Tirana is the capital and largest city of Albania, and is the heart of the country’s cultural, economic and government activity. Known for its colorful Ottoman, Fascist and Soviet era architecture that have been painted in pastels. The colorful buildings that surround the city’s focal point, Skanderbeg Square, are a much photographed feature of Tirana. Tirana is one of largest cities in the Balkan Peninsula ranking 7th with a population of over 800,000. Almost all of the largest companies, media and scientific institutions have their headquarters in Tirana.
Skanderbeg Square is named for its equestrian statue of a national hero. On the square’s north end is the modernist National History Museum, covering prehistoric times through to the anti-Communist uprisings of the 1990s.
Tirana is a city with a rich history that dates back to Paleolithic times, 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. The oldest settlement located in the area of the city was the Cave of Pellumbas, in today’s village of Pellumbas. Archaeologists believe Tirana and its suburbs are filled with ancient Illyrian toponyms because its precincts are some of the earliest regions in Albania to have been inhabited.
One of the city’s ancient monuments, the Tirana Mosaic, is believed to have been part of a 3rd century ancient Roman house. Later, in the 5th and 6th centuries, a Paleo-Christian Basilica was built around the site.
A castle possibly called Tirkan or Theranda, whose remnants are found along Murat Toptani Street, was built by Emperor Justinian in 520 A.D. and restored by Ahmed Pasha Toptani in the 18th century. The area had no special importance in Illyrian and classical times.
The Castle of Petrelë was built in the 6th century AD and was built by Justinian I.
In 1510, Marin Barleti, an Albanian Catholic priest and scholar, in the biography of the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi Epirotarum principis (The story of life and deeds of Skanderbeg, the prince of Epirotes), referred to this area as a small village.
Even though it was continuously inhabited since antiquity, Tirana was formerly founded as a city in 1614. Tirana was an unimportant centre until the beginning of the 20th century, when the Congress of Lushnjë proclaimed Tirana to be the capital of Albania, which had acquired Independence in 1912. Records from the first land registrations under the Ottomans in 1431–32 show that Tirana consisted of 60 inhabited areas, with nearly 2,028 houses and 7,300 inhabitants. Tirana is mentioned since 1572 as Borgo di Tirana.
In 1614, Sulejman Bargjini, a local ruler, built the Old mosque, a small commercial centre, and a hammam (Turkish bath). During this period, the Et’hem Bey Mosque was built by Molla Bey of Petrela. The best artisans in the country were employed, and was completed in 1821 by Molla’s son, Etëhem, who was also Sulejman Bargjini’s grandnephew. In 1800, the first newcomers arrived in the settlement, the so-called ortodoksit. They were Vlachs from villages near Korçë and Pogradec. They settled around modern day Park on the Artificial Lake. They started to be known as the llacifac and were the first Christians in residence after the creation of the town. After Serb reprisals in the Debar region, thousands of locals fled to Tirana. In 1807, Tirana became the center of the Sub-Prefecture of Krujë-Tirana. After 1816, Tirana languished under the control of the Toptani family of Krujë. Later, Tirana became a Sub-Prefecture of the newly created Vilayet of Shkodër and Sanjak of Durrës.
In 1889, the Albanian language started to be taught in Tirana’s schools, while the patriotic club Bashkimi was founded in 1908. On 28 November 1912, the national flag was raised in agreement with Ismail Qemali. During the Balkan Wars, the town was temporarily occupied by the Serbian army and it took part in uprising of the villages led by Haxhi Qamili. In 1917, the first city outline was compiled by Austro-Hungarian architects.
In 1923, the first regulatory city plan was compiled by Austrian architects.
Tirana served as the venue for the signing, between Fascist Italy and Albania, of the Pact of Tirana.
In 1939, Tirana was captured by Fascist forces and a puppet government was installed. Shortly afterwards, there was a failed assassination attempt made on Victor Emmanuel III of Italy by a local resistance activist during a visit to Tirana.
In November 1941, Miladin Popović and Dušan Mugoša, emissaries of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), call a meeting of three Albanian communist groups. It was at this meeting that the Communist Party of Albania was founded. Enver Hoxha emerged as the party leader, and Tirana became the center of the Albanian communists. From Tirana, the Communists mobilized locals against Italian fascists and later Nazi Germans, all the while spreading ideological propaganda. On 17 November 1944, the town was liberated after a fierce battle between the Communists and German forces and the communists seized power.
The northern portion of the main boulevard was renamed Stalin Boulevard and his statue was erected in the city square. Because private car ownership was banned, mass transportation consisted mainly of bicycles, trucks and buses. After Hoxha’s death, a pyramidal museum was constructed in his memory by the government.
The Mustafa Matohiti Street is known as Rruga e Salës among the locals, named after former Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
After the fall of communism in Albania, a dramatic growth of new developments took place, with many new exclusive flats and apartments, especially in the Blloku district.
During the Balkans turmoil in the mid 1990s, Tirana experienced unrest in 1997 and a failed coup d’état on 14 September 1998. In 1999, following the Kosovo War, Tirana Airport became a NATO airbase used former Yugoslavia.
Starting in 2000, former Tirana mayor Edi Rama, under the Ilir Meta government, undertook a campaign to demolish illegal buildings around the city centre and along the Lana River banks to bring the area to its pre-1990 state. In an attempt to widen roads, Rama authorized the bulldozing of private properties so that they could be paved over, thus widening streets. Most main roads underwent reconstruction, such the Ring Road (Unaza), Kavaja Street and the main boulevard. It was Rama who led the initiative to paint the façades of Tirana’s buildings in bright colors (see photo above). Known as Edi Rama colors, the buildings are bright pink, yellow, green, violet. Unfortunately, much of the interiors of the vivid colored buildings continue to degrade.
Rama’s critics claimed that he focused too much attention on cosmetic changes without fixing any of the major problems, such as shortages of drinking water and electricity. Regardless of criticism, rather than see to infrastructure, a rich calendar of events was introduced and a Municipal Police force established.
Since 2005 the southeast region of Tirana, mainly Farke and Petrela has become the preferred location to build residential complexes, and has the largest mall in Albania, the Tirana East Gate (TEG).
As a result of the 2015 municipality election, power was transferred from the Democratic Party of Albania, representative, Lulzim Basha, to the Socialist Party candidate Erion Veliaj. Since then Tirana has undergone major changes. The architect Stefano Boeri was contracted to work on the General Urban Plan of Tirana (TR030), which makes a series of interventions to the city’s infrastructure.
Tirana is ranked in the Top 10 of the sunniest cities in Europe with a total of 2,544 hours of sunshine, making it a popular tourist destination among Europeans.