Lcated in south-eastern Europe running north-south along the Adriatic Sea, immediately north of Greece, Albania the southernmost of the Balkan states. Closed to outsiders for much of the 20th century, Albania has long been the enigma of the Balkans. Here are some interesting facts about Albania.
Facts about Albania
1. Albania is the 140th largest country in the world.
Albania has a total land area of 28,748 km² (11,100 sq mi), which makes it slightly smaller than the US state of Maryland.
2. Albania shares a land border with four countries.
Albania shares borders with Montenegro (186 km) to the northwest, Kosovo (112 km) to the northeast, North Macedonia (181 km) to the east, and Greece (212 km) to the south.
3. The name Albania is the medieval Latin name of the country.
Albania is believed to be derived from the Albanoi, an Illyrian tribe which lived in what is today central Albania, from the 7th century BC to 2nd century BC.
4. Albanians call their country Shqipëria and refer to themselves as Shqiptarë.
One of the most intriguing facts about Albania is that Albanians call themselves Shqiptarë and don’t refer to home as Albania. Instead the name Albanians use for their nation is “Shqipëri”. Two etymologies have been proposed for these ethnonyms.
The first postulates that they are derived from the Albanian word for eagle (shqiponjë), a common heraldic symbol for many Albanian dynasties in the Late Middle Ages. The other theory, popular among Albanian scholars, is that these names are derived from the word shqiptoj, meaning to speak intelligibly.
5. In Albania, no means yes and yes means no.
In what can be seen as one of the most peculiar Albania facts, Albanians nod when they mean “no” and shake their head when they mean “yes”! So be careful answering questions with your head.
6. Albania didn’t have a currency until 1926.
This is one of the more unique facts about Albania. Amazingly, Albania didn’t have a national currency before 1926 and the country used the gold standard instead. The Albanian lek (ALL) was introduced in 1926 and has been the national currency of Albania ever since.
7. The national hero of Albania is Gjergj Kastrioti, popularly known as Skanderbeg.
Gjergj Kastrioti is the most celebrated national hero in Albania. The 15th century nobleman is revered for his military efforts against the Ottomans and he remains a point of pride and inspiration for Albanians. His fighting prowess was compared to that of Alexander the Great (Iskander), hence he was called “Iskander bey,” or Skanderbeg.
8. Albania accounts for nearly a third of all flora in Europe.
For such a small country, Albania is a biodiversity hotspot and boasts more than 3,250 species of plants, which accounts for 30% of all flora in Europe.
9. Albania has never won a medal in the Olympics.
Although Albania first participated at the Summer Olympic Games in 1972 and the Winter Olympic Games in 2006, it has never won an Olympic medal. This makes it the only European non-microstate along with Bosnia and Herzegovina without an Olympic medal.
10. There is no McDonalds in Albania.
Instead, there is a local knock off of McDonalds called KOLONAT, which features a suspiciously familiar logo and the same red and yellow colors.
11. Almost three-fourths of Albania’s terrain consists of mountains and hills.
The most extensive mountain ranges are the Korab Mountains in the east, the Skanderbeg Mountains in the center, the Albanian Alps in the north, the Pindus Mountains in the southeast, and the Ceraunian Mountains in the southwest.
12. The golden eagle is the national symbol and animal of Albania.
The golden eagle is revered by Albanians to the point where it has even found itself on the Albanian national flag. Unfortunately, this majestic bird is at risk of becoming extinct due to widespread poaching.
13. The capital of Albania is Tirana.
Located in the center of Albania enclosed by mountains and hills, Tirana is also the largest city and economic center of the country. It is known for its colorful Ottoman-, Fascist- and Soviet-era architecture.
14. The official language of Albania is Albanian.
With about 7.5 million speakers, Albanian comprises an independent branch within the Indo-European language family. The language is descended from Ilyrian and is not closely related to any other language, making it a European linguistic oddity like Basque. Albanian is written in the Latin script and the Albanian alphabet consists of 36 letters.
The two main dialects of Albanian are Gheg and Tosk. They are primarily distinguished by phonological differences and are mutually intelligible, with Gheg spoken in the northern half of the country and Tosk spoken in the southern half.
15. Albania is not a member of the European Union (EU).
Albania is on the current agenda for future enlargement of the EU. It applied for EU membership on 28 April 2009, and has since June 2014 been an official candidate for accession. Accession talks commenced in March 2020.
16. Albania is a NATO member.
Albania has been a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1 April 2009.
17. Albania celebrates its independence day on 28 November 1912.
Albania proclaimed its independence on 28 November 1912 from the Ottoman Empire after having been under Ottoman rule in different periods from 1479 to 1912.
18. Albania was never a part of Yugoslavia nor the Soviet Union.
Contrary to popular belief, Albania was neither a part of Yugoslavia nor the Soviet Union. In September 1948, Albania broke off relations with Yugoslavia, which had aspired to incorporate the country into the Yugoslavian Federation.
Initially allied with the Soviet Union, Albania severed ties with the USSR in 1961. It was basically a stand-alone communist state behind the Iron Curtain.
19. There are more Albanians outside of Albania than in Albania.
The Albanian diaspora is vast and difficult to quantify, with estimates ranging from 5-10 million. In any case, this is clearly larger than Albania’s population of nearly 3 million. The largest communities of the Albanian diaspora are found in Italy, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Argentina, Greece, Romania, Croatia, Turkey, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.
20. The national flag of Albania has two colors.
It consists of a red flag with a silhouetted black double-headed eagle in the center. The red stands for bravery, strength, valor and bloodshed, while the double-headed eagle represents the sovereign state of Albania.
21. Islam is the predominant religion in Albania.
Approximately 60-70% of Albania’s population is Muslim. Out of these, the majority are Sunnis with a small number of Bektashis.
Islam arrived for the first time in the 9th century to Albania, when Muslim Arabs raided the eastern Adriatic Sea and emerged as the majority religion in the 17th and 18th centuries during the centuries of Ottoman rule.
22. Albania was governed by a king from 1928 to 1943.
Certainly one of the lesser-known Albania facts. King Zog I served as the King of Albania from 1928-1939. Zog was succeeded by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy who governed Albania from 1939-1943 when it was an Italian protectorate.
23. From 1939 until 1943, Albania was an Italian protectorate.
With the Italian fascists invading Albania in 1939, Albania ceased to exist as an independent country and remained as an autonomous part of the Italian Empire.
This was orchestrated by Italian government officials, intending to make Albania part of a Greater Italy by colonizing Albania with Italian settlers from the Italian Peninsula to transform it gradually into an Italian land.
24. Albania was under Communist rule for more than 47 years.
The communists seized control of Albania on 29 November 1944. Enver Hoxha, a college instructor, became the leader of Albania by virtue of his post as secretary-general of the party, and served in this capacity till his death in 1985.
While Hoxha was responsible for raising adult literacy, and rebuilding the devastation left after World War II, he was a brutal totalitarian who was responsible for the death and disappearance of up to 100,000 people. Almost all aspects of life were controlled by the ruling party and Albanians lived under constant surveillance for almost five decades.
During Hoxha’s reign, Albania even fell out with most of the world’s communist powers. He broke ties with the USSR, withdrew from the Warsaw Pact, ceased relations with the People’s Republic of China and was also continually virulently hostile to neighbouring Yugoslavia. Eventually, Hoxha virtually cut Albania off from the world.
Restrictions loosened a notch after Hoxha’s death in 1985 and even more so after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it wasn’t until March 1992 that a democratically elected government was voted into power in Albania.
25. During communist times, Albania had a secret police agency.
Operating from 1944 to 1991, Albania’s intelligence and secret police service was known as the “Sigurimi.” Much like the Stasi of East Germany, the main tasks of the Sigurimi were spying on the population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants, and to suppress opposition to the existing communist political system by overt and covert measures.
26. Albania is littered with bunkers.
Enver Hoxha, the paranoid Albanian dictator, was so fearful of an invasion by his enemies (literally everyone) that he ordered the mass-construction of bunkers. Thus, starting in 1967 and continuing until 1986, the Albanian government saw the construction of hundreds of thousands of bunkers across the country.
The exact number of bunkers in Albania is a matter of constant debate and depending on who you ask the number ranges from 175,000 to 750,000! The majority of these pod-like lookouts were never used and were mostly abandoned after the fall of communism, though a number are today being put to good use as homes, cafes or museums.
27. Albanians are highly superstitious.
This is one of our favorite facts about Albania. Some of the zaniest Albanian superstitions are:
- Touching your throat when you have a sore throat will make the illness worse
- If your hands aren’t cold, you’re not being honest
- A person can steal your lover by wearing your ring
- If a pregnant woman doesn’t give in to a craving, the baby will be born with a birthmark
- Spilt coffee will increase your bank account (Gotta love that!)
- If you don’t hold on to your hair after spotting a dead mouse, your hair will fall out
28. In 1967, Albania became the world’s first Atheist state.
The former Communist government closed all places of worship (churches, mosques, and zāwiyahs), confiscated their property, and banned religious observances. Declared believers faced harsh punishments, and many clergymen were killed.
Only in 1990, when freedom of worship was restored, did churches and mosques begin reopening. Today, the constitution of Albania declares no official religion and provides for equality of all religions.
29. Albania was the only country during the Holocaust in Europe where the Jewish population grew.
Today, there are only a few hundred Jews left in Albania due to mass emigration to Israel after the fall of the communist regime.
30. Albania has one of Europe’s longest histories of viticulture.
Vines were naturally grown in the country as early as the ice age, and the oldest seeds found in the country are between 4,000 and 6,000 years old.
31. Albania’s highest point is 2,764 m (9,068 ft) above sea level.
Korab, the highest peak of the eponymous mountain range in the northeast of the country, is the highest point in Albania.
32. The longest river in Albania is the Drin.
At 280 km (175 miles), the Drin, which originates in Kosovo, is Albania’s longest river.
33. Albania takes care of its citizens.
Albania provides universal health care and free primary and secondary education to its citizens.
34. The Parliament of Albania is known as Kuvendi.
Albania is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic and the Kuvendi is the unicameral national legislature of the nation.
35. There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Albania.
These are the ancient city of Butrint; the historic centers of Berat and Gjirokastër; the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region, and the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region.
36. Albanians love their evening walks.
“Xhiro” is the official Albanian evening walk similar to the Spanish paseo. The custom is so strong that some towns close their roads to traffic for certain hours!. People of all ages walk the streets to stretch their legs and catch up with their neighbors.
37. Tavë Kosi is the national dish of Albania.
This incredibly simple and tasty dish consists of baked lamb and rice, served with a mixture of yogurt and eggs.
38. Football is the most popular sport in Albania.
Sadly, the Albanian men’s national team has seen very little success, and has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
39. Raki is the most popular spirit in Albania.
Regarded as the national spirit beverage of Albania, raki is a sort of fruit brandy typically distilled from grapes, but also made from plums, mulberry, or even walnuts.
Most Albanian homes have a bottle of raki stashed away and many people brew their own. It is available in almost every bar, coffee shop, store, and restaurant in the country and it is drunk on any occasion.
40. Mother Teresa was Albanian.
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, more popularly known as Mother Teresa, is undoubtedly the most-well known Albanian. She is considered the national heroine of Albania and her death anniversary (5th September) is a public holiday in the country.
41. Albania has considerable oil deposits.
The Patos-Marinza Oil Field in Albania is the largest onshore oil field in continental Europe. Albania has the 10th largest proven oil reserves in Europe.
42. Albania is heavily dependent on hydroelectricity.
Nearly 100% of Albania’s electricity production comes from hydropower.
43. The oldest lake in Europe is found in Albania.
Lake Ohrid is one of the world’s ancient lakes and according to a study conducted by Utrecht University, is more than 1.35 million years old. Located at the border between Albania and North Macedonia, Lake Ohrid is renowned for its exceptional aquatic ecosystem.
A variety of unique plants and animal species, as well as living fossils, are found at the lake. Lake Ohrid is protected by UNESCO due to its rich heritage.
44. Albania has a 362 km long coastline.
Albania’s shoreline faces the Ionian Sea to the southwest along the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea to the northwest.
45. The national flower of Albania is the red poppy.
The red poppy is omnipresent throughout Albania. It is recognized for its medicinal value, and its seeds. Poppy seeds are used in baking and cooking. The red poppy has long been a symbol of both sleep and death. Sleep because of the opium extracted from its seeds and death because of its bloody color.