Albania is a southeastern country known for its snowy alps as well as its sunny beaches. Spanning a landmass of 11,100 square miles, it plays home to more than 2.8 million Albanians. Formerly a communist country, Albania has shifted its sights from centralized planning to a bustling supply-and-demand economy.
1. Albania’s etymology is said to be drawn from two sources.
Albania is the country’s name in medieval Latin. As for where this came from, researchers offer 2 possible explanations. It might have been drawn from the Illyrian tribe of Albani, which in Ptolemy’s map is seen as the town of Albanopolis. Other historians suggest that the name might have been taken from the city of Albanon, which was also known as Arbanon.
During the 14th century, the ancient Albanians referred to their country as Shqipëri or Shqipëria. The name was eventually changed to Arbëria and Arbëreshë in the 18th century. Both pertain to Albania as the “Land of the Eagles” – and its citizens as the “children of the eagles”, a fun fact about Albania.
2. The country was first inhabited during the Middle Paleolithic period.
Albania welcomed its first residents – the Neanderthals – anywhere between 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. Evidence of its prehistoric inhabitants, in the forms of flint and jasper objects, can be seen in the caves of Konispol and Pellumbas.
Next to colonize the country were the Indo-European peoples, who moved into present-day Albania during the Iron and Bronze Ages. They were said to speak the proto-Greek dialect. In 1600, they moved out to Mycenae to start the illustrious Mycenean civilization.
3. Albania was once ruled by the Illyrians.
The Illyrians of the Ardiaei tribe ruled much over Albania during antiquity. Throughout this period, Albania belonged to the Ardiaean Kingdom, which flourished under the rule of Agron.
The realm, whose borders reached the Ionian Sea, was prosperous until the Romans came along. Multiple wars took place, with the Third Illyrian war sealing the fate of the Ardiaeans. The Romans ended up victorious. As such, the conquest of 167 BC resulted in the Kingdom’s division into three administrative regions.
4. The country was an Angevin Kingdom during the middle ages.
Charles de Anjou, who conquered much of the Byzantine empire, named the area “Kingdom of Albania” in February 1272. This dominion spanned from modern-day Durres to the Butrint coast.
De Anjou, however, failed to expand his boundaries despite many attempts. It was reduced even further when his clan was kicked out of the interior by 1281. From here on out, the kingdom dwindled and was eventually reduced to a small region in Durres. It was finally captured by Karl Thopia in 1368, with his son offering the district to the Republic of Venice a few decades after.
5. The Ottoman Turks helped spread the Islam religion in Albania.
In 1385, the Ottoman Turks set foot on the Ionian coast. By 1431, they have already occupied much of Albania. They divided the region into four sanjaks or districts.
Since most Albanians back then were Christians, they were considered inferior by the Muslim Turks, an interesting fact about Albania. Because of the lack of opportunities and the subsequent suppression of Catholicism, the majority of Christian Albanians reverted to Islam in the 17th century. The Orthodox Albanians followed suit a century later.
Muslim Albanians eventually attained acclaim, with many holding high political, administrative, and military positions. Some became Grand Viziers, while some became part of the royal family.
6. Albania had its own Renaissance period.
In the late 19th century, the Albanian people united to promote a free lifestyle within an independent nation. This became the Albanian Renaissance or Revival, a period of awakening that lasted until the 20th century. During this time, nationalistic arts and literature prospered. Good examples include the works of Albanian Renaissance artists Kole Idromeno and Jorgji Panariti, which gained fame throughout the country and the rest of Europe.
7. Albania gained its independence on November 28, 1912.
After centuries of Ottoman rule, Albania finally gained its much-deserved independence in 1912. The newly-established country was placed under the supervision of the International Commission of Control, which was headquartered in Vlore.
Wilhelm of Wied became the first prince. In the provisional capital of Durres, he assigned Turhan Pasha Permeti to form the nation’s first cabinet. His reign did not last though, as he was exiled in 1914 following the rebel capture of Central Albania.
8. The country was formerly communist.
After World War II, the country was transformed into the People’s Republic of Albania. It was put under the rule of Enver Hoxha, a communist politician. This period saw an increase in urbanization and industrialization, which led to faster economic growth and a higher standard of living. Railways were constructed, and lands were awarded to the farmers who tilled it, a fun Albania fact.
9. “The state recognizes no religion.”
Such a statement was included in Albania’s 1976 constitution, an interesting fact about Albania. This is said to be drawn from Hoxha’s desire to make the country an atheist state. He successfully did so in 1967 by executing Islamic priests and ulemas. He made it a point to destroy mosques and libraries that contained important manuscripts.
Other denominations were not spared as churches were subsequently transformed into cultural centers for the youth. Hoxha even enforced a rule banning all religious activities, with offenders receiving a prison sentence lasting up to 10 years.
10. Ponzi pyramid schemes brought down the Albanian communist government.
The government supported Ponzi pyramid schemes, telling the people that they were large investment firms. The scheme eventually collapsed in 1996, with protesters demanding to get their money back. The peaceful rally became a bloody one when the military opened fire. The Republican Guard eventually deserted their posts, leaving the armories open to gangs and militias.
The resulting Albanian Civil War led to the creation of Operation Alba, an Italy-backed mission to restore peace in the country, a fun fact about Albania. This helped pave the way for the country’s contemporary state, which is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic, in November 1998.
Albania’s colorful history may be marred by conquests and colonialism, but this did not stop the people from helping the country progress towards its current state. Presently, it is a developing upper-middle income country, famous for providing its citizens with free healthcare and education.
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