Today was our first full day of the trip. After breakfast today began the Tirana city tour. Tirana is the capital and largest city of Albania (1 million pop.). The city has gone through a tremendous redevelopment in the last decade following suppression under a strict communist regime. Today it is made up of streets of tightly packed small shops and restaurants. Still, there are many parts of the city needing redevelopment.
Albania is largely Muslim (60%) followed by Orthodox, then Catholic. One of our first visits was the Et’hem Bey Mosque. In 1991, 10,000 surrounded the mosque in defiance of the communist regime. . This was the beginning of the fall of communism in Albania. Under communist rule all religions had to go underground. There is a history of the religions living in harmony. The mosque is located on the main square. The interior is covered with frescos which is rarely seen in mosques. It is small so a much larger one is being constructed
Next we visited the National Historical Museum which had an incredible mosaic on the facade which recounted Albanian history. This was called Illyrium, which is mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. It was conquered by Ottoman Empire in the 15th century despite the heroic leadership of Albanian hero Skanderbeg. Their independence from the Ottomans came in 1912, followed be a monarchy until the communists came following WWII. The Socialists followed the Communists until it became democratic in 1990. We were even more interested in the religious pieces representing its Christian history.
In the afternoon we went to the mountain city of Kruje, named after the water springs. This was the hometown of Albanian hero Skanderbeg, who had resisted Ottoman occupation. Ruins of his castle mark his memory. There is a large bazaar which sells both inexpensive souvenirs next to antiques and textiles. We toured the Ethnographic Museum giving us a view of family life 250 years ago. Following the museum we had a typical dinner at a local restaurant with an incredible view.
The weather was stifling today. We decided to end the day by sharing the local beer.
Tomorrow we travel to Montenegro.
The end of our first full day… the Albanian version of Millertime.