People l Tradition l Values
The traditional Albanian culture is autochthonic and descends directly from the culture of the ancient Illyrian tribes but has been subject to many external influences who founded several colonies in Albania, such as those of Apollonia and Durazzo, then the great process of Romanization under the Roman Empire and Byzantium. The process of Islamization by the Turks, during the domination of the Ottoman Empire has also left lasting traces. Neither should the influence of the Slav people be overlooked. However, despite undergoing all these foreign influences, the Albanian people have succeeded in preserving their own cultural identity.
Traditional Albanian culture separates into two main ethnic groups Gegh and Tosk which have existed and gradually become more consolidated culturally since the Late Middle Ages. Even today several traditions with roots in the ancient history of these groups survive in the family and social life of the rural populations. Many traditions of a spiritual nature are preserved in the minds
of the people and are still evident today in different regions, reflected in their linguistic and musical folklore. The legendary and historical epic is particularly popular.
The traditional Albanian culture shows that the people have never harboured aggressive attitudes towards “the other” who is generally seen not as an enemy or adversary, but simply as something different “The other” is always seen as an ally (as in the case of the Balkan battles on the plains of
Kosovo against the Turks), but also when seen as enemy and adversary (as in the complicated relationship with the Slavs), he is not considered inferior either in strength, courage or wealth. This concept of “the other” explains the value of solidarity that has marked the Albanian people since ancient times and made it possible, for example, for Albanians, whether Christian or Muslams, to coexist peacefully with the Jewish communities. Anti-Semitism is rare among Albanians. In many historical circumstances, for example during the Balkan war and during the last World War, the Albanian people showed their tolerance and solidarity towards Jews and Italians. In recent years, in 1999, the solidarity of the Albanian people was again demonstrated when about a million Albanians from Kosovo poured into the poor northern areas of Albania to escape the Serbian massacres. An increase of about 1/3 of the population, immediately after the economic crisis that Albania suffered in 1997-1998 could have brought the country to its knees, but the solidarity of the population was able to confront this serious emergency.
Many minorities live in Kosovo today. Through the years, because of the long efforts to the exclusive claim over its province, Kosovo has been a collage of ethnicities, languages, cultures that all add and reason to those minorities still here today.
The Ottoman Empire left behind their religion, their language, and their people (dating back to the 14th century). All three mark important facts of our culture today. You can go visit certain places of Kosovo, and realize that the mass are fluent in Turkish. And as for religion-based artifacts of the Ottomans, they are visible in the 90% of Kosovars that are Muslim.
Serbian minority, with 7% of the population, can account for the majority of the minorities in Kosovo. After the Ottoman Empire, Serbia re-acquired Kosovo (the first was during the medieval period before the Ottomans) and thus became their autonomous territory according to the 1974 Yugoslavian Constitution. After that, there were constant quarrels between the Serbians and Kosovars over the status of Kosovo. The result of the disagreement between the two ethnicities resulted in war, and the outcome was many Serbs moving back to Serbia and a small portion of them remaining here. Today, they lead the minorities of the newborn country. Although violence in the past affected both the Serbian and Kosovar society, the Serbs that have remained here continue to live and work on their traditional lands. Mainstreams of Serbs are found in the rural parts of Kosovo where they have remained in their homes throughout the troubles of the past decade. They live their lives and tradition as before and their culture remains out of harm’s way. One of the main cities of Serbian residence is Gracanica, a village not far from Prishtina. Here you can find Serb-language facilities, including schools, university, etc, together with the famous Orthodox monastery dating back to 1321.
The Roma is as well an important minority towards Kosovo’s multiethnic nation. The first Roma can be dated back to 14th century Prizren, although nowadays most are found in the Diaspora following the Kosovar-Serbian conflict. Before the conflict though, the Roma population lived an elite life, having their own institutions, theaters, newspapers and more. During the Kosovar-Serbian clash, the Roma located out of Kosovo, and only a small number remain here still. Their culture and traditions have had great influence on the Kosovo culture, brushing off their significant brass bands and trumpets styles of music onto us. Likewise, the Serbian adopted music known as “tallava,” a fast paced folk music type, has had a great influence in the recent years in Kosovo culture. Through art, music, history, and language, the minorities living in Kosovo leave patched onto our culture as Kosovo leaves some onto theirs.
Art l Music l Theater
Music in Albania may have come to an era where it is strongly westernized and combined with many music genres that occidentalized countries have undertaken the impact of, but traditional Albanian music is still very popular in the region. The traditional instrument used in both Albania and Kosovo is the ciftelia and the mandolin. Other traditional music is folk music Folk music plays an important part in traditional
Albanian culture, and is very much alive today. Albanian music
has very ancient origins and has only been handed down from
father to son orally. The most important musical genre is the
kenge te lehta (soft songs). The traditional songs (called
popullore) are usually sung by the old people, with the famous
hat of Albanian tradition. The vallore songs which are sung and
played during elaborate wedding ceremonies are very
important. The wealth of Albanian folk musical is reflected in
the different musical forms, and include those for solo voice
and for several voices. The River Shkumbin that separates the
Geg (north) and Tosk (south) ethnic groups also acts as a
natural boundary between two types of folk music. To the north
of this river we find the mono-phonic music accompanied by
specific musical instruments of this area such as the single
chord lute and the two-chorded cifteli. To the south of the river
polyphonic songs are more common; they are sung without
musical accompaniment or with instruments such as the
double flute or the bagpipe.
Besides this type of music, which has developed in the
villages and rural areas sine the end of the XIX century there is
also the traditional folk music of the towns that uses important
instruments such as the clarinet, violin and accordion, as well
as local instruments such as the lute, flute and tambourine.
Roma music is a mixture of Albanian/Kosovar, Macedonian, Serbian music with a sort of oriental rhythm and it brings about one of the most commonly listened to music nowadays in Albania, known as Tallava.
Albanian film-making is not so frequent as it would be in other countries due to it being a high risk and very high budget industry. There are only a few movies that have been produced and most deal with the concerns of the war. None the less, although it may be a high budget industry, Albania still shows much interest in film-making and have proved it through their hosting of film festivals.
As for theaters, there are some in Tirana, the capital. Some for children plays, others for the use of jazz music or any type of live band in general. The main theater is TOB (Teatri i OPeras dhe Baletit) located in the heart of Tirana where you have plays performed regularly, as well as special theater weeks which usually have visitors coming from outside of Albania to watch.
The typical traditional Albanian costumes for men are; the
costume with the “fustanella” (a type of skirt or kilt reaching the
knees), the cibun (a type of heavy overcoat) and the poture (short
trousers that reach the knees). The most decorative parts of the
costume are the jerkin (worn over a white shirt) or the xhamadan (felt
jacket with false sleeves) worn on feast days. The Albanian men also
wore silver jewels, such as the little plaques decorating the breast,
the decorative buttons of the jerkins, rings,
pipes and tobacco containers, but
especially, the arms whether sheathed or
worn over the shoulder that were finely
decorated with filigree patterns in silver and
For the women the main garment
was the costume with the xhubleta (a bellshaped
skirt). The colours and ornaments of the clothes varied according
to the age of the woman. Children and young people normally dressed
simply. Unlike with other Balkan peoples, in Albania girls of marrying age
had to dress simply with no jewellery, hair covered by a veil and she was
not allowed to wear the colour red.
The wedding costume (for both women and men) was a variation
with more ornamentation. The bride used silver
jewellery not only for ornamentation but also as an
amulet against the evil eye. Hair ornaments
played a very important role. A few years after the
wedding the costume began to lose the rich
ornamentation of the wedding. The traditional
Albanian costumes have elements that reflect their
origins in medieval costumes as well as elements
dating back to Byzantine influences (in the south
of Albania) or oriental Turkish and Persian
influences (central Albania), but there are also
survivals that descend directly from Illyrian
antiquity. There are many analogies between the
traditional costumes and the Illyrian “Dalmatian”
costumes, between the head-coverings, the opinga (type of scarf made out
of animal skin) and the veils used to cover the hair.
The Architecture of Albania is influenced by Illyrian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, and Italian architecture, while preserving distinct Albanian features such as the Albanian house. From antiquity to the modern period, cities in Albania have evolved from within the castle to include dwellings, religious, and commercial structures, with constant redesigning of town squares and evolution of building techniques.
The beginnings of architecture in Albania date to the middle Neolithic age with the discovery of prehistoric dwellings in Dunavec and Maliq. They were built on a wooden platform that rested on stakes stuck vertically into the soil. Prehistoric dwellings in Albania consist of three types: houses enclosed either completely on the ground or half underground, both found in Cakran near Fier, and houses constructed above ground.
From the 5th century BC, the Roman colonies of Apollonia and Dyrrachiumflourished, while a number of Illyrian cities emerged such as Byllis, Amantia, Dimali, Albanopolis, and Lissus. They were built on top of the highest hills surrounded by heavily fortified walls. Social structures were also constructed such as the Durrës Colosseum, the temples of Apollonia, Orik, Buthrotum, and various promenades (Stoa), theaters, and stadiums.
Between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, the walls of Dyrrah were reinforced with three protective layers, a hypodrome was constructed, while run off and sanitation systems were perfected. Meanwhile, additional structures were added to the centre of Apollonia such as an odeon, library, and Agonothetes. The period also marks the construction of thermal baths that were of social importance as places of gathering.
One of the early Christian structures is the Basilica. The largest of its kind in Albania is that of Butrint, located in the south-eastern part of the ancient city. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the central plan-based Baptiseri of Butrint emerges, being the biggest of its kind in the Mediterranean world.
7th to 15th centuries
During the Middle Ages, a variety of architecture styles developed in the form of dwelling, defense, worship, and engineering structures. However, some inherited historic structures were damaged by invading Ottoman forces.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the consolidation of the Albanian feudal principalities gave rise to Varosha, or neighborhoods outside city walls. Examples of such developments are the Arberesh principalities centred in Petrele, Kruje and Gjirokastraoriginating from the feudal castle.
In the 15th century, close attention was given to protective structures such as the castle fortifications of Lezha, Petrela, Devoll, Butrint, and Shkodra. More reconstructions took place in strategic points such as the Castle of Elbasan, Preza, Tepelena, and Vlora, the latter being the most important on the coast.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the great Pashaliks of the period such as the Bushati Family, Ahmet Kurt Pasha, and Ali Pashe Tepelena reconstructed several fortifications such as the Castle of Shkodra, Berat, and Tepelena respectively. It is important to note that Ali Pashe Tepelena embarked on a major castle building campaign throughout Epirus.
During the 18th century, the city silhouette in Albania began to include places of worship and the Clock Tower. These, together with other social structures such as thermal baths, fountains, and medrese further enriched the city centre and its neighborhoods.
In the 19th century, the bazaar emerges as a production and exchange centre, while the city expands beyond the castle, which completely loses its function and inhabitants. During this period, Shkodra and Korca become important commerce and skilled crafts centres.
The first half of the 20th century begins with the Austro-Hungarian occupation, continues with Fan Noli’s government, King Zog’s kingdom, and ends with the Italian invasion. During this time, Albanian medieval towns underwent urban transformations by Austro-Hungarian architects, giving them the appearance of European cities.
The centre of Tirana was the project of Florestano Di Fausto and Armando Brasini, well known architects of the Benito Mussolini period in Italy. Brasini laid the basis for the modern-day arrangement of the ministerial buildings in the city centre. The plan underwent revisions by the Albanian architect Eshref Frashëri, the Italian architect Castellani, and the Austrian architects Weiss and Kohler. The rectangular parallel road system of Tirana e Re district took shape, while the northern portion of the main Boulevard was opened. These urban plans formed the basis of future developments in Albania after WW2.
From 1944 to 1991, cities experienced an ordered development with a decline in architectural quality. Massive socialist-styled apartment complexes, wide roads, and factories were constructed, while town squares were redesigned and a number of historic buildings demolished.
The period after the fall of communism is often described negatively in terms of urban development. Kiosks and apartment buildings started to occupy former public areas without planning, while informal districts formed around cities from internal migrants leaving remote rural areas for the western lowland. Decreasing urban space and increased traffic congestion have become major problems as a result of lack of planning. As part of the 2014 Administrative Division Reform, all town centres in Albania are being physically redesigned and façades painted to reflect a more Mediterranean look.