Tirana tells stories: One day in the capital city of Albania

Mir禱dita! Hello as they say in English! So you arrived in Tirana safe and sound and wondering what one must visit here in the city. Probably you are very curious to know what this city has to offer!

This selection of things to do and see in Tirana rounds up some of most diverse and inspiring places of the city providing insights into how this city is different and exceptional from the other European capitals. The capital city of Albania, the Rock Garden of Southeastern Europe as the country was once called by one of his prominent intellectual of the beginning of the last century, invites us to this journey through the city.

How does the Scanderbeg Square with its small mosque look like? Or how a bunker was turned into a museum of art to remind us the totalitarian regime? Take a walk by the pyramid and continue all the way to the boulevard. We went to these places accross Tirana and found inspirations that will enchant you.

The locations could hardly be more diverse nor could be the views. They show how the city lived in the past and how vibrant is today aspiring to be a western capital through its many restaurants and coffee places with an unique architectural mix of different styles. This selection exhibits the effects of an aesthetic evolution. It also shows the pace of modernity the city and its inhabitants are trying to catch.

If you are visiting the city, here are the things that you should not miss in Tirana:

  • Visit the Skanderbeg Square

The Skenderbeg Square is the main Square in Tirana, surrounded by a mix of Fascist Italian-style buildings, Soviet buildings, Ottoman mosques. The National Museum , the Opera building, the Ottoman time clock tower and the Et’hem beu Mosque are the main buildings on the square. The square is called after Gjergj Kastrioti, Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albanians. The Albanian nationalism is inspired by his existence. You can take a tour and visit each of them.

The National Historical Museum features a building of Soviet Aesthetic Architecture with in front a monumental mosaic inspired by socialist realism.  The work is supposed to reflect and promote the ideals of the socialist Albanian society representing their aspirations to Independence and Identity.

  • Visit the Bunkart

In a walking distance from the Skenderbeu Square is Bunkart (a literary device in which the words “bunker” and “art” are joined together). During the Communism it served as a Nuclear Shelter for the Minister of Interior. Today the bunker serves as a museum of memories with an inscription of Primo Levi, the Jewish holocaust survivor, written at the entrance of the excellent artistic installation : “All those that forget their past are condemned to relive it”. The Bunkart alerts us to the warning signs with its many objects, relicts of remembrance, photos of people that were prosecuted and documentaries evidencing the horrors of Communist era. The Passage 2 (the Shelter had 4 corridors) confronts you with the bitterness, sadness, fear, strange emotions when reading the texts and watching the pictures relating to the activities of the communist secret police “Sigurimi” with its “36 ways of torture” used during the investigative stages against the “enemies of the people”. It teaches us that we are the ones who “create the monsters, applaud them, follow them, put them on a piedestal and afterwards the monsters feel so powerful that they don’t want to leave us anymore”. It is interesting to note that the museum was full of foreign tourists and, at the time of my two-hours visit, no Albanian visitors could be seen. Are the Albanians still afraid of the spectres of the past!? Are they not ready to confront the remembrance of the time?. These inner questions arose during my visit.

A must see: entrance fee around 3.70 Euro per person.

  • Castle of Tirana

The Castle of Tirana is an old castle since the Byzantine times. It is located not far from the Skenderbegs square. Inside the walls of the castle are few modern restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. It is a convenient place to go for a walk and enjoy a cup of coffee, ice cream, or the delicious dishes in the restaurants there. It is a very popular place for locals to hang out there too. In case you would like to buy a souvenir, something Authentic Albanian, in the Castle of Tirana you will find the best gift.

  • Take a walk by the Pyramid

The Pyramid of Tirana planted in the centre of Tirana is an emblematic building-museum, a city landmark, that the communist dictator erected to his glory. After the fall of the regime, it closed to later house a base of the NATO, a nightclub and TV studios, reflecting somehow the cultural changes of a society in permanent search for itself, for money, for aesthetics. Although not very beatiful to many tastes, it is a top attraction for tourists who, together with city teenagers and lovers killing their time there, experience the climbing. It failed to be demolished by previous city authorities but saved by the inhabitants. It will experience a renaissance by becoming an information technology center in the Albanian capital that changes all the time.

To be visited before it gets architecturally transformed by a Dutch Architecture Company.

A Beautiful Escape to the Cape of Rodoni

If you are visiting Tirana, the capital of Albania, you must also visit the Cape of Rodoni especially during the summer. Why? Because the Cape of Rodoni is only one and a half hours drive by car north from Tirana. You can also easily travel north from Durres to the Cape of Rodoni. Not only is it an historical location but it has some of the most beautiful beaches in Albania that you and your family will enjoy.

My family and I visited the Cape of Rodoni for the first time last summer. We were so impressed by the beautiful scenery on our way from Lalzi Bay through the villages to the Cape of Rodoni.  From the top of the mountains you can see down to the Adriatic Sea with its almost deserted beaches, a few fishermen sailing their boats, here and there some cows, sheep and goats, so authentic and natural. One thinks that time has stopped at some point of history on an undefined piece of Earth.

There are two famous beaches there, Rera e Bardhe beach and also the beach near the so called Skenderbegs church administered by the Franciscan Order. Both of the beaches are really beautiful. The kids love to swim at the Rera e Bardhe beach, and you can also enjoy a very delicious lunch at the small improvised restaurant of Gezim who welcomes you with a hearty smile, so typical of Albanian hospitality.

Rera e bardhe beach

Probably you have already heard of the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, also known as Skenderbeg. He resisted the Ottomans for many years in the 15th century.  After his death, Albania succumbed to Ottoman domination. The Albanian nationalism is based on his existence.  St. Anthonys church, also called by the villagers as Skanderbegs Church, can be found on the Cape of Rodoni. 

St. Anthony church

The residents of the villages nearby say that Skenderbeg got married in this church with his wife Donika. The church became a cultural monument in 1963 and serves as a shrine of pilgrimage every year on the eve of St. Anthony’s celebration. Those who believe in the miraculous intercession of St. Anthony may attend the prayers on the eve of June 12th.

The Cape of Rodon also boasts the Rodon Castle built by Skanderbeg, destroyed by the Ottomans to then be rebuilt by the Republic of Venice.  Only sparse remnants of the structure with melancholy remain to this day trying to resist the eternal and unstoppable sea waves.

A small entrance fee is to be paid. At the beach you can enjoy the very authentic food of a small restaurant and as a souvenir you can buy their homemade liquor made by the peasants who were taught the craft by an Italian catholic priest of the parish. 

The Cape of Rodoni has not been a very frequent destination until this day. It seems to have become such recently. It is our favourite family destination. It is not far from Tirana and when travelling there, we feel as though we are making a great escape to rebel against the capital in an attempt to find true Albania, in search of lost time.

Thank you for reading my blog!

Much love,

Arta