Balkan Odyssey Part 7: Tirana Photo Essay

During communism, the buildings of Tirana, Albania, like all eastern European cities, were smothered in depressing gray monotones. Painting these buildings more cheerful colors after communism fell, however, would have been expensive and cash-strapped governments throughout the eastern bloc simply had more pressing issues on which to spend the little money they had in their coffers. Tirana proved to be an exception, thanks to Mayor Edi Rama. Mayor Rama was a professional artist who lived in Paris during the early 1990s plying his trade before returning to his native country to run for mayor. One of the first things he did upon being elected was to make repainting the city a top priority. And not just repainting it in basic, foundation colors, but in wild, uber-colorful mosaics and patterns as seen here.

Ah, yes. The communist mural. Once such an integral part of every communist city’s landscape, this mural is pretty much all that remains from Albania’s half-century stint in the socialist camp. Hanging above the entrance to the National Historical Museum in the central Skanderberg Square, the mural dominates the center of town. Communism may be dead, but its spirit lives on in thousands of tiny bits of colored rock and stone.

Never have one of these directly outside your hotel window. This shot, taken from said window, is one of a handful of mosques recently rebuilt in Tirana after communism fell and religion was once again legal. The reason for not wanting such a beautiful structure just a few hundred feet from your hotel room? The 4 am call to prayer is broadcast every morning at top volume from speakers placed near the top of the minaret. I try to be tolerant of everyone’s religion but it makes it awfully difficult to do so at that time of the morning.

Mmm… meat! Rather grisly, but this is what the local butcher looks like in Tirana. I wonder if you can hack off just the parts you want?

The area above was once cordoned off from the public and populated with the homes of the communist elite; citizens of Tirana weren’t allowed to step foot within the perimeter. Known today as the Bllok, the area is brimming with bars, nightclubs and cafes. In the center of the shot, next to the grass lawn, you can spy the former home of Enver Hoxha, the iron dictator who ran Albania from 1944-1981. Directly across the street are the western style bars that ironically serve Coca Cola and other snippets of western capitalism he successful fought to keep out of the country for so long.

The Enver Hoxha Museum, built in 1988 by the former ruler’s daughter three years after his death deified the leader until communism fell in 1992. It was then turned into a disco for a brief stint and afterwards gutted and transformed into a semi-shopping center where bored salespeople practice capitalism behind little tables packed with books, toys, cosmetics, and other goods and knickknacks. Skateboarders get gnarly on the pyramid’s outside ramps while Hoxha does some tricks of his own that involve rolling over in his grave.

Mercedes, Mercedes, Mercedes. Albania is awash in Mercedes. How did the poorest country in Europe become (perhaps) the highest per capita Mercedes ownership in the world? Grand theft. An estimated 90% of all Mercedes in Albania were stolen abroad and smuggled across the border.

Yesterday’s Post: Tirana Accommodations
Tomorrow’s Post: Berat, City of a Thousand Eyes