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Location - South east Europe; Capital - Tirana; Population - 2.9 million; Currency - Lek MORE ALBANIA

British Airways fly direct from London to Tirana, the capital of Albania, which has a lot more going for it than I expected - April 2018.


albanianote3A 200 Lek note. Shqiperise means Albania in Albanian









albania73The heart of the capital is Skanderbeg Square - Tirana


albania65A huge mural stands above the entrance to the National History Museum on Skanderbeg Square - Tirana


albania70A statue of 15th century military commander and national hero Skanderbeg in front of the Et'hem Bey Mosque - Tirana















albania71Straight ahead is the communist era Tirana International Hotel, while on the right is the Opera House - Tirana















albania77Climb the steps of the clock tower for a bird's eye view of Skanderbeg Square, with the minaret of Et'hem Bey Mosque in the foreground - Tirana


albania81The entrance (not an original) to Bunk'Art 2, one of several newly opened museums covering the dark past of communism - Tirana


albania82Bunk'Art 2 is housed in what was a top secret, bomb-proof underground bunker built in the 1980s by the communist regime - Tirana














albania92One of the offices for the Minister of Internal Affairs and other staff in Bunk'Art 2 - Tirana















albania94An original panel from the House of Leaves (see further below) which controlled bugging devices in the Dajti, Tirana and Arbana hotels. In all, 50 rooms in the Dajti Hotel were under surveillance, 24 in Hotel Arbana and 30 in Hotel Tirana (presumably the same hotel as the Tirana International Hotel?) - Tirana


albania125A pedestrian street with outdoor cafes, near Bunk'Art 2 - Tirana


albania99One of several colourful government buildings just off Skanderbeg Square - Tirana















albania100The Pyramid is a communist relic designed by dictator Enver Hoxha's daughter & husband as a memorial to him - Tirana















albania105Inside it's derelict and crumbling but there's talk of renovating it at some point - Tirana


albania103I had a pathetic attempt at climbing the steep slope but slipped straight back down after a metre. I blame my sandals! Tirana


albania113Follow Blvd Deshmoret e Kombit south and over the bank near Mother Teresa Square to Tirana Lake - Tirana














albania114A statue of Albanian musician Francesk Radi at Tirana Lake - Tirana














albania117A typical painting of Socialist Realism, glorifying communist values, at the National Art Gallery - Tirana


albaniaoldnoteA communist era Albanian banknote, displaying similar socialist propaganda


albania119Behind the National Art Gallery are a few famous communist faces, including Lenin and a rare one of Stalin - Tirana


albania121 Also behind the museum is a female partisan fighter - Tirana














albania129The building of the Great Mosque of Tirana is almost complete. Under the Hoxha regime religion was outlawed, declaring itself the world's first atheist state, with many mosques and churches being destroyed - Tirana















albania122Though nominally a Muslim country Albania has a sizeable Christian community, this being the Orthodox Cathedral in central Tirana, opposite the House of Leaves - Tirana


albania128The 19th century Tanners' Bridge - Tirana


albania130I'm waiting for Donald Trump Boulevard in Pyongyang - Tirana















albania131The Monument to the Unknown Partisan - Tirana















albania133Fountains on show outside the Regency Casino, which also has a cafe-restaurant with outdoor seating - Tirana


albania138All the electricity boxes in Tirana are brightly painted with cartoon characters. Nice touch! Tirana


albania137.. though this guy looks straight from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Tirana















albania149The street art I saw tagged Franko were all of children - Tirana















albania139There's lots of cool-looking bars in Blloku, an area that was exclusively reserved for the regime's leaders in communist times, and out-of-bounds for mere locals - Tirana


albania150This seemed to be the place to be in 2018, the Billionaires Club in Blloku, next to Hoxha's former home. In the evening just follow the music! Tirana


albania141Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha's former house in Blloku (The Block in English). Hoxha was Albania's leader from 1944 until his death in 1985, helping rebuild the country following World War II - Tirana














albania222However he became infamous for political repression in the form of human rights abuses, forced labour camps and extrajudicial killings. And surprisingly this is his tombstone, in Sharra Cemetery - Tirana















albania109You'll see plenty of these around Albania. Through the 1970s until 1983 over 173,000 concrete bunkers were built - most similar in size to the one pictured - following the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Many have been destroyed, but others being converted to storehouses, shops and even hostels - Tirana


albania108The Checkpoint memorial comprises a bunker plus these concrete mineshaft frames from the notorious Spaç labour camp, which had a number of political prisoners - Tirana


albania225The feared Sigurimi, Albania's secret police in the communist era, were the eyes and ears of political repression. The House of Leaves is a museum housed in the Sigurimi's former surveillance headquarters - Tirana














albania231Inside the House of Leaves is a board detailing torture techniques - Tirana














albania232On display are various bugging devices, recording equipment, transmitters, radios, and cameras, all looking very dated by 21st century standards - Tirana


albania252Both Albanians and foreigners were monitored. This is a film exposing an ambassador's wife as a trader in smuggled goods - Tirana


albania238 Photos of just some of the methods of bugging - inside radios, shoe soles, jackets, broom handles, handbags, guns, pipes, vases etc, the list is endless - Tirana














albania195I didn't know anything about this interesting place, the World Bektashi Centre, world headquarters of the Bektashi movement on the outskirts of Tirana















albania200Bektashism is a Sufi order of Islam founded in the 13th century. After being expelled from Turkey in 1925 it moved its headquarters to Tirana


albania219Sheltering beneath the Plaza Hotel is the Tyrbe of Kapllan Pasha, a tyrbe being a Bektashi shrine - Tirana


albania207The imposing Mother Albania monument overlooks the city - Tirana
















albania215Mt Dajti National Park shelters the the city on its north east side - Tirana














albania218Mother Albania overlooks the Martyrs' Cemetery, where soldiers/partisans who died in World War II are buried. Hoxha used to lie next to Mother Albania but in 1992, after the fall of communism, his body was exhumed and reburied at Sharra Cemetery on the western outskirts of the capital - Tirana


albania154Walking through the tunnel that leads to Bunk'Art 1, another fascinating relic of the communist period - Tirana


albania162 Bunk'Art 1 is the largest of the communist bunkers, built in the 1970s to house the govenment in the event of attack. And all top-secret of course - Tirana














albania190Dormitories and offices occupy a huge area, along with decontamination and filter rooms, an assembly hall and more - Tirana














albania168Naturally Enver Hoxha had the biggest and most luxurious room, though not as luxurious as it could have been - Tirana


albania167...then walk through to Hoxha's bedroom. Apparently he never slept here, though he did attend two military drills following the inauguration of the bunker in 1978 - Tirana


albania177A nerve gas demonstration, thankfully with a 'harmless' vapour - Tirana














albania187Amazing to see what looks like a mini-theatre in the middle of a war bunker. This is the Assembly Room, a parliament hall for government meetings - Tirana
















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LINKS - tourist info - Tirana Times newspaper, in English - Tirana tourist info


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