Saturday, 28 April 2012

Albania

We were excited when we set off for Albania remembering how it was a totally closed society for nearly 50 years. Two decades have elapsed since they gained democracy and they have made impressive steps forward. When the Communist government first fell, you may recall that the Albanians broke into the armouries and stole guns. People went around firing at all and sundry, the place resembled the "wild west", everyone wanted a gun to protect themselves and their family. 
The Albanian's are small, distinctive looking people. Many consider them to be descended from the original Illyrian people. Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hodges), the man who held Albania in an iron grip was not a typical looking Albanian, he was very tall, and brought his people to their knees. During nearly 50 years he ruled in much the same way as Chairman Mao. Intellectuals were sent to work in the countryside, and peasants carried out Enver's rules. If anyone questioned anything at all, they vanished without trace. Their culture became totally denuded, all monuments apart from 9 were destroyed, and religion was banned. They had no contact with the outside world, and the people wondered if their plight was known. There are now 10 million Albanian's living around the world and only three and a half million in Albania. Every family has someone working abroad, who sends home money to the family. It is through family loyalty that Albania is making such good progress.
As we crossed the border, we noticed how lush and beautiful the meadows were, and filled with wild flowers. Suddenly we saw two, not one, of these beautiful Golden Oriole birds take off from the bushes and fly over the flowery meadows, a thrilling sight.
Enver's paranoia was such that he had 700,000 of these concrete bunkers built to keep out the Americans, the British, the French, Italians or anyone else who he thought might try to storm his country. Every village has a collection of them, they are indestructible, and are now mainly used to house livestock or tools.
A women typically dressed and also typically doing all of the work, whilst the men sit in the Coffee Houses!!!
A view from Rozafa Castle on the outskirts of the second city of Albania, Shkodrës. If you click on the photo you can see one of the nine remaining monuments. A beautiful, but neglected mosque. All of the tops of the minarets and symbols have been removed, and it sits in flood water. It is made of lead, and built in 1773.
Looking towards Montenegro.
We visited Rozafa Castle of Venetian origin, the site of several famous sieges, including the siege of Shkodër by the Ottomans in 1478.
Looking towards Albania's second city of Shkodër
Shkodër sits on the river Buna which was a trade route  linking it to the Adriatic Sea
In the city of Shkodër there is now this new mosque, a new Catholic cathedral and new Orthodox church. They are all built close together to show toleration and friendship towards each other.
The city centre is being redeveloped in a more Mediterranean style in contrast to the awful identical communist buildings which Enver had built.
This house was a typical merchant's home surrounded by fortified walls, attesting to the significant role the merchants had along the ancient trade routes between the Mediterranean and the Balkans. The house was constructed in 1815 and has been restored to its original state. 
The central area of the house is open, this is where the men would sit and talk, no women allowed. However, the women listened to what was said  through the grill windows which you can see. 
bunker and golden oriole via wikipedia

34 comments:

  1. Good morning Roscmary
    Even a nice trip. Is nice people to thrive and to look to their future. The renovation of the building shows the progress to keep their traditions and have a better standard of living. We thank you for sharing the journey with us.
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - we were impressed with the progress that the Albanian people have made. They are obviously determined to turn their country around after so many years of neglect.

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  2. Hello Rosemary;
    It is so refreshing to be reading this very positive post about Albania which has, like so many countries in the region, had a very troubled past. We know of several people who have spent years working in the country on various aid missions.

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    1. Dear Jane and Lance - it is interesting that you know people who have spent time working in Albania, I wonder what their thoughts are on the country? Ours are just brief impressions gained from a flying visit. However, we found everything much more optimistic than we imagined it would be. The Albanian who looked after us was a very personable young man, and we also met some very friendly waiters in a traditional restaurant, most of whom were earning money to get them through university.

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  3. Dear Rosemary,
    This is such an interesting informative post. I know nothing really of Albania. Only as you say, that they were under a dictatorship. pretty much like Portugal. Alas many people suffered in that beautiful country too. Its wonderful to hear that its prospering again.
    On one of my art workshops to Corfu 3 years ago. We sat on the sea front to paint a sea scene.. and the mountains of Albania in the distance. I will never forget that scene. The music of Charles
    Aznavour came to my mind. A great Armenian.
    Most enjoyable post Rosemary, thank you
    Happy Saturday
    val

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    1. Dear Val - what a lovely spot to have a workshop, sitting on the seafront with the Albanian mountains in the distance. It would be lovely to see some of your work from that time. The mountains are a dominant feature in Albania, the area we visited was completely surrounded by them. Enjoy your weekend.

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  4. Hello Rosemary [again!]:
    People we know who have spent some years in Albania have not, if the truth is to be told, been quite so upbeat and so we were more than interested in your impressions. They report the usual tales of widespread corruption, the gap between rich and poor widening, and an economy which is, at best, faltering. But we are pleased that your 'guide', a young person, appeared optimistic for his country. The young are, after all, the future.

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    1. I can well believe that what you say is the truth. The future is, hopefully, very much with the young people. Our guide would only have been a child during the Communist era, and was not, therefore, shackled by the past as older people would be. When freedom happens, as in Russia and China, there are always those who know how to turn things very much to their advantage.

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  5. I am encouraged by the three religious building being so close together. So much good in this post Rosemary. So much I have to be thankful for too.

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    1. Dear Olive - it is indeed important to be thankful when reflecting on the lives of others. The half century of a grim life for all must have been difficult in the extreme, and also not knowing who you could trust. It is good that they are making progress.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,
    Welcome back from Montenegro.
    Great posts both this and the one from Montenegro.
    It's so interesting to read and see your beautiful photos from these places.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Wish you a wonderful weekend.
    Greetings Mette

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    1. Dear Mette - it is good to be back with my friends on blogger again. I am so pleased that you enjoyed seeing the photos from Montenegro and Albania, and found it an interesting read. I appreciate very much your kind comments.

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  7. This is fascinating Rosemary, and interesting to have Jane and Lance's perspective as well. Europe is such a complex place, and having an understanding of the hsitory, recent and not so recent, of the vastly different "bits" is a major undertaking. Your photographs are stunning, and your analysis of what you have seen and heard makes excellent reading. Thanks. J.

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    1. Dear Janice - that is the good thing with out blogs that we can share and exchange ideas and views, and I appreciated Jane and Lance's perspective too. As you say Europe is a complex place, and the more we find out and understand our history the better.
      I am pleased that you enjoyed the photos and learning a little of the history in that area, both very ancient and also very new.

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  8. This is the first time I see an article of Albania. Love the yellow bird and mosque.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Dear Filip - it is strange that a country which is only a 2½ hour plane journey away is so little known to us.
      Yes, I love the yellow bird too, I was so pleased we saw them.

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  9. Dear Rosemary - Your post induced me to read up on Enver Hoxha, and what a story that is! I imagine that the Albanians have not yet lost a certain wariness of "the outside world." But the close proximity of the different churches is cause for optimism.

    The image of the yellow oriole is gorgeous, and the last panoramic photo is exceptional as well. Thanks for the introduction to Albania!

    Mark

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  10. Dear Mark - I am pleased that this post offered you an opportunity to find out more about Enver Hoxha yourself. It is a terrible thing that he inflicted on the people, and unfortunately similar things are still happening in the world today. The young people are their future. I am sure most of the older generation must be scarred from their experiences.
    The unspoilt nature and the beautiful landscapes were a great attraction.

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  11. hey rosemary,
    Never knew anything about this beautyfull country. Your vieuws are gorgeous and your backgroundstory is very interesting.
    Have a nice sunday

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  12. Dear marijke - glad you enjoyed the trip to Albanian. I was happily surprised at how beautiful it was. Their history is an interesting, but sad one.

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  13. So close to Greece ... but we never go there ... Love your travel stories, Rosemary !

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    1. Dear Dani - so pleased that you enjoyed reading about Albania which we found to be a fascinating place to visit.

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  14. Very interesting post Rosemary. Great views of Albania, so lush and green. I can imagine the Buna being an exciting bustling trade route in its day spilling out into the Adriatic, merging with diverse cultures on its way.

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    1. Dear Paul- Sometimes when looking back at history, it would have been very interesting to have been able to witness what happened. In the 4th century BC Shkodër was founded by the Illyrian tribe of Labeats. In 168 BC the city was taken by the Romans when it became an important trade route. It was then captured by the Serbs in 1040 AD, and in 1396 came under Venetian rule before finally falling to Turkish rule. Quite a chequered history.

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  15. Hello Rosemary,
    I really liked your text and photos on Albania.
    Congratulations on your beautiful work, a hug

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    1. Dear Antonio - your comments are very generous, and I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post. Take care.

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  16. Awesome information about Albania. Great photos, too!

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    1. Dear Marie - glad that you enjoyed the information about Albania and the photos.

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  17. Very true! "The young are the future!" I worked with some young Albanian refugees, a few years back. They were just kids, very smart kids, who had to leave their country, in the hope of a better life. I know they went to college, but eventually we lost touch.

    I don't think I should express my opinions regarding our interference in Eastern Europe, and the real reasons for it!

    So... I'll just say that I love the yellow bird, too, and that your photos are lovely, as they really are... and very interesting.

    My father told me a lot about Albania, when I was little. I'm happy to see that civilization is returning to that country after so much disruption.

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

    ANNA
    xx

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  18. Dear Anna - you are quite right, discretion is often the best policy.
    I am pleased you like the yellow bird, I was so excited when we saw two of them. Apparently they do migrate to Britain but I have never seen one here.
    We were impressed with the progress Albania has made, it has beautiful countryside to photograph and enjoy.

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  19. Horrible men, but, a great collection of photos.

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    1. I presume you meant to write man? and are referring to Enver?
      Glad you like the photos.

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  20. Such an interesting post and lovely pictures. Strangely enough, I was recently looking at Albania in a travel catalogue and thinking it seemed to be a place well worth visiting, and so relatively unknown.

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    1. Dear Nat - with your adventurous streak I am sure you would enjoy Albania. It is relatively unknown, I have been surprised how little people do know about it.

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