Old and New Tirana: Museums and Blloku Quarter
Tour Participation Requirements
Special Medical Restriction
The old and the brand-spanking-new are coming together at breakneck speed in Albania's fast-evolving capital city. You need look no further than the riotously painted apartment buildings that have transformed a sea of dismal Soviet-style residential blocks into a visual house party. They're the perfect symbol of this city's joie-de-vivre after 45 years of brutal isolation from the rest of the world.
In the decades since freedom came to town, Tirana's famously friendly locals have re-learned how to get out and enjoy life. They've even taken over the off-limits neighborhood where their dictators once lived in isolation – turning Blokku into a happening scene full of French delicacies, the latest fashions, intimate parks, and the cafe life. Quite the metamorphosis.
Included in this rebirth is a revival of the nation's more distant past. Tiranans recall it at Skanderbeg Square, named for the 15th-century Albanian superhero depicted in bronze (complete with cape) at its center. Astride his battle stallion and brandishing his mighty sword and goat's-head helmet, Skanderbeg is the undisputed symbol of Albania's fearless resistance and resilience.
It's been a necessary quality. Over the centuries, Albania has had more than a few occupying cultures to resist – and at the National History Museum, you'll encounter artifacts from many of them. Its eight pavilions present everything from ancient Greek- and Roman-era treasures to objects from the Middle Ages, when Byzantines, Venetians Ottomans, and others traded control. Especially haunting is the recently opened exhibit where Albania's long 20th-century era of Communist prison camps and terror squads is frankly presented via film, document, and relic.
After seeing that, the newborn freedom and exuberance you'll feel pulsing in the streets of Blloku will seem all the more understandable – and inspiring.
Mosque of the courageous
Just off Skanderbeg Square, the 1821 Et'hem Bey Mosque is as powerful an expression of Tirana's never-say-die character as any other. After a Communist Party atheism edict in 1967, virtually all religious buildings were destroyed; this one was spared as a cultural monument, but was off-limits to worshippers. In 1991, local Muslims reopened it without official permission, and some 10,000 people assembled here to pray. The police chose not to interfere, signaling a new era of religious freedom and the end of Albanian Communism.
Full refunds issued for cancellations made 7 full days prior to the date and time of requested services. Cancellations made within the 7-day and 72-hour window will receive a 50% refund of purchase total. Purchases are non-refundable inside of 72 hours.