Tirana

 

Tirana is by far Europe’s quirkiest capital city which has changed at breakneck speed since the fall of communism back in the 90’s. The city centre would be completely unrecognizable to someone beamed up from the early 1990s; buildings and skyscrapers in various stages of lingering construction or early decay pepper the city, with more planned ones. Foreign and domestic visitors can look forward to a vibrant restaurant scene with several new high-quality options. Tirana has also recently been enriched with several excellent boutique hotels.

The renovated National Art Gallery, the new Postblloku memorial on the main boulevard and the spruced-up Grand Park are all additional reasons to visit Tirana. The largest museum in Albania is located in Tirana and holds many of the country’s archaeological treasures and a replica of Skanderbeg’s massive sword. The excellent collection takes you chronologically from ancient Illyria to the post communist era. Across the boulevard, tracing the relatively brief history of Albanian painting from the early 19th century to the present day is the beautiful space which hosts a small but interesting collection of 19th century paintings depicting scenes from daily Albanian life, while upstairs the art takes on a political dimension with some truly fabulous examples of Albanian socialist realism. Further along the boulevard we one can find the peculiar building named by locals as the pyramid. Designed by Enver Hoxha’s daughter and son-in-law and completed in 1988, this monstrously unattractive building was formerly the Enver Hoxha Museum, and more recently a convention centre and nightclub. Inside it’s sometimes open for temporary exhibits, for which it’s a surprisingly great venue. Nestled between Parku Kombëtar (a public park), the Bulevardi Dëshmorët e Kombit and the river is the once totally forbidden but now totally trendy Blloku, the former exclusive Communist Party neighborhood. When the area was opened to the general public in 1991, Albanians flocked to see the style in which their proletarian leaders lived. Among the other sites in the city, visitors can visit the sights of Skanderbeg Square whose architecture influences range from Ottoman Turkish and Fascist Italian to Chinese Communist. The Et’hem Bey Mosque being one of the oldest remaining buildings in the city together with the Clock Tower date back from the ottoman era.