Continuing from yesterdays post about the first time I went to Albania, the second time was for my birthday in March 2007. The work to finish the ambition to visit every European capital before the end of 2010 was well underway and this was the first time JTO and I were to visit the Balkans. So this time it was the capital Tirana we visited. I didn’t know it at the time but it is quite typical for a Balkan capital in being on a piece of flat land with mountains circling it. The main square of the city is Skanderberg Square, named after the national hero who features on a large equestrian statue in it. Skanderberg fought to keep the country free from the Ottoman empire and had an impressive record winning 24 of the 25 battles he took part in. He took the double headed eagle, which forms the basis of the current Albanian flag, as his flag. Next to it is the Et’hem Bey Mosque on which construction started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et’hem Bey with frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. The city is very human in scale, easily walkable and very green from the tree-lined streets to the many parks. In an initiative, which I am surprised has not been copied elsewhere, the concrete Soviet-style apartment blocks have been painted a number of colours which makes them much more attractive and the cityscape more appealing. In one of the two main parks, Rinia Park is a complex which has been described as having the look of the lair of a James Bond villan, called Taiwan, possibly for being an island in the park. In the building there are restaurants, a terrace cafe, bowling alleys and a casino. The main attraction however is the fountain in front of Taiwan which in the evening fascinates hundreds of young and old onlookers with its light show. The park is now the proud focus of the evening xhiro, when thousands of people dress up and stroll around to meet up and chat with friends. Nearby is the Clock Tower from 1822. Started off by Et`hem Bey, completed by the locals and extended to 35m in 1928, when a German-made clock was also installed, it was for long the highest building in town, and with views of the city centre from the top. The shadow of the tower strikes the mosque at sunset, an event long used to mark the closing time of the formerly adjacent market place. One other building which you can’t miss is the National History Museum with massive mosaic on the facade which represents the development of Albania’s history with everyone from Illyrians to partisans represented.
It was surprisingly inexpensive place for food with the restaurant at the hotel on the square being affordable for an evening meal. All together it was an enjoyable Spring visit to an especially pleasant city, although one for a week-long visit and not for longer. To close a video of Enver Hoxha celebrating 1st May – plenty fist up. See if any of the buildings pictured here can be seen in it: