The cities of Albania are living evidences of major cultural shifts faced during the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Fascist, and Socialist regimes. The major cities, also prime sites of historical interest, are presented below.
Established in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini, Tirana is the capital city of Albania and by far the largest as well. It was instated as the definitive capital of Albania in 1920 by the Congress of Lushnje. Located 360 ft above sea level, Tirana is flanked by the Adriatic Sea and the Dajti Mountain. The city of Tirana is home to four artificial lakes - the Tirana Artificial Lake, the Paskuqani Lake, the Farka Lake, and the Tufina Lake. The Et'hem Bey Mosque is one of the prominent sights of Tirana. Other places of interest include the Tirana Castle, the 14th Century Preze Castle, and the Mamica Kastrioti's Petrele Castle. In addition, an ensemble of Fascist and Socialist monuments can be seen on the Skanderbeg Square. Tirana also offers umpteen shopping options in its local bazaars. Tourists can also go hiking in the Brari Canyon in the Dajti Mountains.
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Durres is located 25 miles away from Tirana. Situated on the Adriatic coast, it is the second largest city of Albania. It was established in 7th century BC by the Greeks who called the city Epidamnus. It served as a principal supply port for the Eastern Roman Empire. Remains of Roman baths and ruins of an amphitheater (largest in Balkans) are important tourist attractions here. The Durres Castle, another place of historical interest, is said to be 1500 years old. The city is also dotted with extant concrete bunkers commissioned by Enver Hoxha.
Kruje is about 12 miles north-east of Tirana. Located between Mount Kruje and Ishem River, it was the capital of the Albanian State in 1190. It is situated 560 m above sea level. Kruje is called the national shrine of Albania as it was the site of numerous anti-Ottoman struggles under Skanderbeg. The famous Kruje Castle bears testimony to the Turk sieges and Albanian retaliation. The Mosque near the Castle and the ruins of the St. Mary Church also bear witness to the tumultuous history of the place. Kruje also houses a 15th century Turkish Hammam. The monastery of Bektashis (a branch of Sufism) here is believed to have been established by Sari Sallteku himself in the 15th century. Kruje also provides numerous local shopping options in the form of bazaars throughout the city.
Berat is situated about 47 miles from Tirana. Located on the right bank of River Osum, it was an ancient Macedonian stronghold. It is bound by Tomorr and Sphirag Mountains. The Old Town of Berat features in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The prime attraction of the city is the Berat Ccastle built by Theodosius II in the 5th century. It is well preserved and offers a picturesque bird's eye view of the city. The Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae dates back to the 13th century and is famous for its mural paintings by Nikolle Onufri. Berat is also the site of the Lead Mosque (Xhamia-e-Plumbit) built in 1555. The city houses the renowned shrine of the Khalawati Sufi order, The Halveti Teqe built in the 15th Century. Because of the presence of varied magnificent historical monuments, Berat is called the "Town of a Thousand Windows".
Vlora is 61 miles from Tirana and the second largest port city after Durres. It was founded by ancient Greeks in the 6th century BC. Like Durres it was an important port of the Roman Empire due to its proximity to the Bay of Vlore. Vlora with its gardens, olive groves, oak forests, and pleasant Mediterranean climate is an ideal place to visit. It has a rich resource of Petroleum and Natural Gas. It also has an equally strong agricultural sector. Vlora's Museum of Independence offers an insight into the history of Albanian struggle for Independence. Its Kuz Kaba is yet another monument dedicated to the Bektashi sect. The lagoon of Narta in Vlora is abound with varied species of aquatic fauna and offers a promising retreat for nature lovers. Narta and Zverneci villages alongside the lagoon are known for their local food and wines. Zverneci houses the Byzantine Church of Saint Maria which dates back to the 16th century. The ruins of Kanina Castle, Marmiroi Church, and Himara Castle attract visitors all the year round. Vlora offers an exciting nightlife with its recently developed pubs, nightclubs, bars etc. The Pass of Llogara offers excellent scope for paragliding.
Located in Central Albania, Elbasan is about 25 miles away from Tirana. It was established on the banks of River Skhumbin in 1st century AD. The city was the center of Ottoman urban civilization for nearly 400 years. A prominent landmark of the city, the Elbasan Castle believed to have been built by Emperor Diocletian in 284 AD holds the ruins of numerous ancient Turkish houses and baths. Numerous articles of Bronze Age and Iron Age have also been excavated on the Pazhok plain located few kilometers away from Elbasan. Shebenik - Jabllanice National Park of Elbasan is situated on the peaks of Shebenik Mountains. It is an abode of rare plants and endangered species like brown bear, grey wolf, and the Balkan Lynx. The Bezistan Basilica provides an excellent array of mosaic and frescoes of great artistic merit.
Fier is located at a distance of about 54 miles from Tirana and is one of the largest urban centers of Albania. The city boasts of three rivers Gjanica, Seman, and Vjosa which provides ample opportunities for fishing and water sports. The rivers also account for its strong agricultural base and abundant food processing industries. The city's suburbs are also rich in oil, gas, and bitumen deposits. The city has a rich cultural heritage and is a treat for enthusiasts of history. The excavated sites of Apollonia, Bylis and Ardenica generate great historical interest. The Adriatic Sea is as far as 18 km from Fier and hence it boasts of scenic beaches of Seman, Hidrovor, Darezeze, and Divjake.
The other important cities of Albania include :
- Shkoder, located on the Lake Shkoder.
- Lushnje, the first provisional capital of Albania.
- Kavaje, famous for its clock tower and Plazhi-e-Gjeneralit.
- Corovode known for the Pirogosh Canyon. The River Osum and Corovoda passing through the city enable water sports.
- Gjirokaster is the birth place of Enver Hoxha and author Ismail Kadare.