26 interesting facts about Albania

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The most interesting facts about Albania, from the world’s first atheist state to tens of thousands of unused military bunkers.

Interesting facts about Seychelles include the Accursed Mountains
Interesting facts about Albania include the Accursed Mountains (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Albania
Population: 3,088,385
Area: 28,748 sq km
Capital city: Tirana
Major languages: Albanian, Greek
Major religions: Muslim, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, atheist
Time zone: UTC+1 (Central European Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Albania

1. Albania is a country in Southeastern Europe bordering Greece, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Montenegro.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

2. Albania was part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire (the eastern half of the Roman Empire) when the Roman Empire divided into East and West in 395 AD. Byzantine rule lasted for nearly 1,000 years until the mid-14th century.
– Source: Britannica

3. Ottoman Turks invaded Albania in 1388 and Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire until it proclaimed independence in 1912.
– Source: Britannica

A map of Albania
A map of Albania (Shutterstock)

4. Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939 and then Germany in 1943 before the country was liberated when the Germans withdrew in 1944.
– Source: BBC News

5. Following the Second World War, Albania became a closed Communist state under Enver Hoxha and remained strictly isolationist until its transition to democracy after 1990.
– Source: BBC News

6. Until his death in 1985, Enver Hoxha was Europe’s last surviving war-time leader.
– Source: The Guardian

7. Albania’s flag is plain red with a black two-headed eagle in its centre. The design is believed to stem from the 15th-century hero Prince Skanderbeg who led a successful rebellion against the Ottoman Turks in 1443.
– Source: Britannica

Albania's flag flying against a blue sky
Albania’s flag (Shutterstock)

8. Albanians do not call home Albania, instead, the name for the nation in its mother tongue is “Shqiponje” which means “Land of the Eagles”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

9. Unsurprisingly, Albania’s national symbol is the black double-headed eagle.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

10. The 1979 Nobel Prize for Peace winner Mother Teresa was ethnically Albanian. Born in modern-day North Macedonia to an ethnic Albanian in 1910, Mother Teresa was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
– Source: Britannica

A statue of Mother Teresa in Tirana
A statue of Mother Teresa in Tirana (Shutterstock)

11. Albania is Europe’s most at-risk country when it comes to natural disasters according to the United Nations 2020 World Risk Report.
– Source: World Risk Report 2020 (PDF)

12. Albania is one of the few Muslim-majority countries in Europe. As a percentage of the population, only Kosovo has a higher majority in Europe.
– Source: Pew Research Center

13. In 1967, all religion was banned in Albania and the country was declared the world’s first atheist state. Churches and mosques were seized by the army and either destroyed or converted into cinemas or dance halls. 
– Source: BBC Travel

A mosque in Albania
Religion is responsible for some interesting facts about Albania (Shutterstock)

14. King Zog I, who ruled Albania from 1928 to 1939, was the first and only King of Albania. He was also the only Muslim king of modern Europe and famously survived a number of assassination attempts.
– Source: The Guardian, History Today Magazine

15. Albanians signal “yes” and “no” differently to most countries. A shake of the head means “yes”, and a nod means “no”.
– Source: Rough Guides

16. During Albania’s isolation, tens of thousands (some estimates are as high as 750,000) of reinforced concrete bunkers were built across the country to protect it in case of invasion. Recently, some of the disused structures have been converted into hostels, homes or museums, removed altogether, or left to slowly decay.
– Source: The Atlantic, Rough Guides

An old military bunker decorated with flowers
An old military bunker decorated with flowers (Shutterstock)

17. The mountains of the Albanian Alps are known as the “Accursed Mountains”. One local legend says the mountains got their name when a fairy from the region manipulated a boy into killing his brother. When learning of the ordeal, the boys’ mother cursed the fairy and the mountains forever.
– Source: The Guardian

18. Albanians are the fifth-heaviest smokers in the world. According to the latest report, Albanians smoke 2,491.60 cigarettes smoked per person per year.
– Source: The Tobacco Atlas

19. The UNESCO-listed town of Berat is known as the “town of a thousand windows” due to its many Ottoman houses spread up the hillside.
– Source: Lonely Planet

20. In 2018, Berat was named among the 30 most beautiful towns in Europe by the Japanese Association of Travel Agents (JATA).
– Source: The Telegraph

The town of Berat showing many buildings with windows
Berat is known as the “town of a thousand windows” (Shutterstock)

21. Albania is considered to be Europe’s largest producer of outdoor-grown cannabis with the village of Lazarat often referred to as Europe’s cannabis capital.
– Source: BBC News1, BBC News2

22. During 1996-97, fraudulent pyramid investment schemes collapsed in Albania, costing thousands of Albanians their savings and triggering anarchy and widespread violence which eventually left over 2,000 people dead.
– Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF)

23. One of the most important archaeological sites in Albania is the UNESCO-listed site of Butrint. The ruins date from the 3rd century BC with the visible remains spanning around 2,500 years of history covering Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras.
– Source: UNESCO, Lonely Planet

A Roman amphitheatre in Butrint
The UNESCO-listed site of Butrint (Shutterstock)

24. Albania is yet to win a medal in the Olympic Games.
– Source: Olympian Database

25. Albanian wild herbs and flowers are sought-after internationally and are widely used by cosmetics companies in facial products.
– Source: BBC Travel

26. Albania, along with North Macedonia, is home to Europe’s oldest lake. UNESCO-listed Lake Ohrid was first established 1.36 million years ago and has existed continuously since. The lake is also home to an array of freshwater species of flora and fauna.
– Source: Utrecht University, UNESCO

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