Travel Guides: Tirana

Gabriel Popa

Written by Gabriel Popa on December 10th 2010
Posted in: Travel
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Tirana

Tirana is the capital and the largest city of Albania. It is located at 41.33 ° N, 19.82 ° E in the district and county with the same name. It had an officially estimated population of 353,400 in 2003, although other estimates, number up to 700,000 inhabitants. Founded in 1614, the city became the capital of Albania in 1920.

Situated on the River Ishm, Tirana is Albania’s industrial and cultural center. The main industries are agricultural products, textiles, pharmaceuticals and metallurgy. Tirana has gone through a period of growth and development, knowing new industries after 1920. Tirana is currently trying to promote quality tourism, although this effort is thwarted by political instability in the region due to the military conflicts in the 1990s in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Although Tirana is known for war, ethnic and political problems, it is little known as a tourist destination, but for the tourist who knows what to look for in Tirana will find a pleasant air travel, with a beautiful charm, hidden under Albania’s relative poverty and problems. In Tirana, you will find parks and open markets, historic buildings, and a strange and unique feeling of the meeting between Europe and East (Albania’s actually an Islamic country, although it is in Europe).

Rail services in the Balkans have been reduced drastically in the 1990s. Albania, which never had a good railway service, was left with almost nothing today. There are no international train services there. So you get to Tirana to train only if you come from another Albanian city, and until now, services are very limited, but often. Train services are poor, so it is better to use the bus.

In Tirana there are no bus stops just simple stops (a pole, a bank and nothing else), even for international buses and coaches. Although buses are the best way to come to Albania, however, note that the services are very, very weak. Bus companies do not really exist, only coaches. There are no schedules – coaches leaving when filled or when the driver wants (generally at 6 o’clock in the morning). But this is Albania, and if you want to have fun here, you should take these things with good humor and not get angry.

Skanderbeg Square,1988, Tirana

The bus can travel up to Albanian towns, or through international routes from Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece. Arriving in Tirana, check the country of departure, the bus station, about the service. In general, in the countries mentioned above, there is a daily service. From other parts of Europe there are road services to Albania – if you want to endure a long trip, heavy and uncomfortable, take the train to Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece and from there catch a bus. If not, travel by plane.

Tirana is served by the airport Rinas, 25 km from downtown. The airport receives flights from many European destinations, so many times, if you come from Europe, or even on other continents, the plane is the safest and most convenient way to reach Tirana. Of course, there is no public transport in Tirana from Rinas – you should take a taxi, which costs about $ 15. Although it is expensive, there aren’t too many other opportunities here.

Tirana is not a port, so you can not get here directly by boat. But there are pretty good boat services from Italy (Bari ports, Trieste and Ancona) to Durres, where you can take the train (which comes almost every two hours) or bus to Tirana. Alternative boat is quite good – especially if you come from Italy. Public transport in Tirana is of poor quality but relatively cheap.

National History Museum Of Tirana

A city bus ticket costs about 0.10 euros. Large buses are old and poorly run, but maxitaxis and minibuses are newer, better and more expensive (€ 0.15). Buses are the only mode of public transport in Tirana, and not only move slowly, but do not come on time, and often break. And, being only eight routes, it is often better to walk. Buses run until 22:30. Taxis are good for the city of Tirana and there aren’t others alternatives for tourists. But remember that taxis, although they are through the streets, are expensive and often, drivers will steal, being that no taxi meter is fixed. A taxi costs approximately 300 lek/km (2.30 euros).

Despite the fact that it is the biggest city in Albania, it is a compact city, which is best explored on foot. City architecture is largely represented by monuments and constructions in Italian and Turkish style; the city’s geographic position is mid-way between Istanbul and Rome, an amalgam of influences from both cultures. Skenderberg Market is a huge open space in the city where you can admire Mount Dajti, which in the 3000 meters of watching his town in the east of it.

Gray and boring old town has changed radically in the last decade becoming a city full of life and color. Tirana is still a fast growing commercial and administrative center with several comfortable hotels, restaurants, discos, pubs, and modern facilities for conventions and conferences.

Tirana has no international rail links. You can only get there by train from the cities: Durres (55 lek, an hour, 8 per day), Shkodra (120 lek, 3.5 hours, 2 daily), Elbasan (160 lek, 4 hours, 3 per day), Vlora (210 lek, 5.5 hours, 2 daily) and Pogradec (245 lek, 4:00, 2 per day). Although the train service is very poor compared to the standards of the western Balkans, may be more frequent, cheaper and landscapes more beautiful than buses.

Tirana Fiesta

Buses can be used to arrive in Tirana from other Albanian cities or abroad. There is a daily bus service that circulates in Turkey, Skopje (Macedonia), Serbia, and Athens (Greece) and there are multiple daily connections with Pristina, Kosovo and other Albanian cities. Schedules change often so check the last information from the place to leave.

From Montenegro take a bus or taxi to Ulcinj, and then take a bus or taxi to Shkodra, Albania, crossing borders to Muriqan. Buses leave frequently from Shkodra to Tirana. Buses leave from Kosovo and from the center (behind the museum where you can find buses to Rinas airport).

Buses and minibuses are the best way to get around in Albania, but not in the best shape. There are several bus companies, many employers even driving. Bus lines are open, but are often delayed until filled or the desire of the driver. Some international bus stations are remote from the center, so it would be better to take taxi to the station to save time and avoid losing it. Thieves are a problem on buses.

Tirana is served by Mother Teresa Airport (TIA), 17 km from downtown. The following lines offer services to / from Tirana: Adria Airways (Ljubljana), Aegean Airlines (Athens), Albanian Airlines (Amsterdam, Athens, Bologna, Frankfurt, Istanbul-Atatürk, London-Stansted, Milan-Malpensa, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Prishtina, Rome, Turin, Verona, Zurich), Air One (Milan-Malpensa, Rome-Fiumicino) Austrian Tyrolean Airways (Vienna), Belle Air (Ancona, Bari, Bologna, Cuneo, Florence, Forli, Genoa, Milan Malpensa, Milan-Orio al Serio, Parma, Perugia, Pisa, Pristina, Rimini, Romo-Fiumicino, Trieste, Venrtia-Treviso, Verona, Zurich), British Airlines (London-Gatwick), Lufthansa (Munich), Hungarian Airlines Malév (Budapest), Olympic Air (Athens), Sky Express (Heraklion), Tafa Air (Neubrandenburg Berlin, Dortmund, Friedrichshafen, Prishtina), Turkish Airlines (Istanbul-Atatürk).

Rinas Express offers a bus every hour between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm between the airport and Skanderberg Market. The bus cost 250 lek. A taxi into town costs about 2000 lek and the trip takes 20-25 minutes.

History – the fertile land around Tirana has been inhabited since the Paleolithic, but there is no proof of the existence of a town called Tirana before the seventeenth century. The town was established for the first time in 1614, when Suleiman Pasha Muletti, a leading Ottoman founded Tirana and built a mosque here, a few shops and a Turkish bath. At that time, the Ottoman Empire was in full progress, which has boosted the city that soon became an important center in the production and export of olive oil. Et’hem Bey Mosque, completed in 1821, is living proof of the first century of existence of the city.

Early nineteenth century is marked by the appearance of the first Christian settlers. An Orthodox church was erected in 1780, and another Catholic, sponsored by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph was completed in 1865. As throughout Europe, this century was marked by a strong patriotic feeling. Albanian language began to be taught in schools since 1889, and following the dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire, Albania became independent in 1912.

In 1928, Ahmet Zogu, proclaimed himself king of Albania and started with the help of Italian architects, an ambitious plan for rebuilding the city. After a short period of occupation by the Nazis and Italian fascists, Albania became a communist republic in 1944. In the communist era, Tirana mind a major transformation, with many institutions, streets and residential areas built after the principles of Stalinist architecture. After the fall of communism Tirana has suffered a new transformation and with the new millennium, city officials adopted a new urban plan, as an attempt to restore historical buildings and parks, while also stopping the construction of abusive residential areas.

Tirana Skyline

Capital Tirana delights the tourists with its modern architecture and a relaxing atmosphere. Wide streets and beautiful magnolias surround and decorate Market Iskender Bey (Skanderbeg) in the heart of Tirana. The square is named after the statue in the center of folk hero Skanderbeg – on some maps the name is meant “Sheshi Keshilli i Europes.” Around the tourist market are playing important roles in the religious and cultural events in the town.

National Art Gallery – disregarded until 1997, the gallery began to become a landmark in the cultural life of Tirana, along with Edi Rome’s election as mayor of the city. In the front gallery hosts an interesting collection of art that deserves full attention. Besides an impressive selection of medieval icons, there is a dedicated wing socialist-realist art, with statues and paintings of and about the socialist era. Besides this, there can also be admired in the gallery contemporary art collections.

Although the building is in the best condition, its front garden was recently restored and with statues representing supporters of the communist era, there are other points of interest that can be visited along with the gallery.

Kulla e Sahatit (Clock Tower) – the main objective of the center of town is the Clock Tower built in 1822. Brightly lit at night, it can be seen from the entrance to town. Top of Et’hem Bey completed by locals and extended to 35 feet tall when installed, and a German clock tower has long been the tallest building in town. For those who climb to the top the view is wonderful.

Tirana By Night

Et’hem Bey Mosque – One of the most interesting sites in Tirana, the beautiful Et’hem Bey mosque is in the main city square. Construction of the mosque, which was initially been called “Xhamia e Haxhi Ethem Beut”, began in 1794 and was completed in 1821 by Et’hem Bey. Closed during the communist regime, was reopened as a place of worship in 1991, but without permission from authorities. The reopening was attended by 10,000 people, marking a major event in the revival of religious freedom in Albania. Upon entering the mosque you can see frescoes embody the trees, waterfalls and bridges, for reasons common in Islamic art.

Petrela Castle – One of the best preserved castles in Albania, Petrela Castle, is situated on a picturesque hill above a river, 15 kilometers southeast of Tirana, on the road to Elbasan. On a clear day, from here you can see even Kruja city. Emperor Justinian built fortifications to defend Dyrrachium settlement (now called Durrës). The tower in the center dates from 500 AC; it is surrounded by walls from the Byzantine era, arranged in a triangle with round towers on the corners. The castle was used during the war against the Turks led by King Skanderberg. His sister, Momica lived here and defended the castle, but he was eventually captured and used by Turkish soldiers.

Skanderberg Market – The main market in Tirana, Sheshi Skenderbej is basically a huge area of asphalt. The Market was great before WWII, but the Communists have extended it even further, a process in which they demolished the old bazaar. Beginning in 1958, the imposing Palace of Culture was built under the supervision of the Communists. But with the deterioration of relations between Albania and the Soviet chief engineer of the project took all the drawings and has gone from Albania, the Albanian government which has led China to hire a team to complete the project. Today, the building houses the Opera and National Library.

The mosaic on the facade of the National History Museum shows scenes from the history of Albania. Another building that is in this market, Puppet Theatre has a surprising past: before World War II, was the residence of King Zog puppet Parliament. Other objectives that can be admired in this market are imposing National Bank, Et’hem Bey Mosque and the statue of King Skanderbeg.

Statue of King Skanderberg – Gjergj Kastrioti (1405-1468), known as Skenderbej in Albanian historical personality that all Albanians consider as a national hero. This created an independent Albania, a status that has managed to keep for 25 years. After his death, was occupied Albania from the Ottoman Empire, but it kept legacy of state identity intact for 500 years of Turkish domination. Albanians consider him the father of not only the nation but also one who has saved all Europe from Ottoman domination. The statue was unveiled in 1968, when they celebrated 500 years since the death of King Skanderberg.

Pyramid Cultural Center – “Pyramid” as the Albanians called the building was open to the public in 1988, and was originally a museum dedicated to Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Designed by his daughter, Pranvera, the building was declared the most expensive building ever built in Albania. After the regime collapsed, the building became a conference center and a disco (called “The Mummy”). The building is under renovation, and will host a theater. In front of the building is “peace bell” a facility built for children in Shkodra in 1999, serving as a peace monument. The metal bell is made from thousands of bullets that were fired over 90 years, a tumultuous period of the history of Albania.

National Museum of History in Tirana – For everyone who visits the museum, the huge mosaic on its facade is an image that can not be missed. This mosaic portrays scenes from the history of Albania representing historical figures from Iliriens up to supporters of the communist regime.

Inside the building, each section of the museum shows the history stages of the Albanian people. Although it was robbed several times in the ’90s, the museum is still the best place where you can admire archaeological finds from all over Albania. One wing is devoted to the period around the Second World War and the resistance movement, ending with a museum exhibition about the horrors of the labor camps and the thousands of men and women who perished in them.

Dajti Ekspres Telecabin – A cable car ride to the edge of the Austrian construction of Tirana, up to 1250 meters above sea level, takes 15 minutes and is a pleasure. Going over lawn, a pond and steep valleys, views on this trail gives you four kilometers long, are extraordinary. Race ends at the edge of a landscaped lawn for picnics, Dajti, close to the mountain top. There you can hike in the woods nearby or visit the restaurant Ballkoni Dajti and other restaurants nearby.

Taivani, Tirana

Black Cave (Shpella e Zeze) – If you want a relaxing day-trip out of Tirana, visit Shpella e Zeze (Black Cave), which is in Pelumbas village, east on the road to Elsaban. So you can enjoy fresh air, beautiful rural scenery, hiking and ancient history. From the bar Pelumbas village, are two miles, well equipped road along the river canyon Erzen, up to the cave entrance. The cave was first inhabited in prehistoric times by bears, and then the people who left behind a lot of tools from the Neolithic and Bronze and Iron ages.

Tirana Restaurants – Anyone who visits a foreign country is interested in local cuisine, and Albania is no exception to this rule, a mixture of Balkan influences, European and Turkish cuisine making a real delight. Ingredients used by Albanians are largely Mediterranean fresh herbs and vegetables and organic, very few farmers with money for inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.

Albanian cuisine is delicious and varied depending on the area. Thus in the highlands is the most popular meat from sheep and in coastal areas such as Lonian and the Adriatic coast you can enjoy fresh fish specialties. Amateurs can try many sweets such as baklava pastries, kadaif, and sheqerpare hasghure. Albanian traditional dessert that is prepared during the Summer Festival in March is ballokume.

Tirana

Nightlife in Tirana – Tirana Albania is the main destination for revelers. With the series coming town turns into a veritable sea of neon lights. The leading clubs, casinos, bars and nightclubs are on the street Dibra Rini in the park, near the International Cultural Centre, Dream- the American Embassy and near the Parliament building.

Tirana Shopping – The best way is to go shopping on foot, because downtown is relatively small. Tirana is an ideal destination for those who want what you can find Italian shoes up to 30% cheaper than anywhere else in Europe. If you are looking for brands, Tirana is not the right choice because very few of the great European stores have branches here. The best areas for shopping, where you can find real bargains are Rruga Myslym Shyri and Bllok district.11


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