about Albania


Religious tolerance throughout its history is another feature of Albania which forms its identity. As the poet Pashko Vasa said, “the religion of Albania is Albanianism” – signifying that for all Albanians, regardless of their faiths, their land and their compatriots are foremost in their outlook.

Statistics indicate that in Albania the believers are 70% Muslim, 20% Orthodox, and 10% Catholic, with non-believers unaccounted for. As the short-lived first and only Atheist nation in the world (1967-1992), Albanians recently underwent a period of deep respect for discretion in professing one’s faith.

Another fascinating feature of Albania are the remnants of its Communist past, from the thousands of concrete bunkers parcelled across the nation for its defense, to the Socialist architecture, and bombastic artworks. As other East European nations bury evidence of their role in the Soviet sphere of influence, Albania is putting them on display. There is also a lingering suspicion of global capitalism, as evidenced by the modern-day lack of hotel chains and fast food outlets. There are no Starbucks or McDonalds here, no Hiltons or Kempinskis, no Aral or Agip, no Penny or Aldi or Metro. There are mainly mom-and-pop retail stores, family-run restaurants, and individually-owned and operated accommodations.

Yes, there are many so-called casinos, with electronic games, and the bars making up nightlife in Tirana are indistinguishable from those in Paris, Rio or Tokyo, and serve as a magnet for the nouveau riche, cruising the streets in their Mercedes and Audis. But you will also see dilapidated homes in the city center, street vendors, a few beggars, and the occasional horse-drawn carriage.

Remember when you crossed a border in Europe and you needed a dictionary, different currency, maybe gettonis to use a phone, or have to pay for things in one place and be served in another? Welcome to Ye Olde Europe, where it takes 140 Leks to equal one Euro, and you’ll need help figure out the restaurant menu. The signs are indecipherable; Albanian is one of the oldest languages in Europe, and forms a language group of its own.

Albania is about the size of Belgium but has a wide range of geography and climates, with alpine mountains, numerous lakes and rivers, forests and national parks, and 360 kilometers of Mediterranean coast line, pristine beaches … and bunkers galore! With its Roman and Greek heritage; UNESCO and archaeological sites; and Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish and Italian influences, it’s a Balkan microcosm of history and culture.

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