Albania’s culture borrows from the Greeks,
Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Slavs, and the Italians, who conquered
Despite the foreign influences, Albanian culture retains
a remarkable degree of homogeneity (sameness in composition).
Dance and Albania’s Folklore
Folklore is rich, diversified and with artistic values. It
is a precious treasury inherited from generation to generation.
It is rather vivid and continues to be enriched even nowadays.
The Albanian folklore consists of literary, musical, choreographic
and dramatic folklore.
Polyphony is a southern Albanian tradition dating back to
ancient Illyrian times, involving blending several independent
vocal or instrumental parts. The songs usually have epic lyrical
or historical themes, and may be slow and sombre with beautiful
harmonies or include yodeling.
Styles range from the heroic songs of the mountains to the
more musically complex lieder (a type of ballad), which is
accompanied by instruments and common in the south. The most
common traditional instrument is the lahute (lute), which
is similar to the Slavic gusle. Also in the south, saze (small
orchestras) composed of four or five instruments play music
for folk dancing on special occasions.
Notable folk musicians of the late 20th century include
Tefta Tashko, Maria Paluca, and Gjorgjija Filce. Two of the
most distinguished composers of Albanian music are Kristi
Kono and the writer, bishop, and political leader Fan Noli.
Traditional dance is still widely practiced, especially
in more remote villages. Because of Islamic influences, especially
in the south, women and men often do not dance together in
in Albania has long-standing traditions. A high level of development
and artistic technique is noted even in Illyrian times ( 2nd-1st
century BC ).
Most handicraft consists of artistic articles adorned with
national motifs and the traditions of folk creativity.
During the tour, you will have time to wander in some of
Albania’s most remarkable markets.
The material of handicrafts varies from filigree, wood carvings,
cooper engraved vases, alabaster, bone, ceramic, horn, and
rugs to leather products. Their original value and artistic
technique is truly exceptional.
|Art and Architecture
Albania’s archaeological findings cover almost the whole
of her history, providing an outstanding visual reference
that accounts for her history and the formation of present
The oldest architectural monuments in Albania date from
the 1st millennium BC and were constructed by the Illyrians.
From the middle of the 1st millennium BC through the middle
of the 1st millennium AD, the Greeks and Romans who occupied
Albania built structures still visible in urban and rural
In the Middle Ages, Christian religious architecture emerged
in Albania’s Christian north while Islamic and Turkish-style
architecture emerged in the south.
Until the mid-20th century, most Albanian cities were dominated
by two-story stone residences with tiled roofs.
In wooded regions, houses were made of boards rather than
stone; in coastal regions, they were clay, adobe, or reed
with coatings of clay.
Today, mass-produced Soviet-style housing predominates in
urban and suburban settings while traditional architecture
predominates in rural and mountainous regions.
Painting in Albania was strongly influenced by Byzantine
art in the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), although
by the end of the early Renaissance (15th century to 17th
century) Italian influence was strong. The painting of icons
(religious symbols) grew as a form of both public, or displayed,
art and folk art. The style of icon painting, created in the
mid- 18th century, remained virtually unchanged
through the early 20th century.
Notable Albanian artists of the 20th century include Vangjush
Mijo and Androniqi Zenge, both of whom are credited with introducing
Western-style impressionism to Albania in the mid-1930s. Odhise
Paskal, another 20th-century artist, sculpted Albanian heroes.
Folk arts today include clothing decorated with delicate silver
ornaments, wood-crafted items for the home, and woolen rugs.
|Libraries and Museums
Albania is home to many museums
of archaeology; local, military, and natural history, ethnography
and religious and secular (nonreligious) art.
Notable museums in Tiranë include the National Museum
of Archaeology (founded in 1948). Throughout the 20th century
the holdings of Albania’s libraries have grown dramatically.
The country’s largest library, the National Library
(1922) in Tirana, acquired many of its one million books through
Communist confiscation of private libraries.
The library system at the University of Tirana (1957) also
features a large collection.
Albanian (Shqipja) is an Indo-European
language with many Latin, Slavonic and modern Greek words.
It has two main forms, Tosk and Gheg, which diverged about
1000 years ago.
In 1972 the Congress of Orthography established a unified
written language, which is now universally accepted for both
languages. Visit our useful words
page, if you are interested in learning some common words
Traditionally, Albania has been
70% Sunni Muslim, 10% Roman Catholic (mostly in the north)
and 20% Albanian Orthodox, making it the only European country
to have a Muslim majority.
From 1967 to 1990 it was also the only officially atheist
state in the world, and many churches were converted into
cinemas and theatres.
The spiritual vacuum left after the fall of communism has
in part been filled by US evangelists, but new churches and
mosques are springing up all over the country.
food has been strongly influenced by Turkish food.
Grilled meats like shishqebap (shish kebab), romsteak (minced
meat patties) and qofte (meat balls) are common dishes.
Popular local dishes are çonlek (meat and onion stew),
fërges (a rich beef stew), rosto me salcë kosi (roast
beef with sour cream) and tave kosi (mutton with yoghurt).
Lunch is the main meal, although eating out in the evening
in Tirana is increasingly common. Ice cream (akullore) is
very popular, and the coffee is either kafe turke and strong
enough to walk over to your table by itself, or kafe ekspres
There is a large variety of white and red wine. Other local
drinks are raki (brandy), konjak (cognac), uzo ( like Greek
ouzo) and various fruit liqueurs.
|Theater and Film
theatre has long-standing traditions. This is testified by
the archaeological excavation of the theatres and amphitheatres
dating back to the 4th - 3rd centuries BC.
However, as a result of the repetitive warring and the innumerous
invasions, theater was neither popular nor widespread in Albania
before World War I (1914-1918).
The first Albanian play, Emma, was written in 1887 by an
Italian-Albanian, Anton Santo ri, and dealt with themes of
the Albanian diaspora (migration to other countries). Instead
of accurately portraying daily life, prewar drama depicted
the romantic patriotism of the past.
Under the Communists, theater became a weapon of propaganda,
and new theaters and plays with Communist themes were encouraged.
The plays, however, were subjected to more rigorous censorship
than written literature, thereby crushing much creativity
and stunting the growth of a native theater. Foreign theater
companies were also banned.
Nevertheless, a few talented play writers, including Lon
Papa, emerged in this period. In the mid-1990s theater continued
to lag behind Albanian literature in its development.
Cinema is also undeveloped. During the Communist period,
films, like plays, focused on heroics. Popular themes included
the anti-Turk struggles of folk hero Scanderbeg (also spelled
Skenderbeg), Albanian resistance to assimilation by foreigners,
and the clash between tradition and change.
Although there are fewer political restrictions on film
today than in the Communist era, a lack of money and technical
resources continues to hamper the growth of Albanian film.
Before written Albanian
was standardised in 1909, there was very little literature.
Fan Noli, who died in 1965, was the giant of 20th century
Albanian literature. Many of his own works were based on religious
themes, but the introductions he wrote to his translations
of Cervantes, Shakespeare, Ibsen and Omar Khayyám established
him as the country's foremost literary critic.
In the late 19th century, under Ottoman rule, the brothers
Naim and Sami Frasheri developed an underground Albanian literature
by combining linguistic purity and patriotism.
Albania's best known contemporary writer is Ismail Kadare,
who fled the country's police state in 1990. His work has
been translated into 40 languages.
In addition tales were passed down through the generations
in the form of heroic songs, legends, and epics.
This oral tradition helped the native language and national
identity survive until written texts emerged.
The oldest known document in the Albanian language dates to