Shkoder is considered the cradle of culture of Albania. Located in the shores of the lake holding the same name, it is the biggest city of the North. Founded in the 4th Century BC, being known as Skodra (Scodra), a name that consequently is inherited until nowadays. Shkoder is the cultural cradle of Albania and is the birth town of many artists and well known figures in the country and abroad.
Shkodra’s main touristic attraction is Rozafa’s Castle. The castle dates back to Illyrian times and Latin historian Titus Livius called it “stronghold of the Labeats” (Illyrian tribe on the shores of Lake Shkodra). Illyrian queen, Teuta, used it as a base in the wars against Rome. The name Rozafa first appeared in the Middle Ages. The name is linked to the legend ‘of the kept promise’ which is common in one form or another to all Balkan peoples. According to the legend, Rozafa, the wife of the youngest of three brothers, accepted to be buried alive in the walls of the castle. The brothers had been building the castle in the day only to find that the walls had collapsed during the night.
At the entrance to the castle you can see the Rozafa bas-relief. According to popular imagination, the lime water that leaks at the main entrance is the milk running from Rozafa’s breast which was left outside the wall so that she could feed her newborn baby. The castle assumed the shape it has today from the time of the Balsha family rule in the 14th century. Most of the remaining walls of the castle belong to the Venetian period. However one can also find traces of the Ottoman times (16th and 17th centuries) and the Bushatlli period (18th and 19th centuries).
Pedonale street is the most known part of the city due to it’s italian-influenced structure. A pedestrian area with small shops and interesting bars on both sides of the street, with 2 floor buildings, it can be said it is the heart of the city. Pedonale street holds the name of Kole Idromeno, perhaps the most known shkodran, an erudite of paintings, architecture and photography.
Shkodra is noted for religious tolerance. Within walking distance, the Blue Mosque, the Catholic Cathedral, the Franciscan Cathedral and the Orthodox Church are located.
There’s a specific neighborhood in Shkoder named “Gjuhadol” (pronounced as Ghiuhadol), located right behind the main pedonale street, where authentic elements of the architecture of the city are still present. It is also one of the oldest neighborhoods, but recently has become a hip destination, due to the fact that some hipster bars and hostels are located there.
Kafja e Madhe (Grand Cafe) is an old building located in the center of the city. It is a creation of the artist Kole Idromeno, but has been closed for restoration for the last couple of years. Nevertheless, it is an artifact that testifies for the uprising cultural level of the city.
Home to almost 1 million inhabitants and of the most important governmental buildings, Tirana is the largest city in the country. It has the mountain, the artificial lake, recreational parks and the Adriatic sea within a few miles of driving.
Tirana became the capital of Albania at 1920, a turning point from where the city grew rapidly. Early mentions of it go back as far as 1614, when a local ruler built the Old Mosque, a small commercial center and a hammam. Nevertheless, the area was inhabited since the Paleolithic era, dating back to 1000 – 3000 years ago and later the Illyrian settlement was called Tërana.
Albania is well known for it’s religious tolerance. Et’hem Bey Mosque in the center of the city was build around 1789, being reconstructed several times since then. Starting from 1925 it is home of the World Headquarters of the Bektashi Order. The Catholic Cathedral “Saint Mary” was built in 1865 with the expenses of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph, whereas the Resurrection of Christ the Orthodox Cathedral of Tirana, opened in 2012 and it’s the 3rd largest orthodox church in Europe.
Tirana is notorious for its architecture, mixing both classical and modern styles. The governmental buildings, such as the ministerial complex, the National Bank and the Municipality building located at the city center were constructed by Italian architects during King Zog’s ruling. The main boulevards “Dëshmorët e Kombit” and “Nënë Tereza” was also constructed during that time.
One of the idiosyncrasies of the city can be considered the Pyramid. It was build around 1988 to be a museum or mausoleum for the former dictator, Enver Hoxha. After the ‘90s used to be a club named “Mumja” and was rumored for demolition a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, now it is named the International Center of Culture, thus being used as an alternative art exhibition area and concert hall.
In the center of Tirana is the monument of the national hero, Skanderbeg, created from the artists Odhise Paskali, Andrea Mano and Janaq Paço. A few minutes in distance, is the Monument of the Independence, created in 2012 to commemorate 100 years of independence.
Located about 33 Km away from the capital and at the coast of the Adriatic Sea, it is the second largest city in Albania. It has been home of emperors and gladiators in antiquity; of other important figures throughout the history; visited by apostles and host of main cultural events of nowadays Albania, it is obvious that Durres posses a great value for the country.
History-wise, it is one of the oldest cities of Albania, founded by Epidamnos in 627 BC. It can be compared with similar large European cities of the antiquity and middle ages. During the ruling of Skanderbeg, Durres was considered as “the 2nd Constantinople”, due to the fact that became a major trading centre and port on the eastern coast of the Adriatic
It used to be the capital from 7 March 1914 until 1920, under the ruling of the Austrian prince, William of Albania.In 1939, it was the first city to be concquered by the Italian Fascists
After World War II, Durres was transformed into an industrial city, and it became an important cultural and educational centre.Durrës was the scene of many demonstrations during the democratic movement of 1990–1991. Durres has many parks and gardens, and an outdoor theater has been built on the hills above the city. Its main recreational areas are Durrës Beach and Currila Beach, where citizens and tourists enjoy the sea and yellow sand of the Adriatic.
Durres is as much a cultural hub as it is a tourist destination. While the city presents ample opportunity for enjoying the dazzling combination of sun and sand, its archaeological treasures offer a glimpse into the city’s rich history. The city nowadays is located exactly on the ancient ruins. To not miss are The Roman Amphitheater, The Roman Baths, The Archaeological Museum, The Mosaic of Orpheus, The Venetian Tower, Fatih Mosque, King Zog I Residence etc.
Durres has a strategical and economical importance to the country, being the largest port of Albania and, especially for the proximity with Italian city ports, such as Bari. It also is an important contributor in tourism, welcoming every year visitors not only from Albania and Kosovo, but from all over the world.
One of the most historical cities of Albania, Kruja is located in central-north of Albania. It is seldom considered as the city of the national hero, Skanderbeg. History says that Gjergj Kastrioti, Skanderbeg protected the castle 3 times against the ottoman’s siege until his death in 1468.
Early mentions of the city go back to the Illyrian tribe of Albanis and their settlement of Albanopolis. Regarding the etymology of the name, “Krujë” comes from the word “kroje”, which means “springs” in albanian. During the ottoman era, it was known as Akhisar (from turkish: ak- white, hisar – castle, ).
The Castle of Kruja has 9 towers and it includes the Skanderbeg Museum, the National Ethnographic Museum and in the highest point, the Clock Tower. The latter used to signal other cities and castles during war times. The view from up there is amazing and it reaches up to the Adriatic sea. It was build in the 5th-6th Century and it was the last to fall into the hands of the Ottomans, 10 years after the death of Gjergj Kastrioti.
The Museum of Skanderbeg pays tribute to the national hero, as the name suggests. Well curated, it has on display old artifacts dating as back as 15th Century and exposes an important part of the albanian history.
Inside the Castle grounds, it’s the National Ethnographic Museum. It is an old house with çardak, which belonged to the Topia Dynasty, wealthy merchants of the time. It is a large, 2 story house with 15 rooms, including the guest room, the living room, the children’s room, the Turkish bath, the kitchen and its appliances etc.
The old bazaar is one the most notable highlights of the city. Built since the 15th Century, it’s one of the largest handicraft markets in Albania. It is well preserved and has the characteristics of the traditional albanian markets of the 18-19th Century.
In antiquity, Kruje was a site used for paganism. After the spread of Christianism, the church of the Saint Alexandre was built at the foot of mountain Krujë. Nearby there is Dollma Teqe (Tekke), a Bektashi temple. Dollma Teqe was build in 1789 and can be reached by foot outside the castle walls. On top of the mountain and over the town, there’s a religious spot called Sari-Salltik.