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.
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.