Albania has natural beauty in such abundance that you might wonder why it’s taken 20 years for the country to take off as a tourist destination since the end of a particularly brutal strain of communism in 1991. So backward was Albania when it emerged blinking into the bright light of freedom that it needed two decades just to catch up with the rest of Eastern Europe. Now that it arguably has done so, Albania offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, not least due to this very isolation: ancient mountain behaviour codes, forgotten archaeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still are all on the menu. With its stunning mountain scenery, a thriving capital in Tirana and beaches to rival any elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Albania has become the sleeper hit of the Balkans. But hurry here, as word is well and truly out.
Durrësi is one of the oldest cities of Albania. It was founded by Epidamnos, king of the Taulants, an Illyrian tribe. He gave the city his name. In 627 BC, Illyrian invaders from Corynth and Corfu took control of the region and rebuilt the city as Durrakhion. In 229 BC, the Romans took control and changed the name to Dyrrachium which gave later the name of Durrazzo in Italian, Durrës in Albanian and Drač in Croat. For the Romans, Dyrrachium was highly strategic: it was the cross road between the marine route from Brindidi and the inland route that led to Thessaloniki and Byzance, the Via Egnatia. The city kept its strategic importance along the centuries. It explains why it is very difficult to dig for ancient buildings: the ancient city is underneath the modern town. Durrësi is 33 km from the capital, Tirana. It is the first harbor and the second most important city in the country. It has now more than 200,000 inhabitants.
The Venetian Tower was built in the 15th century on top of a Byzantine tower. It is 9 m high with a diameter of 16 m. The tower got its name from the fact that Durres was part of the Venetian Republic during the 15th century and they rebuilt fortifications around the town after a devastating earthquake in 1273. This tower is the only remaining tower but parts of the walls remain. The original walls were built by Emperor Anastasis (reign 491 – 518).
The fantastically named King Zog, a name often used in Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketches, was the improbable ruler of the first Albanian nation. He was actually an elected president, and shunned by the European royalty for his lack of blue blood, but the local population was still living under the same feudal serfdom that they had since Ottoman times, and eventually crowned him as king, as the concept of president was still alien to them.
Despite his legendary name, his performance was a bit of a mixed bag. He weeded out the last remnants of serfdom in the country. He instigated modern reforms, like banning the veil. He tried his best at diplomacy, but the poverty of the country, and the expansionist intentions of nearby Italy made this almost impossible, and he slowly let the country drift into Mussolini’s sphere of influence.
He was also a bit of a jet setter, with his cocked military cap hinting at the waggish lifestyle he led. He reputedly spent as much as 2% of the Albanian budget on his lavish lifestyle. He was often seen in the theatres and clubs of Europe, living the high life. This was something he couldn’t do in Albania, due to the lack of any high life at all.
It’s quite possible he drank and partied in order to forget the troubles of politics. In his relatively short reign as king, he was reportedly subject to 55 assassination attempts, and was under threat of over 600 blood feuds, for his many breaches of Albania’s ancient law, the Kanun. He finished his life in exile in France, after unsuccessfully attempting to bribe the US government into letting him bring his entire court to the country.
His residence in Durres, a white and pink palace on the hills overlooking the harbour, is one of the main sights in the city. It’s not possible to visit now, as it is occupied by the military, but you can walk up there and the views are great. It’s also on the way to the lighthouse which has even better views. The pearl white Madhe Mosque (Xhamia e Madhe) sits overlooking the shady town square, where the sensible old folk of the city take refuge from the burning midday mediterranean sun. Its pristine condition can be attributed to the fact that it is practically brand new. It was built in 1993 with Egyptian money after the previous one had been destroyed in the 1979 earthquake.
Sitting in the centre of the city it makes for a good navigation marker, not that you’re likely to get lost in Durres. The only difficulty to navigating Durres is finding anything, as little is signposted. Once you have been somewhere, it’s easy to find your way back.
Muju Ulqinaku (born 1896, dead 1939) was one of the first fighters of the resistance against the Italian fascist invasion on April 7, 1939. He held the rank of petty officer in the navy unit of Durres.
The memorial stands close to the Venetian Tower.
Fathi Djami (Mosque of the Conqueror) was built in 1502 as a hommage to sultan Mehmet II. It was built in a place where was a Byzantine church. In 1979, it was damaged by an earthquake while it was no longer in use. It has now been repaired and is in excellent condition.
Tirana is the capital and the largest city of Albania. Although a new and modern capital city the origins of Tirana as an inhabited centre are quite old with several theories and myths associating its current name with ancient versions. One version is that it’s name derives from the word ‘Theranda’ that Greek and Latin sources employ to refer to the area, after the term ‘te ranat’ used by the inhabitants, meaning ‘fallen material’, in reference to the composition of the terrain out of hard earth swept down by water from the nearby mountains. Another theory is that it comes from the word ‘Tirkan’, the name used by the sixth century Byzantine historian Prokop to refer to a castle, first built in the first century BC, on Mount Dajti, and the ruins of which are extant. Some say it comes from ‘tyros’, the old Greek word for ‘dairy’, on the hypothesis that it was in the field there that the shepherds of surrounding areas gathered to trade dairy products.Whatever the case the name Tirana has been used in the present form from at least beginning of the 15th century as mentioned in a Venetian document of 1418. Records of the first land registrations under the Ottomans in 1431-32 reveal that Tirana then consisted of 60 inhabited areas, with nearly 1000 houses and 7300 inhabitants. A century later in 1583 the population had tripled reaching 20 000 inhabitants Modern Tirana was founded in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini ‘Pasha’, a local ruler from Mullet who constructed a mosque, a bakery and a hamam (Turkish sauna).
The city began to grow at the beginning of the 18 century, but it remained an unimportant town until it was proclaimed Albania’s capital in 1920. This was mainly due to its geographical position more or less in the middle of the country, on the fault-line between the northern Ghegs and the southern Tosks. It wasn’t until the late 1920 when Italian influence became quite strong, that the centre of the city took the appearance of a capital city.Well known architects of the Mussolini period in Italy Florestano de Fausto and Armando Brasini, where the masterminds which build the main square, which today bears the name of Albanian National Hero Scanderbeg, the huge boulevard, ministry buildings, national bank, the town hall and the Palace of Brigades (former royal Palace, today Presidential Palace). Today Tirana is the centre of the political, economical, and cultural life of the country with over 700 000 inhabitants. In the last few years Tirana has seen substantial changes in its appearance. The dull communist-style apartment blocks have been painted over in bright colors and abstract patterns by an artist turned Mayer. This is not only a quick fix but also an uplifting experience for inhabitants and visitors alike. Furthermore it has seen an increased development in modern infrastructure contributing to the city’s metropolitan look.
The Archaeological Museum on the waterfront is well laid out and has an impressive collection of artefacts from the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman periods. Highlights include engraved Roman funeral stelae (memorial stones) and some big carved stone sarcophagi. Back in the day when the city was called Epidamnos, Durrës was a centre for the worship of Venus, and the museum has a cabinet bursting with little busts of the love goddess.
Gourmet Restaurant Tirane
The restaurant is placed in street “Jul Varibova”, No. 14, next to Tirana Luna Park. The restaurant is divided in five different ambiences; two of them are used as coffee places and three restaurant places. You can enjoy your coffee in our garden with fresh air or can have a whisky with your friends at the luxury comfortable inside bar. You can also enjoy a glass of chardonnay while the woods burn on our fireplace on the winter cold nights. The restaurant offers an extra fragile service as it shows its own name. Gourmet is a part of Haute Coussine and it offers a very high quality cook service. As a start you can chose the place you like to have your dinner, than make a walk to look at our open kitchen, the way our master cook and than the art in your plate…the delicate fragrance
It skillfully synthesizes the tradition of Italian Mediterran culinary, with tipycal Mediterran and fresh products taken from the Adriatic Sea, accompanied with high-class wine and selected music. Plates are prepares with love and taste by Chef Eri. Very hospitable staff-carefulfor every detail. Fully on the clients disposal with the biggest attention, which will make your stay even more pleasant.
Behind the national museum, this restaurant consistently gets rave reviews from visitors who enjoy the formal service, the stylish interior and the fine Italian cuisine. The fish is the speciality here, and it’s cooked to perfection, while the wine list has some excellent local vintages.