Sunday, 3 November 2013

Albania?? Yes, Albania!

Many people have asked, why Albania of all places?  We did too, when we first heard that was one of the five stops on the cruise.  There were concerns about safety all over the web and it was ironical that the port briefing flyer for the day actually had a special warning about safety in Albania - so why did they choose to stop there?!

Hmm...this was the view that greeted us when the ship docked at Durres...

It turned out to be an interesting day, with a quick glimpse of the history of the Illyrians in Kruje, the communist mindset through the Art Gallery in Tirana and ancient history in the amphitheatre in Durres. We had been prepped on the ancient history of Albania the day before by an antiquarian collector in our group - a brief history of the Illyrian ancestors of the Albanians and their coinage. 

We had arranged for a local guide, Dorian Disha, to pick up our group of eleven.  He was full of information about his country and culture - his infectious enthusiasm made us more engaged in what at first seemed like a not too exciting port.  Our first stop was Kruje, about an hour away from Durres, the port where we landed. We went right to the Skanderbeg Museum inside the ruins of the castle at the top of hill which commanded a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.  

An interesting aside - we drove through the small town of Fushe-Kruje on the way to Kruje and found that there was at least one place where George W. Bush was loved - they have his statue and the square named after him.    
George W. Bush Square in Fushe-Kruje

We walked through this old market to get to the museum 

Some of the interesting merchandise on sale - a collector's heaven
First stop is the national ethnographic museum housed in an 18th century villa, the former mansion of the Toptani family.  There were lots of ancient artisanal equipment on the lower level servants' quarters while the upper floors gave us a picture of the family life of the wealthy owners.

The Toptani villa
Our guide, Dorian Disha, demonstrating how the grain grinder works

The olive press

The men's sitting room upstairs

Turkish steam bath

Cobbled pathway to the Bazaar Mosque
Our second stop was an 18th century mosque accessible by a steep cobbled pathway.  One was reminded that Albania was largely Muslim except in the past 25 years, no religion was practised under the Communist regime.  Many families, like that of our guide, lost their religion during this period.   For an interesting article on Islam in Albania, go to Saudi Aramco World: "Albania's Islamic Rebirth"

Bazaar Mosque built in 1779
Detail inside the mosque
Ancient tree outside the mosque
An unusual mother and baby picture

Panoramic view from the terrace beside the Mosque

Skanderbeg Museum, named after one of Albania's national heroes, was worth a walkthrough.  Our collector friend was thrilled to find some of the Illyrian coins he owned in the museum.

The ruins of the castle outside the museum

Next stop:  Tirana


  1. Thank you for well written summary of your visit and great photos. We will visit Albania by cruise ship next month.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Have a great cruise. Hope everything works out for you.