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A-Z Around the World: Albania


Good Morning Everyone!

Today we are going to start a new series called A-Z Around the World. Each week (Wednesday's) there will be a new country from the next letter of the alphabet. I just chose a random country and there is no reason behind any of the choices. Fair warning these posts will be really long as I will be going in-depth with the history, culture and cuisine of each country. If you think I am missing anything or if you see mistakes please let me know :)

Today we will start with Albania!

Albania is a country in Southeast Europe on the Adriatic and Ionian Sea within the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east, Greece to the south and a maritime border with Italy to the west.

Geographically,the country displays varied climatic,geological, hydro-logical and morphological conditions, defined in an area of 28,748 km2 (11,100 sq mi). It possesses remarkable diversity with the landscape ranging from the snow-capped mountains in the Albanian Alps as well as the Korab, Skanderbeg, Pindus and Ceraunian Mountains to the hot and sunny coasts of the Albanian Adriatic and Ionian Sea along the Mediterranean Sea.

Historically, the area of Albania was populated by various Illyrian, Thracian and Ancient Greek tribes as well as several Greek colonies established in the Illyrian coast. The area was annexed in the 3rd century by Romans and became an integral part of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia, Macedonia and Illyricum. The autonomous Principality of Arbër emerged in 1190, established by Archon Progonin the Krujë, within the Byzantine Empire. In the late thirteenth century, Charles of Anjou conquered Albanian territories from the Byzantines and established the medieval Kingdom of Albania, which at its maximal extension was extending from Durrës along the coast to Butrint in the south. In the mid-fifteenth century, it was conquered by the Ottomans.

The modern nation state of Albania emerged in 1912 following the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars. The modern Kingdom of Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939, which formed Greater Albania, before becoming a Nazi German protectorate in 1943. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, a Communist state titled the People's Socialist Republic of Albania was founded under the leadership of Enver Hoxha and the Party of Labour. The country experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the fourth Republic of Albania was established.

Politically, the country is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic and developing country with an upper-middle income economy dominated by the tertiary sector followed by the secondary and primary sector. It went through a process of transition, following the end of communism in 1990, from a centralized to a market-based economy. It also provides universal health care and free primary and secondary education to its citizens.

The country is a member of the United Nations, World Bank, UNESCO, NATO, WTO, COE, OSCE and OIC. It is also an official candidate for membership in the European Union. In addition it is one of the founding members of the Energy Community, including the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and Union for the Mediterranean.

Etymology

The term Albania is the medieval Latin name of the country. It may be derived from the Illyrian tribe of Albani recorded by Ptolemy, the geographer and astronomer from Alexandria, who drafted a map in 150 AD, which shows the city of Albanopolis located northeast of the city of Durrës. The term may have a continuation in the name of a medieval settlement called Albanon or Arbanon, although it is not certain that this was the same place. In his history written in the 10th century, the Byzantine historian Michael Attaliates was the first to refer to Albanoi as having taken part in a revolt against Constantinople in 1043 and to the Arbanitai as subjects of the Duke of Dyrrachium. During the Middle Ages, the Albanians called their country Arbëri or Arbëni and referred to themselves as Arbëreshë or Arbëneshë.

Nowadays, Albanians call their country Shqipëri or Shqipëria. As early as the 17th century the place name Shqipëria and the ethnic demonym Shqiptarë gradually replaced Arbëria and Arbëresh. The two terms are popularly interpreted as "Land of the Eagles" and "Children of the Eagles".

History

Early history

Apollonia was an important Greek colony on the Illyrian coast along the Adriatic Sea and one of the western points of the Via Egnatia route, that connected Rome and Constantinople.

The first traces of human presence in Albania, dating to the Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic eras, were found in the village of Xarrë close to Sarandë and Dajti near Tiranë. The objects found in a cave near Xarrë include flint and jasper objects and fossilized animal bones, while those found at Mount Dajt comprise bone and stone tools similar to those of the Aurignacian culture. The Paleolithic finds of Albania show great similarities with objects of the same era found at Crvena Stijena in Montenegro and north-western Greece.

Several Bronze Age artifacts from tumulus burials have been unearthed in central and southern Albania that show close connection with sites in south-western Macedonia and Lefkada, Greece. Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that these regions were inhabited from the middle of the third millennium BC by Indo-European people who spoke a Proto-Greek language. A part of this population later moved to Mycenae around 1600 BC and founded the Mycenaean civilisation there.

In ancient times, the territory of modern Albania was mainly inhabited by a number of Illyrian tribes. The Illyrian tribes never collectively regarded themselves as 'Illyrians', and it is unlikely that they used any collective nomenclature for themselves. The name Illyrians seems to be the name applied to a specific Illyrian tribe, which was the first to come in contact with the ancient Greeks during the Bronze Age, causing the name Illyrians to be applied to all people of similar language and customs.

The remains of the Roman amphitheater in Butrint.

The territory known as Illyria corresponded roughly to the area east of the Adriatic sea, extending in the south to the mouth of the Vjosëriver. The first account of the Illyrian groups comes from Periplus of the Euxine Sea, an ancient Greek text written in the middle of the 4th century BC. The south was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians, whose capital was at Phoenice, while numerous colonies, such as Apollonia, Epidamnos and Amantia, were established by Greek city-states on the coast by the 7th century BC. The west was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Bryges.

The Illyrian tribe of the Ardiaei centered in Montenegro ruled over much of nowadays Albania. The Ardiaean Kingdom reached its greatest extent under Agron, son of Pleuratus II. Agron extended his rule over other neighboring tribes as well. After Agron's death in 230 BC, his wife Teuta inherited the Ardiaean kingdom. Teuta's forces extended their operations further southward into the Ionian Sea. In 229 BC, Rome declared war on the kingdom for extensively plundering Roman ships. The war ended in Illyrian defeat in 227 BC. Teuta was eventually succeeded by Gentius in 181 BC. Gentius clashed with the Romans in 168 BC, initiating the Third Illyrian War. The conflict resulted in Roman conquest of the region by 167 BC. After that the Roman split the region into three administrative divisions.

Middle Ages

The city of Krujë was the royal seat of the Principality of Arbanon.

After the Roman Empire was divided into East and West in the 4th century, the territory of Albania remained within the Eastern Roman Empire. In the centuries that followed, the Balkan Peninsula suffered from the Barbarian invasions. The Illyrians are mentioned for the last time in a text from the 7th century. Towards the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries, Serbs and Venetians started to take possession over the territory.

The ethnogenesis of the Albanians is uncertain however the first undisputed mention of Albanians dates back in historical records from 1079 or 1080 in a work by Michael Attaliates, who referred to the Albanoi as having taken part in a revolt against Constantinople. At this point the Albanians were fully christianized.

A relief of the Scuola degli Albanesi commemorating the Siege of Shkodra. It illustrates Sultan Mehmet II laying siege to the Albanian town of Scutari then part of Venetian Empire.

The first semi-autonomous Albanian polity was formed in 1190, when archon Progon of Krujaestablished the Principality of Arbanon with the capital in Krujë within the Byzantine Empire. Progon, was succeeded by his sons Gjin and Dhimitri, the latter which attained the height of the realm. Following the death of Dhimiter, the last member of the Progon family, the principality came under the Albanian-Greek Gregory Kamonas and later Golem of Kruja. In the 13th century, the principality was dissolved. Arbanon is considered to be the first sketch of an Albanian state, that retained a semi-autonomous status as the western extremity of the Byzantine Empire, under the Byzantine Doukai of Epirus or Laskarids of Nicaea.

A few years after the dissolution of Arbanon, Charles of Anjou concluded an agreement with the Albanian rulers, promising to protect them and their ancient liberties. In 1272, he established the Kingdom of Albania and conquered regions back from the Despotate of Epirus. The kingdom claimed all of central Albania territory from Dyrrhachium along the Adriatic Sea coast down to Butrint. A catholic political structure was a basis for the papal plans of spreading Catholicism in the Balkan Peninsula. This plan found also the support of Helen of Anjou, a cousin of Charles of Anjou, who was at that time ruling territories in North Albania. Around 30 Catholic churches and monasteries were built during her rule mainly in Northern Albania. Internal power struggles within the Byzantine Empire in the fourteenth century, enabled Serbs' most powerful medieval ruler, Stefan Dusan, to establish a short-lived empire that included all of Albania except Durrës. In 1367, various Albanian rulers established the Despotate of Arta. During that time, several Albanian principalities were created, most notable amongst them the Balsha, Thopia, Kastrioti, Muzaka and Arianiti. In the first half of the 14th century, the Ottoman Empire invaded most of Albania and the League of Lezhë was held under Skanderbeg as a ruler, who became the national hero of the Albanian medieval history.

Albania under the Ottoman Empire

After serving the Ottoman Empire for nearly 20 years, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg deserted and began a rebellion against the empire that halted Ottoman advance into Europe for 25 years.

The Ottoman invasion of the territory of Albania marked a new era in its history and introduced enormous changes in the political and cultural environment of the area.

The Ottomans erected their garrisons across the south of Albania in 1415 and occupied the majority in 1431 although they reached Albanian coast for first time at 1385. Upon their arrival, Islam was introduced in the country as a second religion resulting a massive emigration of Christian Albanians to other Christian European countries such as the Arbëreshë to Italy while Muslim Albanians gradually settled to Turkey and other part of the Ottoman Empire such as Algeria, Egypt and Iraq.

In 1443, a great and longstanding revolt broke out under the lead of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg that lasted until 1479, many times defeating major Ottoman armies led by Murad II and Mehmed II. Skanderbeg united initially the princes of Albania and later on established a centralized authority over most of the non-conquered territories becoming the ruling Lord of Albania.

Skanderbeg pursued relentlessly but rather unsuccessfully to create a European coalition against the Ottomans. He thwarted every attempt by the Ottomans to regain Albania which they envisioned as a springboard for the invasion of Italy and Western Europe. His unequal fight against the mightiest power of the time, won the esteem of Europe as well as some financial and military aid from Naples, Venice, Sicily and the Papacy.[55]

Ali Pasha of Tepelena was one of the most powerful autonomous Muslim Albanian rulers reigning over Janinaand even attempted to rival the Dey of Algiers in the seas.

When the Ottomans were gaining a firm foothold in the region, Albanian towns were organised into four principal sanjaks. The government fostered trade by settling a sizable Jewish colony of refugees fleeing persecution in Spain. The city of Vlorë saw passing through its ports imported merchandise from Europe such as velvet's, cotton goods, mohair's, carpets, spices and leather from Bursa and Constantinople. Some citizens of Vlorë even had business associates throughout Europe.

As Muslims, some Albanians attained important political and military positions within the empire and culturally contributed to the wider Muslim world. Enjoying this privileged position, Muslim Albanians held various high administrative positions with over two dozen Albanian Grand Viziersamong others Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed and Muhammad Ali Pasha.

The most significant impact on the Albanians was the gradual Islamisation process of a large majority of the population, although it became widespread only in the 17th century. The process was an incremental one, commencing from the arrival of the Ottomans. Timar holders, the bedrock of early Ottoman control in Southeast Europe, were not necessarily converts to Islam, and occasionally rebelled, with the most famous of these being Skanderbeg.

Mainly Catholic Albanians converted in the 17th century, while the Orthodox Albanians followed suit mainly in the following century. Initially confined to the main city centres of Elbasan and Shkodër, by this period the countryside was also embracing the new religion. The motives for conversion according to some scholars were diverse, depending on the context. The lack of source material does not help when investigating such issues.

National Renaissance

The origins of the Albanian Renaissance can be traced back to around the 19th century that was a very difficult period for Albania. During the period, the modern culture of Albania flourished especially in literature and art as well inspired by romanticism and enlightenment.

The victory of Russia over the Ottoman Empire following the Russian-Ottoman War resulted the execution of the Treaty of San Stefano that overlooked to assign Albanian-populated regions to the Slavic neighbors. The United Kingdom as well as Austria-Hungary consequently, blocked the arrangement and caused the Treaty of Berlin. At this point, Albanians started to organize themselves with the aim to protect and unite the Albanian-populated regions into a unitary nation. This led to the formation of the League of Prizren in the old town of Prizren.

The Albanian-Romanianfeminist, Dora d'Istria, was the main advocate in Europe for the Albanian cause. At first the Ottoman authorities supported the League, whose initial position was based on the religious solidarity of Muslim landlords and people connected with the Ottoman administration. The Ottomans favoured and protected the Muslim solidarity and called for defense of Muslim lands, including present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was the reason for naming the league The Committee of the Real Muslims.

The league issued a decree known as Kararname that contained a proclamation that the people from northern Albania, Epirus and Bosnia are willing to defend the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire by all possible means against the troops of the kingdoms of Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro. However, it was signed by 47 Muslim deputies of the league on 18 June 1878. Approximately 300 Muslims participated in the assembly, including delegates from Bosnia and mutasarrif of the Sanjak of Prizren as representatives of the central authorities and no delegates from Vilayet of Scutari. The Ottomans cancelled their support when the league, under the influence of Abdyl Bey Frashëri, became focused on working toward the Albanian autonomy and requested merging of four Ottoman vilayets, which included Kosovo, Scutari, Monastir and Ioannina into a new vilayet within the empire, the Albanian Vilayet. The league used military force to prevent the annexing areas of Plav and Gusinje assigned to Montenegro by the Congress of Berlin. After several successful battles with Montenegrin troops such as in Novsice, under the pressure of the great powers, the league was forced to retreat from their contested regions of Plav and Gusinje and later on, the league was defeated by the Ottoman army sent by the Sultan.

Independence

The independence of Albania from the Ottoman Empire was proclaimed on 28 November 1912 by Ismail Qemali in Vlorë. Immediately after, the leaders of the Assembly of Vlorë established the senate as well as the first government of the country on 4 December 1912 that consisted of only ten members.

The country's independence was recognized by the Conference of London on 29 July 1913. The treaty delineated the borders of the country and its neighbors leaving many ethnic Albanians outside Albania. This population was largely divided between Montenegro and Serbia in the north and east and Greece in the south.

Headquartered in Vlorë, the International Commission of Control was established on 15 October 1913 to take care of the administration of newly established Albania, until its own political institutions were in order. The International Gendarmerie was established as the first law enforcement agency of the Principality of Albania. In November, the first gendarmerie members arrived in the country. Prince of Albania Wilhelm of Wied (Princ Vilhelm Vidi) was selected as the first prince of the principality. On 7 March, he arrived in the provisional capital of Durrës and started to organise his government, appointing Turhan Pasha Përmeti to form the first Albanian cabinet.

In November 1913, the Albanian pro-Ottoman forces had offered the throne of Albania to the Ottoman war Minister of Albanian origin, Ahmed Izzet Pasha. The pro-Ottoman peasants believed that, the new regime of the Principality of Albania was a tool of the six Christian Great Powers and local landowners, that owned half of the arable land.

In February 1914, the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was proclaimed in Gjirokastër by the local Greek population against incorporation to Albania. This initiative was short lived and in 1921, the southern provinces were finally incorporated to the Albanian Principality. Meanwhile, the revolt of Albanian peasants against the new Albanian regime erupted under the leadership of the group of Muslim clerics gathered around Essad Pasha Toptani, who proclaimed himself the savior of Albania and Islam. In order to gain support of the Mirdita Catholic volunteers from the northern part of Albania, Prince Wied appointed their leader, Prênk Bibë Doda, to be the foreign minister of the Principality of Albania. In May and June 1914, the International Gendarmerie was joined by Isa Boletini and his men, mostly from Kosovo, and northern Mirdita Catholics, were defeated by the rebels who captured most of Central Albania by the end of August 1914.[78] The regime of Prince Wied collapsed and later he left the country on 3 September 1914.

First Republic

Following the end of the government of Fan Noli, the parliament adopted a new constitution and proclaimed the country as a parliamentary republic in which Zog I of Albania served as the head of state for a seven years term. Immediately after, Tirana was endorsed officially as the country's permanent capital.

The politics of Zogu was authoritarian and conservative with the primary aim of which was the maintenance of stability and order. He was forced to adopt a policy of cooperation with Italy where a pact had been signed between both countries, whereby Italy gained a monopoly on shipping and trade concessions. In 1928, the country was eventually replaced by another monarchy with a strong support by the fascist regime of Italy however, both maintained close relations until the Italian invasion of the country. Zogu remained a conservative but initiated reforms and placed great emphasis on the development of infrastructure.

In an attempt at social modernization, the custom of adding one's region to one's name was dropped. He also made donations of land to international organisations for the building of schools and hospitals. The armed forces were trained and supervised by instructors from Italy, as a counterweight, he kept British officers in the Gendarmerie despite strong Italian pressure to remove them.

During the Holocaust, predominantly Muslim Albanians saved almost 2000 Jews from deportation to the concentration camps during World War II.

After being militarily occupied by Italy from 1939 until 1943, the Kingdom of Albania was a protectorate and a dependency of the Kingdom of Italy governed by Victor Emmanuel III and his government. In October 1940, Albania served as a staging ground for an unsuccessful Italian invasion of Greece. A counterattack resulted in a sizable portion of southern Albania coming under Greek military control until April 1941 when Greece capitulated during the German invasion. In April 1941, territories of Yugoslavia with substantial Albanian population were annexed to Albania inclusively western Macedonia, a strip of eastern Montenegro, the town of Tutin in central Serbia and most of Kosovo.

Germans started to occupy the country in September 1943 subsequently announced that they would recognize the independence of a neutral Albania and set about organizing a new government, military and law enforcement. Balli Kombëtar, which had fought against Italy, formed a neutral government and side by side with the Germans fought against the communist-led National Liberation Movement of Albania.

During the last years of the war, the country fell into a civil war-like state between the communists and nationalists. The communist however defeated the last anti-communist forces in the south in 1944. Before the end of November, the main German troops had withdrawn from Tirana, and the communists took control by attacking it. The partisans entirely liberated the country from German occupation on 29 November 1944. A provisional government, which the communists had formed at Berat in October, administered Albania with Enver Hoxha as the head of government.

By the end of the Second World War, the main military and political force of the nation, the Communist party sent forces to northern Albania against the nationalists to eliminate its rivals. They faced open resistance in Nikaj-Mërtur, Dukagjin and Kelmend led by Prek Cali. On 15 January 1945, a clash took place between partisans of the first Brigade and nationalist forces at the Tamara Bridge, resulting in the defeat of the nationalist forces. About 150 Kelmendi people were killed or tortured. This event was the starting point of many other issues which took place during Enver Hoxha's dictatorship. Class struggle was strictly applied, human freedom and human rights were denied. The Kelmendi region was almost isolated by both the border and by a lack of roads for another 20 years, the institution of agricultural cooperatives brought about economic decline. Many Kelmendi people fled, some were executed trying to cross the border.

Communism

In the aftermath of World War II and the defeat of Nazi Germany, the country became initially a satellite state of the Soviet Union and Enver Hoxha emerged consequently as the leader of the newly established People's Republic of Albania. Soviet-Albanian relations began to deteriorate after Stalin's death in 1953. At this point, the country started to develop foreign relations with other communist countries among others with the People's Republic of China.

During this period, the country experienced an increasing industrialization and urbanization, a rapid collectivization and economic growth which led to a higher standard of living. The government called for the development of infrastructure and most notably the introduction of a railway system that completely revamped transportation.

The new land reform laws were passed granting ownership of the land to the workers and peasants who tilled it. Agriculture became cooperative and production increased significantly, leading to the country's becoming agriculturally self-sufficient. In the field of education, illiteracy was eliminated among the country's adult population. The government also oversaw the emancipation of women and the expansion of healthcare and education throughout the country.

The average annual increase in the country's national income was 29% and 56% higher than the world and European average, respectively. The nation incurred large debts initially with Yugoslavia until 1948, then the Soviet Union until 1961 and China from the middle of the 1950s. The constitution of the communist regime did not allow taxes on individuals, instead, taxes were imposed on cooperatives and other organizations, with much the same effect.

Today a secular state without any official religion, religious freedoms and practices were severely curtailed during the communist era with all forms of worship being outlawed. In 1945, the Agrarian Reform Law meant that large swaths of property owned by religious groups were nationalized, mostly the waqfs along with the estates of mosques, tekkes, monasteries and dioceses. Many believers, along with the many priests, were arrested and executed. In 1949, a new Decree on Religious Communities required that all their activities be sanctioned by the state alone.

After hundreds of mosques and dozens of Islamic libraries, containing priceless manuscripts were destroyed, Hoxha proclaimed Albania the world's first atheist state in 1967. The churches had not been spared either, and many were converted into cultural centers for young people. A 1967 law banned all fascist, religious, warmonger, anti-socialist activity and propaganda. Preaching religion carried a three to ten-year prison sentence.

Nonetheless, many Albanians continued to practice their beliefs secretly. The anti-religious policy of Hoxha attained its most fundamental legal and political expression a decade later: "The state recognizes no religion", states the 1976 constitution, "and supports and carries out atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people".

Fourth Republic

After forty years of communism and isolation as well as the revolutions of 1989, people and most notably students started to become politically active and consequently to campaign against the government that led to the transformation of the existing order. Following the popular support in the first multi-party elections of 1991, the communists retained a stronghold in the parliament until the victory in the general elections of 1992 led by the Democratic Party.

Considerable economic and financial resources have been devoted to the Ponzi pyramid schemes that were widely supported by the government. The schemes swept up somewhere between one sixth and one third of the population of the country. Despite the warnings of the International Monetary Fund, Sali Berisha defended the schemes as large investment firms, leading more people to redirect their remittances and sell their homes and cattle for cash to deposit in the schemes.

The schemes began to collapse in late 1996, leading many of the investors to join initially peaceful protests against the government, requesting their money back. The protests turned violent in February 1997 as government forces responded with fire. In March, the Police and Republican Guard deserted, leaving their armories open. These were promptly emptied by militias and criminal gangs. The resulting crisis caused a wave of evacuations of foreign nationals and refugees.

The crisis led both Aleksandër Meksi and Sali Berisha to resign from office in the wake of the general election. In April 1997, Operation Alba, a UN peacekeeping force led by Italy, entered the country with two goals exclusively to assist with the evacuation of expatriates and to secure the ground for international organizations. The main international organization, that was involved, was the Western European Union's multinational Albanian Police element, which worked with the government to restructure the judicial system and simultaneously the Albanian Police.

Contemporary

When the communist system collapsed in 1990, Albania rediscovered foreign policy after decades of isolationism and began to develop closer ties considerably with other countries of Western Europe and the United States. At this point, its top foreign policy ambition was achieving integration into modern economic and security organizations.

Previously a member of the Warsaw Pact, the newly established democratic country broadly pursued an integrationist agenda in becoming a member of the NATO. The organisation invited Albania and Croatia to join the alliance at the 2008 Bucharest summit. In April 2014, it became a full member of the organisation and was among the first Southeast European countries to join the partnership for peace program.

Albania applied to join the European Union, becoming an official candidate for accession to the European Union in June 2014. Although Albania received candidate status for the European Union membership in 2014 (based on its 2009 application), the European Union has twice rejected full membership. The European Parliament warned the Government leaders in early 2017 that the 2017 parliamentary elections in June must be free and fair before negotiations could begin to admit the country into the union.

On 23 June 2013, the eighth parliamentary elections took place, won by Edi Rama of the Socialist Party. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Albania has implemented numerous reforms focused on the modernizing the economy and democratizing of state institutions inclusively the judiciary and law enforcement of the country. Unemployment has been steadily reduced ranking 4th in terms of lowest unemployment rate in the Balkans. Rama has placed gender equality at the center of its agenda, since 2017 almost 50% of the ministers are female, making it the largest number of women serving in the country's history.

Geography

Albania is defined in an area of 28,748 square kilometres (11,100 square miles) and located on the Balkan Peninsula in South and Southeast Europe. Its coastline faces the Adriatic Sea to the northwest and the Ionian Sea to the southwest within the Mediterranean Sea.

The country lies mostly between latitudes 42° and 39° N, and longitudes 21° and 19° E. Its northernmost point is Vërmosh at 42° 35' 34" northern latitude; the southernmost is Konispol at 39° 40' 0" northern latitude; the westernmost point is Sazan Island at 19° 16' 50" eastern longitude; and the easternmost point is Vërnik at 21° 1' 26" eastern longitude. The highest point of the country is Mount Korab at 2,764 metres (9,068.24 ft) above the Adriatic. The lowest point is the Adriatic Sea at 0 metres (0.00 ft). The distance from the east to west is only 148 kilometres (92 mi), while from the north to south about 340 kilometres (211 mi).

Gjipe is located on the confluence of the Adriatic and Ionian Sea.

For a small country, much of Albania rises into mountains and hills that run in different directions across the length and breadth of the country. The most extensive mountain ranges are the Albanian Alps in the north, the Korab Mountains in the east, the Pindus Mountains in the southeast, the Ceraunian Mountains in the southwest and the Skanderbeg Mountains in the center.

One of the most remarkable features about the country is the presence of numerous important lakes. The Lake of Shkodër is the largest lake in Southern Europe and located in northwest. In the southeast rises the Lake of Ohrid that is one of the oldest continuously existing lakes in the world. Further south extend the Large and Small Lake of Prespa, which are among the highest positioned lakes in the Balkans.

Rivers originate mostly in the east of Albania and discharge into the Adriatic Sea in the west. The longest river in the country, measured from its mouth to its source, is probably the Drin that starts at the confluence of its two headwaters, the Black and White Drin. Though of particular concern is the Vjosë that represents one of the last intact large river systems in Europe.

Culture

The national flower of Albania is the red poppy and is found everywhere throughout the landscapes of the country.

Albania shares many symbols associated with its history, culture and belief. These include the colors red and black, animals such as the golden eagle living across the country, costumes such as the fustanella, plis and opinga which are worn to special events and celebrations, plants such as the olive and red poppy growing as well across the country.

The flag of Albania is a red flag with a black double-headed eagle in the centre. The red colour symbolizes the bravery, strength and valour of the Albanian people and the black colour appears as a symbol of freedom and heroism. The eagle has been used by Albanians since the Middle Ages including the establishment of the Principality of Arbër and by numerous noble ruling families such as the Kastrioti, Muzaka, Thopia and Dukagjini. Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, who fought and began a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire which halted Ottoman advance into Europe for nearly 25 years, placed the double-headed eagle on his flag and seal.

The country's national motto, Ti Shqipëri, më jep nder, më jep emrin Shqipëtar, finds its origins in the early 19th century. The first to express this motto was Naim Frashëri in his poem Ti Shqipëri më jep nder. This poem is notable as refers to the values and ambitions of the Albanian people to remain separate from and independent of, those neighboring countries around it, which have tried to dominate it.

The duart e kryqëzuara, also referred to as the eagle gesture, is a gesture performed particularly by the Albanian people around the world in order to visually illustrate the double-headed eagle, the symbol of Albania.

Cuisine

In the course of the centuries, Albanian cuisine has been widely influenced by the culture, geography and history of Albania and therefore different parts of the country have a specific regional cuisine. The cooking traditions vary especially between the north and the south owing to differing topography and climate that contribute to the excellent growth conditions for a wide array of herbs, fruits and vegetables.

Albanians produces and uses many varieties of fruits such as lemons, oranges, figs and most notably olives which are perhaps the most important element of Albanian cooking. Spices and other herbs such as basil, lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme are widely used, as are vegetables such as garlics, onions, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes as well as legumes of all types.

Roasted peppers served with Pite, a traditional and prominent layered Albanian pie.

While having a coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian Sea of the Mediterranean Sea, fish, crustaceans and seafood are a popular and an integral part of the Albanian diet. Otherwise lamb is the traditional meat for different holidays and religious festivals for both Christians and Muslims, and poultry, beef, and pork are also in plentiful supply.

Tavë Kosi is a national dish in Albania and consists of garlicky lamb and rice baked under a thick, tart veil of yogurt. Fërgesë is another national dish in the country and is made up with peppers, tomatoes and cottage cheese. Another beloved dish is Pite which is generally a filled and baked pastry with a filling of a mixture of spinach and gjizë or mish as it is known in Albania.

Bukë Misri is a staple on the Albanian table.

Petulla, a traditionally fried dough, is as well a popular specialty and is served with powdered sugar or feta cheese and different sorts of fruit jams. Also popular is Flia consisting of multiple crepe-like layers brushed with cream and served with sour cream. Krofne, similar to Berliner, are filled with jam, or chocolate and often eaten during the cold winter months.

Coffee is very much a part of the people's lifestyle in Albania. Different variations of coffee is best enjoyed within the family or friends but also outside at cafés or bars. A small country in size, Albania ranked first with the most coffee houses per capita in the world.

Tea is enjoyed both at home or outside at cafés, bars or restaurants. Çaj Mali is enormously beloved and is part of a daily routine for most of the Albanians. It is cultivated across Southern Albania and noted for its medicinal properties. Black tea with a slice of lemon and sugar, milk or honey is also a popular type of tea.

Wine drinking is popular throughout the Albanians. The country has a long and ancient history of wine production, as it belongs to the old world of wine producing countries. Its wine is characterized for its sweet taste and traditionally indigenous varieties.

 

Traveling Albania- Lonely Planet

Closed to outsiders for much of the 20th century, Albania has long been Mediterranean Europe's enigma. Until fairly recently its rumpled mountains, fortress towns and sparkling beaches were merely a rumor on most travel maps. But, with the end of a particularly brutal strain of communism in 1991, Albania tentatively swung open its gates. The first curious tourists to arrive discovered a land where ancient codes of conduct still held sway and where the wind whistled through the shattered remnants of half-forgotten ancient Greek and Roman sites. A quarter of a century after throwing off the shackles of communism, Albania's stunning mountain scenery, crumbling castles, boisterous capital and dreamy beaches rivaling any in the Mediterranean continue to enchant. But hurry here, because as word gets out about what Albania is hiding, the still-tiny trickle of tourists threatens to become a flood.

 

I hope that you enjoyed today's post and I hope you keep coming back and reading the rest of the installments of this series.

See you next time :)

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