Saranda is the gem of Albanian Riviera’s beauties. It is situated at the very south of the country, about 14 km east of the north end of Greek island of Corfu. A 2000 years old city with many ancient sites to visit. In the Greek language Saranda means “40”, or “Santi Quaranta” if referring to the Venetian influence in the region.
Later on, following the restoration of Albanian independence, the city got its Albanian name Saranda. It is a coastal city with blue beaches of extraordinary beauty; wet by the Ionian Sea, which depth is full of corals. It has a typical Mediterranean climate.
Saranda may be called without hesitation the city with the largest number of sunny days during the whole year. Over 270 days out of 360. Saranda is considered a very important tourist location in Albania since the fall of communism. Tourism in Saranda is the major economic source.
Close to the city are found the remaining of the ancient city of Buthrotum, a UNESCO heritage site. At the beginning of the 20th century the city was occupied by both Greece and Italy. A Greek minority lives there and is considered one of the two centers of the Greek community in Albania.
The peculiarity of Saranda’s urban planning is its shape. The whole city lies on a mountain’s slope with narrow roads, which takes to the city’s promenade. A chain of luxurious hotels and restaurants continue in file along the promenade. The seashore is very rocky and the sea depth is very close to the coast. Under the sea that wets the coastline lie some sunken military ships of the II World War.
At the northern side of the Saranda stands the harbor. Beaches are a characteristic trait of this part of the country, offering crystal blue waters, white and rocky beaches, relaxing nature, warm days and fresh nights.
Among the wonders foreigners may visit while touring in Albania, is absolutely the archaeological site of Buthrotum. It is in fact an ancient archaeological Greek, and later on Roman, city situated southern-east, in the site of Vlora. Some 14 kilometers south of the city of Saranda. According to the Roman writer Virgil its legendary founder was the seer Helenus a son of the King Priam of Troy. Butrinti was linked to the Mediterranean by the Vivari Canal, which ran from the Butrinti Lake to the Ionian Sea. For almost 400 years Buthrotum was a property of Venedik. They build the current fortifications and a triangle castle.
The site was conquered many times, but the most known conquest was achieved by the Great Suleiman in 1537.
The National Park of Buthrotum was proclaimed for the first time in 1948 as a monument of culture. But due to its greatest importance and because it bears a rich historical culture in 1999 was included in the list of the World Heritage of UNESCO.
The Park of Buthrotum is well known for a rich flora and fauna. Its archaeological ruins are part of the echo-system and the combination of archeological monuments. The ruins along with the natural environment makes Buthrotum a unique site worth visiting. it is wet by the lake of Buthrotum, half sweet, half salty. It constitute one of the most important biodiversity area in Albania. A subtropical climate makes is visitable during many months. We must mention here the cultivation of mussels.
What’s the origin of the name?
Once the son of King Priam arrived, Helenus sacrificed a bull, which didn’t die immediately, because it managed to escape, but died on the shore. Helenus saw this as a good sign from the Gods and soon named the site “Buthrotum” which means “Dead bull”.
Located in southern Albania, Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking a historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains. This ‘city of a thousand steps’ comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with charestone roofs, wooden balconies and whitewashed stone walls. Dominated by the sheer flanks of its vast castle, Gjirokastra is a magical city with a tumultuous past.
The city of stone is an important UNESCO heritage site of Albania, as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate.” Known as Argyrocastro, as part of the Byzantine Empire, later fell into the ruling of the Ottoman Empire for five centuries.
Gjirokastra preserves intact its urban scheme. It consists of several neighborhoods built on rough terrain, which surround the castle. Each building in the city has special features associated with the terrain on which they are built. By categories, are distinguished the castle, the bazaar, religious buildings and residential homes.
The castle, which is the core of the city, had military functions and control all of the Drina valley. It was built in the 13th century, from 1811 to 1812 and further expanded by Ali Pasha when he built some roads and developed a water system for the time. It used to supply with drinking water from a natural source.
The castle has three main gates and is kept in good conditions.
The Bazaar, located in the city center, on the side of the castle, preserves the best features of a traditional bazaar with consecutive buildings and paved with black stones. It was originally built in the northeastern side of the castle. A bonfire of the 17th century destroyed it completely, but was later reconstructed. Solid constructions made in stone are located in the form of parallel arrays, a pattern commonly found in the entire Balkans region.
Houses of Gjirokastra show a special typology of Albania and Balkan of the late Middle Ages. They have played an important role in the physiognomy of the city. These houses witness the evolution of the city from the time they were built. Special protection features resemble to “Kulla” (Tower) and some examples and variants are found. In the first floor the family resides during the cold season. The second floor is inhabited during the warmer months of the year.
In order to adapt to the rocky terrain, Gjirokastra’s houses expand in volume from one floor to another, which creates an uneven structure between floors. The walls are decorated with floral ornaments and decorations (flowers, weapons, etc.). These houses are distinguished mainly for the perfect connection to the land on which they are built, the functional differentiation between floors, highlighting their defensive characteristics and functional settings. These contructions have stone roof tiles, in perfect harmony with the rocky landscape of the territory where they rise.
Gjirokastra is the birth town of the former communist dictator, Enver Hoxha and several times Nobel-candidate, the writer, Ismail Kadare. The latter has written many books, novels and short stories about the city, capturing the magical feeling of it.
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.