Albanian Culture

Music – Dance and Albania’s Folklore

Albanian Folk DancersAlbanian 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 public.

Handicraft

MosaicHandicraft 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

Head Sculpture 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 culture.

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 landscapes.

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 Ancient Templeunchanged 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.

Language

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

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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 and phrases.

Religion

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

Albanian Dish PresentationAlbanian 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 (espresso).

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

Ancient TheatreAlbanian 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.

Literature

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 1462.