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Once upon a time in the land of eagles...

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

One of the biggest challenges for Albania worldwide is that actually there is very little known about their history and lots of bad reputation from their mafia. So here is a small glimpse to their past.

Albania’s history Shows the struggle of its people to find their place, identity and freedom from the rest of world. They went through many invasions, wars, principalities, occupation, dictatorship, gain of land, loss of land, you name it!

To learn about the country’s history in one post is unreasonable, nevertheless here is a quick summary of what I consider key points about Albanian’s history to get you warm up before your visit!

…But one thing first! The Name

Albania it is actually a name given to the country by foreigners. However Albanians call their country Shqiperi which means in their native language “eagle’s nest”. Through history they have been known by many different names suchs as Albanoi, Arbënuer, Arbënor, Arbëneshë, Arbreshë, Arbëreshë, Arnaut, and Arnaoutis. Nonetheless in modern times they called themselves “Shqiptar” while the rest of the world call them “Albanians”.

The Original Tribes

The Illyrian civilization consisted of different tribes who are considered the ancestors of Albanian people. Illyria as it was known in ancient times was a region that stretched from today’s Albania all the way to Croatia at some point during Greek and Roman times. Today, you can find throughout the country many archeological sites built during that era such as Apollonia in Fier and Butrint in Sarande.

Due to its favorable geographical position, this land was part of the Via Egnatia and it served as a linking route for trading with the Roman Empire and the Venetians later on.

Unifying the Tribes

After the Roman Empire divided in East and West, Albania remained byzantine for centuries and its population was mainly christian. After short invasions by the Venetians and the Serbians, in 1272, the Kingdom of Albania was created claiming lost territories to its neighbors, and for a period the country went through a conversion to Catholicism due to a campaign from the Pope to keep the Balkans from Orthodox and Islamic practices.

Ottoman Occupation

In 1420 the Ottoman Empire invaded Albania resulting in 500 years under Ottoman usurpation and Islam was introduced as the third main religion. In years to come, it will make this strategically located land the center of attention of many neighbor countries. Conquering Albania was not an easy task for the Turks. Ethnic groups and principalities refused to pay tribute and to recognize their authority. It is during this period that Albania’s National Hero played a mayor role not only for the country’s history but for the rest of Europe.

“Skanderbeg” The much-needed Hero

Born into a noble family, George Castriot was taken as hostage by the Turks when he was just a child, as punishment for the war declared by his father against the Ottomans. He was raised by the sultan under heavy military training and sent to many battles where he was acclaimed as a braved talented warrior.

After being offered to return to Albania, Skanderbeg used this opportunity to rebel against the ottomans and seek independence. During almost 40 years under his rule, Skanderbeg united all the kingdoms in Albania resisting Ottoman occupation. As a result, he has been credited for being the main reason the Ottomans did not reach Western Europe.

Nowadays George Kastrioti Skanderbeg’s name is held by multiple sites throughout many important cities in the world, ranging from Tirana, Pristina, Zurich, Paris, Rome, Chicago, Skopje, etc.

Five centuries later…

Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, becoming a principality. This was a period where Albanian artists, writers, and intellectuals flourished.

The one and only King

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Albania was declared an independent state and short after a monarchy was implemented. King Zog was the first and only self-proclaimed king of the Albanians, who ruled for a few years before fleeing to exile in London after Mussolini ousted him and declared Albania an Italian Protectorate.

Communist regime & alienation from the world

After Nazi occupation, Albania became a communist state as the president Enver Hoxha strengthened ties with Russia, becoming thus the dictator of Albania.

He ruled for four decades strictly and kept the country isolated from the world. Throughout his mandate, Enver Hoxha filled the state with paranoia about a possible invasion subsequently building around 750,000 bunkers around the country. During communism, Albania had no religion; churches, mosques and temples were turned into libraries or offices of the state.

Enver Hoxha died in 1985 and after his death the system was increasingly falling apart under Ramiz Alia’s leadership. While the revolutions of 1989 were taking place, many Albanians remained unaware of the events due to the dearth of information within the isolated state. It is during this 50 year period that Albania disappears from the global eye with little to almost nothing known on the outside world.

Hello Democracy! But what now?

In 1990 after revolts and demonstrations by the students, a revolution took place, resulting in the creation of two opposition parties: Socialist and Democratic.

During this time Albania switched from a tightly controlled communist system to a free-market-free-for all. This transition created an exodus. Now that they were able to to move freely, Albanians had a big internal immigration to the capital and a massive external immigration to its neighbor countries through the years that followed.

Pyramid scheme and a near Civil War

In 1997 after the government encouraged the population to sell their properties for cash in order to invest in funds towards Pyramid Schemes. Albanians found themselves as victims of a devastating scam where families lost everything they owned, subsequently creating violent protests which soon turned in a chaotic crisis when the government’s armoires were abandoned and these were acquire by civilians .

Strive, thrive, and the European Union

Today Albania is trying hard to catch up with the rest of Europe. In 2009 the country applied to be a candidate of the European Union and in 2014 Albania became a member of NATO. Nowadays, the country is slowly improving its fame with the world, attracting more companies and organizations to invest in different fields. In addition, during the past few years thanks to its nature, prices and mediterranean climate, Albania has become one of the most trendy touristic places in Europe and it is expected to continue growing.

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