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Tirana, the capital of Albania, was the seat of power for the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha from 1944-1985. He added numerous factories and Soviet towers to the city, significantly altering its character and composition. Since the fall of Communism in 1989, Tirana has struggled with change. In 1997, a collapsed Ponzi scheme brought it to the brink of ruin, at a time when chronic traffic, heavy air pollution, and blackouts were just some of the visible manifestations of the capital’s straining infrastructure.
For the most part, those difficult days are gone. Tirana has now found its feet, re-inventing itself as a bustling city with vibrant nightlife, festivals dedicated to fashion and jazz, symphonic orchestras, ballet and theatre, as well as fine museums exploring history, art, science, and archaeology. Its architecture is eclectic: alongside a slew of bright, bold, new skyscrapers, the city incorporates Fascist, Soviet, and Ottoman styles.Read more
Historically, the town of Tirana was founded in the Ottoman era by Sulejman Bargjini. Poised on a lucrative caravan route, it enjoyed trade and growth up until the 19th century, its bazaar peddling silk, leather, ceramics, gold, textiles and iron. In 1939, Italian Fascists occupied the city and began erecting new buildings and renaming the streets after Fascist heroes. In 1944, the communists seized power and began rebuilding the city in stark Stalinist style, demolishing anything that got in their way, including the old bazaar, the Italian-built municipal building, and the Orthodox cathedral.
Today, Tirana’s historic sights are sparse but do include notable Orthodox and Catholic churches, mosques, and civic buildings. On Skanderbeg Square - the heart of the city and the former site of the old bazaar – the Et’hem Bey mosque is the city’s most important structure. Dating to the early 19th century, it features fine elegant frescos depicting trees, waterfalls and bridges. The atheist Hoxha regime outlawed religious activity and the mosque was closed throughout the communist era, until 1991, when ten thousand people marched inside and reopened it without permission. This act marked an important turning point in Albania’s religious freedom.