Thursday, February 23, 2012


Albania is a land of old and new, ancient ruins and building up from scratch. I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about Albania. I think I remember it being briefly mentioned when I was reading “Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernières (good book, by the way).

Albania’s geography has a lot to do with the people, culture, arts and food. First off, it was situated between two major civilizations of the ancient world: Roman to the west of it and Greek to the south and east of it. The country itself is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland; the capital Tirana being almost in the middle. It’s a coastal country, bordered by both the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea, just across the sea from Italy. Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece border the other sides.

Albania is mountainous, with only about 20% of the land being arable. It is rich with natural resources, but years of communist rule have left the country with little to no money to invest into mining. It’s like the old adage, “You need money to make money.” It’s quite rural, although there are a few larger cities with Tirana being the largest (it has about 421,000 – about the size of Atlanta, Georgia).

Because I’m a linguist, I’m somewhat fascinated with the Albanian language. It’s an Indo-European language, but it sort of stands alone. While it shares certain similarities with other nearby languages, it really is in a group all by itself. It’s practically only spoken in Albania, with the exception of spilling over the borders a little and in countries that are the result of Albanian diaspora. Only about 7.5 million speakers speak Albania; that’s less than the entire population of London, England! 

While it was under communist rule, there was a decree against any kind of religious observance. Every mosque and church closed in 1967 and was not allowed to reopen until 1990.  Because of that, there aren’t really any hard numbers on religion in Albania, but unofficial numbers are that around 70% of Albanians are Muslim, with only 20% Albanian Orthodox and 10% Roman Catholic.

While the majority of Albanians has access to clean water and sanitation and generally have high literacy rates, unemployment remains high, and it is still one of the poorest countries in Europe.  But I’m really thrilled to delve into the culture of Albania. I’ve truly become interested in this little-known country, and I’m really excited to show you the best sides of it.

Next up: Holidays and Celebrations

Wikipedia articles: “Albania,” “Tirana,” “List of US cities by population,” “World’s largest municipalities by population”

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