Why visit Tirana, Albania?
Why visit Tirana?
Tirana is certainly not for the faint-hearted: a whirl of potholed pavements, grid locked traffic and a general air of disorganised riot which can be a little overawing for some. However, considering that Albania‘s capital and most important city spent the majority of the last half a century under a totalitarian isolationist dictator, Tirana is a surprisingly lively place.
Let’s be honest Tirana is never going to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities. There are little to no historical monuments, as most of its Ottoman & Italian legacy was ripped apart to be replaced by brutalist communist architecture, but Tirana has still come a long way since opening up to the outside world. The Blloku area, which was off-limits to all but Party members during Communist times, is now the city’s most vibrant quarter and home to espresso-sipping locals and a never ending stream of new and trendy bars openings.
Travellers will enjoy Tirana’s up and coming air with the sense of a city growing into its role as modern European capital.
(1-negative experience; 5-positive experience)
Tirana: the facts
Despite the area around Tirana having been inhabited since Paleolithic times, a settlement on the site of the modern city was not established until much later, as proved by the oldest discovery in downtown Tirana being a Roman house. Other structures from the antiquity outpost include a castle which was built by Emperor Justinian in 520 AD and restored by Ahmed Pasha Toptani in the 18th century but this shouldn’t overstate the importance of what was essentially a village during Illyrian and classical times.
Tirana was founded in 1614, when the local Turkic ruler Sulejman Bargjini established an Ottoman town with a mosque, Turkish baths and a commercial centre. It began to develop in the early 16th century, when a bazaar was built, and its craftsmen began to manufacture silk, cotton, and leather fabrics, ceramics, iron, silver, and gold artefacts. The original city grew up around the Bami District and later the Mujos quarter and it was also during this period that the Ethem Bey mosque was built, which has been preserved and is located on today’s Skenderbeg Square.
In the 19th century Tirana was an important centre of the Rilindja (Albanian national awakening of the 19th century) and the uprising of November 26th 1912 against Ottoman Turks is still a source of national pride. When Albania did finally achieve independence from Ottoman rule, Albania’s newly appointed capital, Tirana, was transformed by Mussolini favourites Florestano de Fausto and Armando Brasini who laid the basis for the modern-day arrangement of the ministerial area of the city centre.
During World War II, Tirana was occupied by the Italian Army in 1939, who subsequently built several administration and residential buildings during their time in charge. It was also in the city that Enver Hoxha with other Albanian communists founded the Communist Party of Albania who then set about freeing Albania from foreign occupation. The town was liberated after a fierce battle against the German forces, on November 17th 1944.
Once the Communist got in charge they set about recasting Tirana in their own image. Massive socialist-styled apartment complexes and factories were built, while Skanderbeg Square was redesigned with a number of buildings being demolished including Tirana’s former Old Bazaar and Orthodox Cathedral which were razed to the ground to be replaced by a Soviet-styled Palace of Culture. The Italian-built municipal building was destroyed and replaced by the National Historical Museum, while the former Parliament of Albania, was turned into a children’s theatre.
Following the fall of communism in the 1990s, Albania was transformed from a centrally planned economy into a market economy. Private car ownership was reinstated and businesses re-established. However, Tirana continues to be plagued by its old ghosts: poor city lighting and road quality are still major problems as is corruption.
Tirana has a humid subtropical climate with hot and dry summers and mild and rainy winters. The average temperatures ranges between 5oC in January to 28oC in the hottest months.
Weather in Tirana now
Tirana’s premium festival is the Tirana International Film Festival (TIFF) which is held in November or December and has been increasing in popularity every year since it was established in 2003. That is not all, however. Tirana Jazz Festival is another groovy little event that has been making waves in south-east Europe. The Albania wide Summer Festival is also celebrated enthusiastically in Tirana on the 14th March and is marked by many events including the city marathon and a circus show in Rinia Park.
Written by: Jon