem Beg

4. The clock tower

5. “Martyrs of the nation” boulevard

6. Ura e Tabakëve (Tanners bridge)

Apollonia

The monument of Agonothetes The odeon St Mary monastery St Mary monastery

Apollonia is a colony founded in 588 B.C by colonists coming from Corinth and Corfu. Its ruins are situated near the city of Fier.

This colony was taken by Aristotle as a model in his analysis of oligarchy, because of its distinct and separate Illyrian and Greek communities.

It was a vital stronghold during Caesar’s civil war against Pompey and also an important christian community, with its bishops attending the Council of Ephesus and Council of Chlalkis.

Ardenica

Church of Saint Mary The iconostas, Church of Saint MaryArdenica is a medieval monastery, built in the 13th century by the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, after wining a victory against Angevins.

Albanian national hero, George Kastrioti Scanderberg, celebrated his marriage in this monastery.

It is believed that a pagan temple, dedicated to Artemis had existed on the site before and the name Ardenica comes from Artemis.

Berat

MangalemThe caste, northern entrance Onufri museumHoly trinity church

Berat is a town in south-central Albania also know as “the city of a thousand windows” due to its particular architectural style where houses have lots of windows almost on top of each other.

Being one of the oldest inhabited regions of Albania, more than 2400 years old,  Berat was granted a special status by UNESCO in 2008, when was inscribed in the World Heritage List.In 1961 the communist government declared Berat to be a “museum city”.

While in Berat, don’t forget to visit:

1. The castle

2. The Onufri museum

3. Holy Trinity church, St. Constantin and Helena church and St. Maria Vllaherna

4. The leaden mosque

5. The bachelor’s mosque

6. The helveti tekke

7. The old bridge of Gorica

Butrint

Basilica The amphitheater The baptistery The lion's gateButrint is an antic city, located south of Saranda. It dates from seventh century B.C, later becoming a Roman Colony, then falling under Venetian and Ottoman authority.

The legend says that Butrint was founded by Trojans, after their city was sacked by Greeks. Even the famous Roman writer, Virgil, supports this theory but still no evidence proving it has been found.

Butrint was accepted in UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1992.

Durrës

Venetian towerPartisan statue The amphitheater The palms Durrës is the second largest city in Albania and its main commercial port.

According to the ancient authors, the city was founded in 627 B.C and soon became one of the most important ports of the Balkans.

Durrës never lost its importance. From 1914 to 1920 it served as the capital city of Albania.

While in Durrës, don’t forget to visit:

1. The Roman amphitheater

2. The Byzantine walls

3. The Venetian tower

4. The Byzantine forum

5. The archaeological museum (under reconstruction for the moment)

6. The villa of King Zog

Gjirokastër

Castle interior View from the castle Folk festival stage Street in GjirokasterGjirokastër is a city in southern Albania.  It is know also as  “the city of stone”. UNESCO incribed the old part of the city on the World Heritage List while the communist government declared Gjirokastra to be a “museum city”. Gjirokastër is the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the Albanian communist dictator and Ismail Kadare, Albanian writer who was nominated several times for Nobel prize.

While in Gjirokastra, don’t forget to visit:

1. The castle

2. The museum of arms (inside the castle)

3. The ethnographic museum

Kruja

Tower Historical museum of Kruja The bazaar Skanderbeg's statueKruja served as the capital city of Albania in the 15th century, when Albanians were resisting the Ottoman attacks, under the leadership of our national hero, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg.

The castle is still inhabited nowadays.

When in Kruja, don’t forget to visit”

1. “George Kastrioti Skanderbeg” museum

2. The ethnographic museum

3. The bazaar

Everything you need to know