Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Summer holiday in Albania - Part 2

The Capital - Tirana

Roads in Albania completely lack of almost any signalisation to help you orientate and find your way to wherever you were planning on going. So, one fine morning, hubby and I have decided to go to the City - Durres and check out some of its sites and maybe do some grocery shopping (on our arrival we have entered the city, where we saw Carrefour, having trouble to exit the city and drive towards the beach where we were staying). But, we ended up in Tirana! How you may ask... Well the only exit to the city is not marked and you can only make it by chance. Further down the road there are 2 signs - one for Tirana, and the other for the Beach (where we cam from), so we were certain to take the Tirana exit. And after a few miles down the road we realised that there is no exit to Durres and that we should do nothing but go to Tirana, which we did!

So, after an hourish long drive we have landed in the very centre of Tirana, where we were lucky enough to find the parking (it was Saturday and public institutions located there were closed, so some parking spots were available).

 Tirana has a huge central square dominated by the statue of Skenderbeg, probably the most important figure in the Albanian history.

In front of Albanian Parliament (Check out that awesome mosaic!)
The square is surrounded by several of the most important buildings in Tirana - Opera house, Albanian Parliament, ministries, a mosque and so on. In the past, the square was paved, but the local authorities have decided to make the Capital's centre a greener place, by planting grass and trees to replace pavement.
The ministries' buildings I have mentioned earlier all look similar - they are large with dominant entrances with a rather peculiar addition to them - a guardhouse with a dome-like shape. This is a not so subtle giveaway of the Albanian militaristic past. Although grown in a socialist country with a mono party regime, this type of architectural ornaments seemed completely foreign to me.

This is how all ministries in Albanian Capital look like (with the guardhouse!)
Although the centre of Tirana is quite polished nowadays and it looks rather modern, just a block away from the central square I have found this quite bizarre view, which I totally feel like sharing and commenting!
At the left of the photo is locate the centre of the Albanian  national University in something that could be described as a modern socialist architecture dating from the period of 1970-1980. At the right of the photo is an apartment building, quite shabby, by its looks dating from 1950- or 1960-es.
In midst of these two, a new building of a very different look and style dating from 2K something, still bearing 'for sale' sign. As this clash of architectural generations and styles was not enough the look of this block is being completed by the vintage amusement park situated along the sidewalk. And this somehow can illustrate the clash of Albanian present with its troubling past. Especially when it comes to housing. And when it comes to urban planning in Albania, to those interested, since I am not an expert, and I certainly did find that issue interesting, I would warmly suggest this blog.

... and a block away from Tirana central square
One may wonder why housing is so special for it to be mentioned by a one-time tourist visitor to this country? Well, this was one of the first things I was told about Albania and its past - a story of Enver Hoxa and his bunker-construction campaign. Hundreds and hundreds of bunkers were built all along the Albanian land and sea borders to protect the country from and external invasion, while the housing plans and their effective execution have been lacking to such an extent that a number of people who were engaged on construction of these bunkers were homeless.

The result of this and other similar campaigns have left the Albanian people resenting the communist leader, and everything that went on in their country since the end of WWII until the early 1990-es, when Hoxa dies, opening the route for Albanian transition to capitalism.
Stay tuned for 2 more posts on our Albanian holiday - one on Durres and finally, one on curiosities of this fabulous country.

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