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There was a time, not so long ago, that announcing that you were going to Albania would evoke a range of reactions from abject horror to sarcastic laughter.  Happily, however, those times are firmly in the rear view mirror and Tirana, Albania’s bustling capital, is riding high on bucket lists penned by discerning travelers who like to be ahead of the curve.

Albania’s colorful history has left fascinating layers of culture on its capital city, which dates back 30,000 years to the time of the Roman empire when the country was known as Illyria and its rich soil, temperate climate, and strategic position on the Adriatic coast made it an obvious choice for the Romans to invade in 167 BCE.  The remains of many Graeco-Roman temples, baths, and hillside villas are still extant in modern-day Albania, and well worth a visit for history and archeology buffs. 

Fiercely fought over in the dark and middle ages, Albania was part of the Byzantine empire until the fifteenth-century, and during this time many of the country’s beautiful Orthodox churches were built.  Invaded in 1415 by the Ottomans, Albania remained a part of this mighty but disorganized empire until 1912, during which time a majority of the population converted to Islam - a legacy that remains to this day, making Tirana Europe’s only Muslim capital city.  

Albania achieved a modicum of short-lived independence after World War I, but was swallowed up into the communist maul after 1944 when that party took over and Enver Hoxha began his tyrannical four-decade rule over Albania, a period of drab isolation when Albania was estranged from even the Soviet Union.  Hoxha’s death in 1985 heralded a new era for the country, which today is emerging from it’s communist-era slumber with a dynamic revitalization of civic society, urban planning, business, and tourism. 

Tirana today pulsates with an infectious beat that is entirely its own.  The city got a bright facelift by its reformist mayor, whose first projects included giving all the buildings a bright new coat of paint and renovating the city’s parks, making them safe and enjoyable urban oases.  Legendary Albanian hospitality is delightfully on display in the vibrant restaurant scene that is developing in Tirana, featuring both traditional Albanian cuisine, which is making a roaring comeback after half a century of communism, and fine Albanian wines, which are once again competing with those of their Balkan neighbors.  The city’s historic cafe culture is alive once again, serving up the excellent coffee the Ottomans introduced to Albania centuries before. 

So hurry and head to Tirana while it is still Europe’s best-kept secret.  The secret is bound to get out.

Join Alexander + Roberts for an unforgettable journey into the heart of the Balkans on our unique itinerary Ancient Crossroads: Albania, Greece, and Macedonia, which visits some of Albania’s most ancient and interesting sites.

Posted: 4/7/2016 3:27:38 PM by Alexander + Roberts

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