Introduction

Albania is in southeastern Europe, bordered by Greece to the southeast, Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, and Macedonia to the east. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and on the Ionian Sea to the southwest. It is less than 45 miles from Italy.

Albania's vast cultural heritage ranges from the Greek, Roman, Serbian, Venetian and Ottoman empires. Archaeologists today are finding remains from all periods, from the Stone Age to the early Christian era.

Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so small an area, with its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate.

People

After 1990, the population of Albania has faced a new phenomena of migration that greatly affected the distribution by districts and prefectures. Albania's population is estimated in July 2009 at 3,639,453 with an annual growth rate of 0.546%.

Albania is a largely ethnically homogeneous country with only small minorities. The largest majority of the population is Albanian (98.6%). Minorities include Greeks 1.17% and others 0.23% (Vlachs, Macedonians, Roma, Bulgarians, Balkan Egyptians and Serbs).

The dominant language is Albanian, with two main dialects, Gheg and Tosk. Many Albanians are also fluent in English, Italian, Greek, or German.

Geography

Albania has a total area of 11,100 square miles. Its coastline is 224 miles long along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea. Seventy percent of the country is rugged and mountainous and thus often inaccessible from the outside. The highest mountain is Korab situated in the district of Dibra. It has a continental climate at its high altitude regions with cold winters and hot summers. The three largest and deepest tectonic lakes of the Balkan Peninsula are partly located in Albania. Over a third of Albania is forested and very rich in flora.

History

Archaeology shows that Albania has been populated since the Paleolithic Age. The earliest settlements were discovered in the Gajtan cavern (Shkodra), in Konispol, at Mount Dajti, and at Saranda.

Albania was occupied by the Romans in 165 BC. When the Roman Empire divided into east and west in 395, Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire until the 14th century.

In the latter part of the Middle Ages, foreign commerce flourished such that Albanian merchants had agencies in Venice, Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, Croatia), and Thessaloniki (Greece).

In the mid-15th century, Albania became a symbol of resistance to the Ottoman Turks, but suffered an almost continuous state of warfare. After 500 years of Ottoman domination, an independent Albania was proclaimed on November 28, 1912.

Albania was one of the European countries occupied by the Axis powers that ended World War II with a larger Jewish population than before the War.

Famous Attractions

Albanian Alps have a size of roughly 864 square miles and lie in the prefectures of Shkodra and Tropoja. Thirteen peaks exceed 8,200 feet in height. Albania's principal rivers are the Valbona, Shala, Cemi and Kiri. There is a great diversity of fauna and flora, particularly in the Theth National Park. Major centers of Alpine tourism are Boga, Theth, Vermosh and Valbona.

The mountains create some amazing features such as the Canyon of Osum River and valleys like Valbona in the Albanian Alps. They offer great opportunities to practice trekking, skiing, climbing, etc.

Lake Ohrid near the city Pogradec is the most important for swimming and bathing in the inner part of Albania. There are several tourist areas around the lakeshore such as Lin, Drilon and Tushemisht.

Prespa Lakes are two tectonic lakes situated in the quiet and beautiful landscape of Balkan Prespa Park.

Shkodra Lake near the city of Shkodra is the largest in the Balkans at 25 miles long with surface between 140 - 200 square miles. It is one of the largest bird reserves in Europe, having some 240 bird species inhabiting its shores, including some of the last pelicans in Europe, and thus is popular with birders.

Lura Lakes are a complex of seven carstic lakes in the mountain region of Kunora Lures in the Dibra Region. They occupy glacial cirques at heights of between 3,900 - 4,900 feet. Exotic in nature with cool, pristine waters, they are surrounded by old beech and pine forests.

Nightlife

Besides the capital city of Tirana, which has 800,000 inhabitants, the principal cities are Durres, Elbasan, Shkoder, Gjirokaster, Vlore, Korce and Kukes.

If you are looking for a nightclub that is open late, you won't be disappointed in Tirana. Live music is often available on weekends. Outside of the capital city, however, nightclubs are less available. You will find that music and dancing will be available in the summer at major hotels.

Most of the large towns have a local cinema that is part of the chain called Millennium. These are usually playing Hollywood movies in their original language with Albanian subtitles.

Tirana is perhaps best known for its excellent choices of classical music such as opera, ballet, and concerts.

Culture

Albanian folk music falls into three sylistic groups, with other important music areas around Shkoder and Tirana; the major groupings are the Ghegs of the north and the southern Labs and Tosks.

The Albanian language comprises its own branch of the Indo-European language family. Cultural resistance was first expressed through the elaboration of Albanian for church texts and publications. The Protestant reforms invigorated the development of the local language and literary tradition.

Meshari (The Missal) by Gjon Buzuku, published in 1555, is considered as the first literary work of written Albanian. Albanian writings of those centuries included historical chronicles, too.

Cuisine

Like most Mediterranean and Balkan nations, Albanian cuisine is strongly influenced by its long history. At different times, Albania was occupied by Greece, Italy and the Ottoman Turks, and each group left its mark on Albanian cuisine.

The main meal of the Albanians is lunch, and it is usually accompanied by a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and olives with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Lunch also includes a main dish of vegetables and meat.

Seafood specialties are also common in the coastal areas of Durres, Vlore and Sarande. It has long been Albanian tradition that the coordinator of a social gathering, also known as Papi Muejer, purchases the first round at a local bar for all those in attendance.

Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian dinners. These stews are easy to make and flexible with ingredients including potatoes, onion, rice, etc.