The Republic of Albania is a bit of a mystery nation as its borders were closed to the West for many decades under a communist government, but now – since the early 1990s – she is welcoming to tourists like myself – though I must say I haven’t seen too many fellow-travelers in my brief time here in Tirana - certainly no pesky tour groups. Bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia and Greece, it has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and on the Ionian Sea to the southwest, and is less than 72 km from Italy, across the Strait of Otranto.
So to get a better understanding of this land, I took myself along to the National History Museum in downtown Tirana – and after 3 hours of looking and reading and listening, I think I am part on the way to having a clearer impression of Albania and Albanians. And if you are interested – here is a very “Readers Digest” tour back through the history books.
The museum was opened in 1981 – whilst the country was still under the firm one party rule. Inside there are several pavilions, each one documenting the different eras of history from pre-history times through to post-communist times - including a gallery honouring Mother Teresa of Calcutta who was born in Skopje, Macedonia ( just a couple of hundred kms from Tirana - and I'll probably make my way there in a few month's time.).
I was the only visitor to the Museum on this cold pre-Christmas morning - but was closely watched over by two guards ( when they didn't have their heads buried in their iPhones … ). As photography was not allowed, it was a bit of a game to quietly sneek the odd pic out of sight of the guards. It was freezing inside, and I must have looked a real treat in jacket, beanie and scarf wrapped around my face to prevent my nose and ears coming down with frostbite. Anyway I soldiered on and really found the place fascinating and a great learning curve for me.
Here is a very brief summary of my 3 hours - plus - of research ... The first traces of human presence in Albania, dating to the Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic eras, were found around Mount Dajt near Tirana ( the mountain where I nearly died of terror on the cable car – re my last blog post … )
In ancient times, the territory of modern Albania was mainly inhabited by a number of Illyrian tribes - while numerous colonies were established by Greek city-states on the coast by the 7th century BC.
One of the most powerful tribes that ruled over ancient Albania was the Ardiaei. The Ardiaen Kingdom reached its greatest extent under Agron, and after Agron's death in 230 BC, his wife Teuta inherited the Ardiaean kingdom. Teuta's forces extended their operations further southward into the Ionian Sea, until in 229 BC, when Rome declared war on Illyria for extensively plundering Roman ships. The war ended in Illyrian defeat in 227 BC and the conflict resulted in Roman victory and the end of Illyrian independence by 167 BC.
The territory now known as Albania remained under Roman (Byzantine) control until the Slavs began to overrun it from 7th century AD, and was captured by the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century. After the weakening of the Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarian Empire in the middle and late 13th century, some of the territory of modern-day Albania was captured by the Serbian Principality.
The Kingdom of Albania was established by Charles of Anjou in the Albanian territory he conquered from the Despotate of Epirus in 1271. He took the title of "King of Albania" in February 1272. After the creation of the kingdom, a Catholic political structure was a good basis for the papal plans of spreading Catholicism in the Balkans. This plan found also the support of Helen of Anjou, a cousin of Charles of Anjou, who was at that time ruling territories in North Albania. Around 30 Catholic churches and monasteries were built during her rule in North Albania and in Serbia.
During 1331–55, the Serbian Empire wrestled control over Albania, and later in the 14th century, the Ottoman Empire invaded most of Albania.
Apollo is the god of beauty, sun, medicine, art, law and animal care
Grave Stele - 3rd C BC - also found at Saranda
Statue of a Noble Woman - 2nd C BC - found at Vlore
Head of Artemis - 3rd C BC - found at Apollonia
Goddess of hunt, wild animals, wilderness, virginity and protector of young girls
Head of Demosthenes - 1st C AD - found at Apolonia
He was an ancient Greek statesman and orator
Statue of a Magistrate - 3rd C AD - found at Apolonia
Statue of the Goddess Athena - 1st C AD _ found at Saranda
The goddess of wisdom, war and science
Statue of a Soldier - 1st C AD - found at Saranda
Portrait of a Man - 3rd C AD - found at Apolonia
So – moving on from the Greek, then Roman occupation … Albania remained under Ottoman control until 1912, when independent Albania was declared.
The Albanian uprising of 1912, the Ottoman defeat in the Balkan Wars and the advance of Montenegrin, Serbian and Greek forces into territories claimed as Albanian, led to the proclamation of independence by Ismail Qemali in Vlora, on 28 November 1912.
The short-lived principality (1914–1925) was succeeded by the first Albanian Republic (1925–1928). In 1925 the four-member Regency was abolished and Ahmed Zogu was elected president of the newly declared republic. Tirana was endorsed officially as the country's permanent capital. Zogu led an authoritarian and conservative regime, the primary aim of which was the maintenance of stability and order. Zogu was forced to adopt a policy of cooperation with Italy. A pact had been signed between Italy and Albania on 20 January 1925 whereby Italy gained a monopoly on shipping and trade concessions.
On 1 September 1928, Albania was transformed into a kingdom, and President Zogu became Zog I, King of the Albanians. He took as his regnal name his surname rather than his forename, since the Islamic name Ahmet might have had the effect of isolating him on the European stage.
In order to extend his direct control throughout the entire country, Zogu placed great emphasis on the construction of roads. Every male Albanian over the age of 16 years was legally bound to give ten days of free labor each year to the state. King Zogu remained a conservative, but initiated many worthwhile reforms.
The kingdom was supported by the fascist regime in Italy and the two countries maintained close relations until Italy's sudden invasion of Albania in 1939. Getting word of the impending invasion, King Zogu and his "royal family" fled the Kingdom in exile to the safe haven of England - taking with them a considerable amount of gold from the National Bank of Tirana and Durrës. Since the Royal Family had expected an Italian invasion, the gathering of gold had started well in advance.
After being militarily occupied by Italy, from 1939 until 1943 the Albanian Kingdom was a protectorate and a dependency of Italy governed by the Italian King Victor Emmanuel III and his government.
In November 1941, the small Albanian Communist groups established an Albanian Communist Party in Tirana of 130 members under the leadership of Enver Hoxha and an eleven-man Central Committee. The party at first had little mass appeal, and even its youth organization netted few recruits.
After the capitulation of Italy in 1943, Nazi Germany occupied Albania too. The nationalist Balli Kombetar, which had fought against Italy, formed a "neutral" government in Tirana, and side by side with the Germans fought against the communist-led National Liberation Movement of Albania.
By the last year in World War II Albania had become one of the most devastated countries in Europe. 60,000 houses were destroyed and about 10% of the population was left homeless, and the country fell into a civil war-like state between the communists and nationalists. The communist partisans however defeated the last Balli Kombëtar forces in southern Albania by mid-summer 1944. Before the end of November, the main German troops had withdrawn from Tirana, and the communists took control by attacking it. The partisans entirely liberated Albania from German occupation on 29 November 1944. A provisional government, which the communists had formed at Berat in October, administered Albania with Enver Hoxha as prime minister.
The socialist reconstruction of Albania was launched immediately after the annulling of the monarchy and the establishment of a "People's Republic". New land reform laws were passed granting ownership of the land to the workers and peasants who tilled it. Agriculture became cooperative, and production increased significantly, leading to Albania's becoming agriculturally self-sufficient. By 1955, illiteracy was eliminated among Albania's adult population. During this period Albania became industrialized and saw rapid economic growth, as well as unprecedented progress in the areas of education and health.
After protests beginning in 1989 and reforms made by the communist government in 1990, the People's Republic was dissolved in 1991–92 and the Republic of Albania was founded. The communists retained a stronghold in parliament after popular support in the elections of 1991. However, in March 1992, amid liberalization policies resulting in economic collapse and social unrest, a new front led by the new Democratic Party took power.
A banking crisis in late 1996, fueled peaceful protests against the government ( ... lead by many of the investors who had lost money and were requesting their money back ... ). The protests turned violent in February as government forces responded with fire. In March the police and Republican Guard deserted, leaving their armories open. They were promptly emptied by militias and criminal gangs. The resulting crisis caused a wave of evacuations of foreign nationals and of refugees.
The crisis led Prime Minister Aleksandër Meksi to resign on 11 March 1997 and in April Operation Alba, a UN peacekeeping force led by Italy, entered the country with two goals: assistance in evacuation of expatriates and to secure the ground for international organizations. This was primarily WEU MAPE, who worked with the government in restructuring the judicial system and police. The Socialist Party won the elections in 1997, and a degree of political stabilization followed.
In 1999, the country was affected by the Kosovo War, when a great number of Albanians from Kosovo found refuge in Albania.
Albania became a full member of NATO in 2009, and has applied to join the European Union. In 2013, the Socialist Party won the national elections. In June 2014, the Republic of Albania became an official candidate for accession to the European Union.
Heroes of the People
A whole wall of the Museum is dedicated to the Heroes of Albania
who, during the 20th Century lost their lives in the fight for the freedom of the people.
Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli
A pavillion in the Museum dedicated to the man
A fascinating character of modern times was Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli, taking the surname Zogu in 1922, was the leader of Albania from 1922 to 1939. He first served as Prime Minister of Albania (1922–1924), then as President (1925–1928), and finally as King (1928–1939). His rule as king was characterized by oppression of civil liberties and was similar to the concurrent regime in Italy.
His principal ally during this period was Italy, which lent his government funds in exchange for a greater role in Albania's fiscal policy. During Zogu's presidency, serfdom was gradually eliminated and Albania began to emerge as a nation, rather than a feudal patchwork of local provences.
However, Zogu's Albania was a police state. He all but eliminated civil liberties, muzzled the press and murdered political opponents. Under the constitution, Zogu was vested with sweeping executive and legislative powers, including the right to appoint one-third of the upper house. For all intents and purposes, he held all governing power in the nation.
On 1 September 1928, the same day as he was declared king ( he was never technically crowned ), he proclaimed a constitutional monarchy similar to the contemporary regime in Italy, created a strong police force, and instituted the Zogist salute ( flat hand over the heart with palm facing downwards ).
Zog's mother, Sadije, was declared Queen Mother of Albania, and Zog also gave his brother and sisters Royal status as Prince and Princesses Zogu. One of his sisters, Senije, Princess Zogu (c. 1897–1969), married Prince Shehzade Mehmed Abid Efendi of Turkey, a son of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
In 1938, Zog opened the borders of Albania to Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany.
Although born as an aristocrat and hereditary Bey, King Zog was somewhat ignored by other monarchs in Europe because he was a self-proclaimed monarch who had no links to any other European royal families. Nonetheless, he did have strong connections with Muslim royal families in the Arab World, particularly Egypt, whose ruling dynasty had Albanian origins. As King, he was honoured by the governments of Italy, Luxembourg, Egypt, Yugoslavia, France, Romania, Greece, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria.
Zog had been engaged to the daughter of Shefqet Bey Verlaci before he became king. Soon after he became king, however, he broke off the engagement, and according to traditional customs of blood vengeance prevalent in Albania at the time, Verlaci had the right to kill Zog. The king frequently surrounded himself with a personal guard and avoided public appearances. He also feared that he might be poisoned, so the Mother of the King assumed supervision of the Royal Kitchen.
In April 1938 Zog married Countess Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Appony, a Roman Catholic aristocrat who was half Hungarian and half American. Their only child, HRH Crown Prince Leka, was born in Albania on 5 April 1939.
Two days after the birth of Zog's son and heir apparent, on 7 April 1939 (Good Friday), Mussolini's Italy invaded, facing no significant resistance. The Albanian army was ill-equipped to resist, as it was almost entirely dominated by Italian advisors and officers and was no match for the Italian Army.
The royal family fled Albania and in exile settled in England, first at The Ritz in London, followed by a brief stay at 'Forest Ridge,' a house in the South Ascot area of Sunninghill in Berkshire, and in 1941 they moved to Parmoor House, Parmoor, near Frieth in Buckinghamshire.
In 1946, King Zog and most of his family left England and went to live in Egypt at the behest of King Farouk; however, Farouk was overthrown in 1952, and the family left for France in 1955. He made his final home in France, where he died on 9 April 1961, aged 65, of an undisclosed condition. Zog was said to have regularly consumed 200 cigarettes a day giving him a possible claim to the dubious title of the world's heaviest smoker in 1929, but had been seriously ill for some time. He was survived by his wife and son, and is buried at the Cimetière de Thiais, near Paris. On his death, his son Leka was pronounced H.M. King Leka of the Albanians by the exiled Albanian community.
His widow, Queen Geraldine, died of natural causes in 2002 at the age of 87 in a military hospital in Tirana, Albania. Albania's Communist government abolished the monarchy in 1946, but, even in exile, the royal family insisted that Leka Zogu was Albania's legitimate ruler until his death on 30 November 2011.
Zog attempted to reclaim his throne after the war. However, the new Communist-dominated government barred Zog from returning soon after it took power, and formally deposed him in 1946.
In October 2012, the government of Albania decided to bring back the remains of the former king from France, and Zog's body was exhumed from the Thiais Cemetery and returned in a state ceremony on 17 November 2012, coinciding with celebrations for Albania's independence centennial. The bodies of the king and his family members now lie in the reconstructed royal mausoleum in the capital Tirana.
the source of my material is from Wikipedia and the Museum Website
photographers are my own ...