22 Feb,2020 By Jagabond
Tirana is interesting. In this case, interesting doesn’t mean good or bad…it just means ‘makes you think.’ Albania for many decades was one of the most closed countries in Europe. Communism ruled and human rights took a back seat. Tirana won’t wow you with beauty, or food, or history, or nightlife, or most of the other things you visit Europe for.
It still interests me, but why?
In fact, Tirana is one of those cities that got more interesting after my trip. Relative to other destinations, Tirana does a very poor job explaining sights to tourists (i.e, no signs or descriptions). There was also not much WiFi around, so I couldn’t Google anything until afterwards. Once I did, I liked the city more. That’s the main tip of traveling to Tirana…do your research first on the sights and don’t rely on a random walk around, or get a guided tour.
The square gets its name from an Albanian hero who resisted the Ottomans back in the 15th century. It captures many aspects of Tirana, including the mountains in the distance, the colorful buildings, the amazing Albanian flag (one of my favorites in Europe), and the spire of a local mosque.
The national historical museum has this amazing mural, which proudly shows a female protagonist leading a resistance. It depicts how Albanians for thousands of years had to defend their country from invaders. Throughout history, fighting back became a part of Albanian culture.
This is an incredible thing, because I think it could be so much more. This “pyramid” is a symbol of everything that went wrong with communism. It could’ve been a great art exhibit, or cafe with live music, but instead it’s an abandoned place where men take their girlfriends to share a kiss at the top (if you look close I got a couple in this shot). Recently, it’s been converted into a digital learning center, and I hope that the future of the “pyramid” is bright!
In 1997 Tirana had the threat of civil war, resulting in a rebellion where thousands were killed. Bullet casings from this conflict were constructed into a “peace bell” monument that stands in remembrance of those lost.
Do you have a heart? I’m a fan of street art in Europe, and I totally loved this piece that I found while wandering around Tirana. I think it depicts the beauty and responsibility of holding someone’s heart in your hands.
Years ago I lived with a graffiti artist, though he never had this much influence. In Tirana, graffiti advertises frustrations, future parties and wisdom. This picture says it all.
Is this a castle or just a wall? My friend and I spent hours looking for the castle of Tirana, only to find this. The Fortress of Justinian dates back to the 14th century, though there isn’t much left.
Some things are the same from city to city, like the relationship between human and dog. This black and white picture captures that and stands on its own. The stray dog problem in Tirana reminded me of rural Italy.
I loved the arms branching out into trees, but never knew the untold story of the hero. Fan Noli fought corruption in Albania. His homeland later exiled him, and he ended up in the United States. Would it hurt to have a placard next to the statue talking more about this? Like I said, the statue became more interesting once I looked it up.
The Resurrection Cathedral looks different from other European churches, likely because it only opened its doors in 2012. The communists abolished the Albanian Orthodox Church in 1967, declaring Albania an atheist state. Decades later saw religious freedom restored. Things mean more when they’ve been taken from you.
There aren’t a lot of great and cost effective travel options. The best, in my opinion, is flying from Italy as Alitalia has routine flights here. While in Tirana, you should also consider renting a car and visiting Macedonia and Kosovo. Though be mindful and don’t get stuck on a mountain like my friend and I did on our way back to the Tirana airport.
Tirana has appeared on many ‘must see’ travel lists lately, so there are lots of opinions out there. I have linked to a few below, as I feel that more information is better when it comes to choosing a travel destination.