Albania is the Medieval Latin name of the country which is called Shqipëri by its people. In Medieval Greek, the country's name is Albania (Greek: Ἀλβανία) besides variants Albanitia, Arbanitia.
The name may be derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Albani recorded by Ptolemy, the geographer and astronomer from Alexandria who drafted a map in 150 AD that shows the city of Albanopolis (located northeast of Durrës).
The name may have a continuation in the name of a medieval settlement called Albanon and Arbanon, although it is not certain this was the same place. In his History written in 1079–1080, Byzantine historian Michael Attaliates was the first to refer to Albanoi as having taken part in a revolt against Constantinople in 1043 and to the Arbanitai as subjects of the Duke of Dyrrachium. During the Middle Ages, the Albanians called their country Arbër or Arbën and referred to themselves as Arbëresh or Arbnesh.
As early as the 16th century the placename Shqipëria and the ethnic demonym Shqiptarë gradually replaced Arbëria and Arbëresh. While the two terms are popularly interpreted as "Land of the Eagles" and "Children of the Eagles", they derive from the adverb shqip, which means "understanding each-other".
Under the Ottoman Empire Albania was referred to officially as Arnavutluk and its inhabitants as Arnauts. The word is considered to be a metathesis from the word Arvanite, which was the Medieval Greek name for the Albanians.
The history of Albania emerged from the prehistoric stage from the 4th century BC, with early records of Illyria in Greco-Roman historiography. The modern territory of Albania has no counterpart in antiquity, comprising parts of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia (southern Illyricum), Macedonia (particularly Epirus Nova), and Moesia Superior. The territory remained under Roman (Byzantine) control until the Slavic migrations of the 7th century, and was integrated into the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century.
The territorial nucleus of the Albanian state formed in the Middle Ages, as the Principality of Arbër and the Kingdom of Albania. The first records of the Albanian people as a distinct ethnicity also date to this period. In 15th century there was a series of confrontation between Albanians led by Scanderbeg and the advancing Ottoman Empire. Soon after the death of Scanderbeg the organized resistance ceased and the country became part of Ottoman Empire. It remained under Ottoman control as part of the Rumelia province until 1912, when the first independent Albanian state was declared. The formation of an Albanian national consciousness dates to the latter 19th century and is part of the larger phenomenon of rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire. A short-lived monarchy (1914–1925) was succeeded by an even shorter-lived first Albanian Republic (1925–1928), to be replaced by another monarchy (1928–1939), which was annexed by Fascist Italy during World War II. After the collapse of the Axis powers, Albania became a communist state, the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, which was dominated by Enver Hoxha (d. 1985). Hoxha's political heir Ramiz Alia oversaw the disintegration of the "Hoxhaist" state during the wider collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the later 1980s.
The communist regime collapsed in 1990, and the Republic of Albania was founded in 1991. The old communist party was routed in the elections of March 1992, amid economic collapse and social unrest. An economical crises spread in the late 1996 following the failure of some Ponzi schemes operating in the country, peaking in the 1997 in an armed rebellion, that led to another mass emigration of Albanians, mostly to Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and to North America.
In 1999 the country was affected by Kosovo War, when a great number of Albanians from Kosovo found refuge in Albania.
Albania is divided into 12 administrative counties (Albanian: qark or prefekturë). These counties include 36 districts (Albanian: rreth) and 373 municipalities (Albanian: bashki or komunë). 72 municipalities have city status (Albanian: qytet). There are overall 2980 villages/communities (Albanian: fshat) in all Albania. Each district has its council which is composed of a number of municipalities. The municipalities are the first level of local governance, responsible for local needs and law enforcement.
The Albanian Armed Forces (Forcat e Armatosura të Shqipërisë) first formed after independence in 1912. Albania reduced the number of active troops from a 1988 number of 65,000 to a 2009 number of 14,500 with a small fleet of aircraft and sea vessels. In the 1990s, the country scrapped enormous amounts of obsolete hardware, such as tanks and SAM systems from the United States.
Today, it consists of the General Staff Headquarters, the Albanian Land Forces, Albanian Air Force, Albanian Naval Defense Forces, the Albanian Logistic Brigade and the Albanian Training and Doctrine Command. Increasing the military budget was one of the most important conditions for NATO integration. Military spending accounted for about 2.7% of GDP in 2008. Since February 2008, Albania participates officially in NATO's Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean Sea. and received a NATO membership invitation on 3 April 2008. Albania became a full member of NATO on 1 April 2009.
Albania has a total area of 28,748 square kilometers. It lies between latitudes 39° and 43° N, and mostly between longitudes 19° and 21° E (a small area lies east of 21°). Albania's coastline length is 476 km and extends along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea. The 70% of the country that is mountainous is rugged and often inaccessible from the outside. The highest mountain is Korab situated in the district of Dibër, reaching up to 2,753 metres (9,032 ft). The climate on the coast is typically Mediterranean with mild, wet winters and warm, sunny, and rather dry summers.
Inland conditions vary depending on altitude but the higher areas above 1,500 m/5,000 ft are rather cold and frequently snowy in winter; here cold conditions with lying snow may linger into spring. Besides the capital city of Tirana, which has 800,000 inhabitants, the principal cities are Durrës, Korçë, Elbasan, Shkodër, Gjirokastër, Vlorë and Kukës. In Albanian grammar, a word can have indefinite and definite forms, and this also applies to city names: both Tiranë and Tirana, Shkodër and Shkodra are used.
Although a small country, Albania is distinguished for its rich biological diversity. The variation of geomorphology, climate and terrain create favorable conditions for a number of endemic and sub-endemic species with 27 endemic and 160 subendemic vascular plants present in the country. The total number of plants is over 3250 species, approximately 30% of the entire flora species found in Europe.
Over a third of the territory of Albania – about 10,000 square kilometers (2.5 million acres) – is forested and the country is very rich in flora. About 3,000 different species of plants grow in Albania, many of which are used for medicinal purposes. Phytogeographically, Albania belongs to the Boreal Kingdom and is shared between the Adriatic and East Mediterranean provinces of the Mediterranean Region and the Illyrian province of the Circumboreal Region. Coastal regions and lowlands have typical Mediterranean macchia vegetation, whereas oak forests and vegetation are found on higher altitudes. Vast forests of black pine, beech and fir are found on higher mountains and alpine grasslands grow at altitudes above 1800 meters.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature and Digital Map of European Ecological Regions by the European Environment Agency, the territory of Albania can be subdivided into three ecoregions: the Illyrian deciduous forests, Pindus Mountains mixed forests and Dinaric Alpine mixed forests. The forests are home to a wide range of mammals, including wolves, bears, wild boars and chamois. Lynx, wildcats, pine martens and polecats are rare, but survive in some parts of the country.
There are around 760 vertebrate species found so far in Albania. Among these there are over 350 bird species, 330 freshwater and marine fish and 80 mammal species. There are some 91 globally threatened species found within the country, among which the Dalmatian pelican, Pygmy cormorant, and the European sea sturgeon. Rocky coastal regions in the south provide good habitats for the endangered Mediterranean monk seal.
Some of the most significant bird species found in the country include the golden eagle – known as the national symbol of Albania – vulture species, capercaillie and numerous waterfowl. The Albanian forests still maintain significant communities of large mammals such as the brown bear, gray wolf, chamois and wild boar. The north and eastern mountains of the country are home to the last remaining Balkan Lynx – a critically endangered population of the Eurasian lynx.
Albania remains a poor country by Western European standards. Its GDP per capita (expressed in PPS—Purchasing Power Standards) stood at 26 percent of the EU average in 2010. Still, Albania has shown potential for economic growth, as more and more businesses relocate there and consumer goods are becoming available from emerging market traders as part of the current massive global cost-cutting exercise. Albania, Cyprus and Poland are the only countries in Europe that recorded economic growth in the first quarter of 2009. International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted 2.6% growth for Albania in 2010 and 3.2% in 2011. There are signs of increasing investments, and power cuts are reduced to the extent that Albania is now exporting energy.
Albania and Croatia have discussed the possibility of jointly building a nuclear power plant at Lake Shkoder, close to the border with Montenegro, a plan that has gathered criticism from the latter due to seismicity in the area. In addition, there is some doubt whether Albania would be able to finance a project of such a scale with a total national budget of less than $ 5 billion. However, in February 2009 Italian company Enel announced plans to build an 800 MW coal-fired power plant in Albania, to diversify electricity sources. Nearly 100% of the electricity is generated by ageing hydroelectric power plants, which are becoming more ineffective due to increasing droughts.
The country has some deposits of petroleum and natural gas, but produced only 5,400 barrels of oil per day as of 2009. Natural gas production, estimated at about 30 million cubic meters, is sufficient to meet consumer demands. Other natural resources include coal, bauxite, copper and iron ore.
Agriculture is the most significant sector, employing some 58% of the labor force and generating about 21% of GDP. Albania produces significant amounts of wheat, corn, tobacco, figs (13th largest producer in the world) and olives.
Expenditure for scientific research and Development in Albania does not exceed 0.18% of GDP, which marks the lowest level in Europe. Economic competitiveness and exports are low, with the economy still heavily skewed towards low technology. From 1993 human resources in sciences and technology have drastically decreased. Various surveys show that during 1991–2005, approximately 50% of the professors and research scientists of the universities and science institutions in the country have emigrated.
However in 2009 the government approved the "National Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation in Albania" covering the period 2009–2015. It aims to triple public spending on research and development (R&D) to 0.6% of GDP and augment the share of gross domestic expenditure on R&D from foreign sources, including via the European Union's Framework Programmes for Research, to the point where it covers 40% of research spending, among others.
The civil air transport in Albania marked its beginnings in November 1924, when the Republic of Albania signed a Governmental Agreement with German Air Company Deutsche Luft Hansa. On the basis of a ten-year concession agreement, the Albanian Airlines Company Adria Aero Lloyd was established. In the spring of 1925, the first domestic flights from Tirana to Shkoder and Vlora began.
In August 1927, the office of Civil Aviation of Air Traffic Ministry of Italy purchased Adria Aero Lloyd. The company, now in Italian hands, expanded its flights to other cities, such as Elbasan, Korça, Kukësi, Peshkopia and Gjirokastra, and opened up international lines to Rome, Milan, Thessaloniki, Sofia, Belgrade, and Podgorica.
The construction of a more modern airport in Lapraka started in 1934 and was completed by the end of 1935. This new airport, which was later officially named "Airport of Tirana", was constructed in conformity with optimal technological parameters of that time, with a reinforced concrete runway of 12,400 m (40,682 ft), and complemented with technical equipment and appropriate buildings.
During 1955–1957, the Rinasi Airport was constructed for military purposes. Later, its administration was shifted to the Ministry of Transport. On 25 January 1957 the State-owned Enterprise of International Air Transport (Albtransport) established its headquarters in Tirana. Aeroflot, Jat, Malev, Tarom and Interflug were the air companies that started to have flights with Albania until 1960.
During 1960–1978, several airlines ceased to operate in Albania due to the impact of the politics, resulting in a decrease of influx of flights and passengers. In 1977 Albania's government signed an agreement with Greece to open the country's first air links with non-communist Europe. As a result, Olympic Airways was the first non-communist airline to commercially fly into Albania after World War II. By 1991 Albania had air links with many major European cities, including Paris, Rome, Zurich, Vienna and Budapest, but no regular domestic air service.
A French-Albanian joint venture Ada Air, was launched in Albania as the first private airline, in 1991. The company offered flights in a thirty-six-passenger airplane four days a week between Tirana and Bari, Italy and a charter service for domestic and international destinations.
From 1989 to 1991, because of political changes in the Eastern European countries, Albania adhered to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), opened its air space to international flights, and had its duties of Air Traffic Control defined. As a result of these developments, conditions were created to separate the activities of air traffic control from Albtransport. Instead, the National Agency of Air Traffic (NATA) was established as an independent enterprise. In addition, during these years, governmental agreements of civil air transport were established with countries such as Bulgaria, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Russia, Austria, the UK and Macedonia. The Directory General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was established on 3 February 1991, to cope with the development required by the time.
As of 2007 Albania has one international airport: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza. The airport is linked to 29 destinations by 14 airlines. It has seen a dramatic rise in terms of passenger numbers and aircraft movements since the early 1990s. The data for 2009 is 1.3 million passengers served and an average of 44 landings and takeoffs per day.
The railways in Albania are administered by the national railway company Hekurudha Shqiptare (HSH) (which means Albanian Railways). It operates a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8⁄ in) gauge (standard gauge) rail system in Albania. All trains are hauled by Czech-built ČKD diesel-electric locomotives.
The railway system was extensively promoted by the totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha, during which time the use of private transport was effectively prohibited. Since the collapse of the former regime, there has been a considerable increase in car ownership and bus usage. Whilst some of the country's roads are still in a very poor condition, there have been other developments (such as the construction of a motorway between Tirana and Durrës) which have taken much traffic away from the railways.
The Albanian population is relatively young by European standards, with a median age of 28.9 years. After 1990 the Albanian population has faced new phenomena like migration, which greatly affected the distribution by districts and prefectures. Districts in the North have seen a decreasing population, while Tirana and Durrës districts have increased their population, due to internal immigration.
As of the last census data from 2001, Albania's population was 3,069,275. Officially, the Albanian Institute of Statistics estimated it at 3,152,600 on 1 January 2007, at 3,170,048 on 1 January 2008 and at 3,195,000 on 1 January 2010. Alternative sources (CIA) estimate the population in July 2011 at 2,994,667. Albania is a largely ethnically homogeneous country with only small minorities. The large majority of the population is ethnically Albanian. The exact size of ethnic minorities is not known, as the last census that contained ethnographic data was held in 1989. According to the latest news, the next census containing ethnographic data will begin in April 2011 with EU counsels assisting in certain fields. The pilot census is already being conducted, while the official one will being on 2 April 2011. In February 2011 the government announced that the census would be postponed to prepare for municipal elections in May, while it has come under pressure from various groups and politicians to scrap the questions on ethnicity and religion.
Minorities include Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Gorani, Vlachs, Montenegrins, Serbs, Balkan Egyptians, Roma and Jews. The size of the Greek minority is a contentious issue, with the Albanian government claiming it is only 60,000, while some Greek sources are claiming even 300,000. Most Western sources put the size of the Greek minority at around 200,000, or about 6% of the population, while the CIA Factbook estimates the Greek minority at 3% of the total population and the US State Department uses 1.17% for Greeks and 0.23% for other minorites. Nonetheless, the Albanian government fears that if a census were adopted, a considerable part of the population would be registered as Greek.
The dominant and official language is Albanian, a revised and merged form of the two main dialects, Gheg and Tosk, but with a bigger influence of Tosk as compared to the Gheg. The Shkumbin River is the dividing line between the two dialects. In the areas inhabited by the Greek minority, a dialect of Greek that preserves features now lost in standard modern Greek is really spoken. Other languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Albania include Aromanian, Serbian, Macedonian/Bulgarian and Roma.
There are no official statistics regarding religious affiliation in Albania. The CIA World Factbook gives a distribution of 70% Muslims, 20% Orthodox Christians, and 10% Roman Catholics. A Pew Research Center demographic study from 2009 put the percentage of Muslims in Albania at 79.9%. In 2009 According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, roughly 38% of Albanians are Muslim, and 36% Christian. According to the US State Department, estimates for active participation in religious services are between 25 and 40%.
The Albanians first appear in the historical record in Byzantine sources of the late-11th century. At this point, they are already fully Christianised. Christianity was later overtaken by Islam. After independence (1912) from the Ottoman Empire, the Albanian republican, monarchic and later Communist regimes followed a systematic policy of separating religion from official functions and cultural life. Albania never had an official state religion either as a republic or as a kingdom. In the 20th century, the clergy of all faiths was weakened under the monarchy, and ultimately eradicated during the 1940s and 1950s, under the state policy of obliterating all organised religion from Albanian territories.
The Communist regime that took control of Albania after World War II persecuted and suppressed religious observance and institutions and entirely banned religion to the point where Albania was officially declared to be the world's first atheist state. Religious freedom has returned to Albania since the regime's change in 1992. Albanian Muslim populations (mainly secular and of the Sunni branch) are found throughout the country whereas Orthodox Christians are concentrated in the south and Roman Catholics are found in the north of the country. No reliable data are available on active participation in formal religious services, and estimates range from 25% to 40%.
The first recorded Albanian Protestant was Said Toptani, who travelled round Europe, in 1853 returned to Tirana and preached Protestantism, being arrested and imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in 1864. Mainline evangelical Protestants date back to the work of Congregational and later Methodist missionaries and the work of the British & Foreign Bible Society in the 19th century. The Evangelical Alliance, which is known as VUSh http://www.vush.org/ was founded in 1892. Today VUSh has about 160 member congregations from different Protestant denomincations. VUSh organises marches in Tirana recently one against blood feuds in 2010. Bibles are provided by the Interconfessional Bible Society of Albania. The first full Albanian Bible to be printed was the Filipaj translation which was printed in 1990.
There are about 4,000 active Jehovah's witnesses in Albania. Among other religious organizations making inroads into this nation is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or 'Mormons'). LDS involvement in Albania began with humanitarian aid during the 1990s. The first missionaries were sent in 1992 with the Albania Tirana Mission being opened in 1996. As of 2008, there were nearly 2,000 members of the LDS church in Albania, spread throughout ten branches with two purpose-built Chapels and one Family History Center.
Albanian folk music falls into three stylistic groups, with other important music areas around Shkodër and Tirana; the major groupings are the Ghegs of the north and southern Labs and Tosks. The northern and southern traditions are contrasted by the "rugged and heroic" tone of the north and the "relaxed" form of the south.
These disparate styles are unified by "the intensity that both performers and listeners give to their music as a medium for patriotic expression and as a vehicle carrying the narrative of oral history", as well as certain characteristics like the use of obscure rhythms such as 3/8, 5/8 and 10/8. The first compilation of Albanian folk music was made by Pjetër Dungu in 1940.
Albanian folk songs can be divided into major groups, the heroic epics of the north, and the sweetly melodic lullabies, love songs, wedding music, work songs and other kinds of song. The music of various festivals and holidays is also an important part of Albanian folk song, especially those that celebrate St. Lazarus Day, which inaugurates the springtime. Lullabies and vajtims are very important kinds of Albanian folk song, and are generally performed by solo women.
Albanian was proven to be an Indo-European language in 1854 by the German philologist Franz Bopp. The Albanian language comprises its own branch of the Indo-European language family.
Some scholars believe that Albanian derives from Illyrian while others, claim that it derives from Daco-Thracian. (Illyrian and Daco-Thracian, however, might have been closely related languages; see Thraco-Illyrian.)
Establishing longer relations, Albanian is often compared to Balto-Slavic on the one hand and Germanic on the other, both of which share a number of isoglosses with Albanian. Moreover, Albanian has undergone a vowel shift in which stressed, long o has fallen to a, much like in the former and opposite the latter. Likewise, Albanian has taken the old relative jos and innovatively used it exclusively to qualify adjectives, much in the way Balto-Slavic has used this word to provide the definite ending of adjectives.
The cultural renaissance was first of all expressed through the development of the Albanian language in the area of church texts and publications, mainly of the Catholic region in the North, but also of the Orthodox in the South. The Protestant reforms invigorated hopes for the development of the local language and literary tradition when cleric Gjon Buzuku brought into the Albanian language the Catholic liturgy, trying to do for the Albanian language what Luther did for German.
Meshari (The Missal) by Gjon Buzuku, published in 1555, is considered the first literary work of written Albanian. The refined level of the language and the stabilised orthography must be the result of an earlier tradition of written Albanian, a tradition that is not well understood. However, there is some fragmented evidence, pre-dating Buzuku, which indicates that Albanian was written from at least the 14th century AD.
The earliest evidence dates from 1332 AD with a Latin report from the French Dominican Guillelmus Adae, Archbishop of Antivari, who wrote that Albanians used Latin letters in their books although their language was quite different from Latin. Other significant examples include: a baptism formula (Unte paghesont premenit Atit et Birit et spertit senit) from 1462, written in Albanian within a Latin text by the Bishop of Durrës, Pal Engjëlli; a glossary of Albanian words of 1497 by Arnold von Harff, a German who had travelled through Albania, and a 15th century fragment of the Bible from the Gospel of Matthew, also in Albanian, but written in Greek letters.
Albanian writings from these centuries must not have been religious texts only, but historical chronicles too. They are mentioned by the humanist Marin Barleti, who, in his book Rrethimi i Shkodrës (The Siege of Shkodër) (1504), confirms that he leafed through such chronicles written in the language of the people (in vernacula lingua).
During the 16th to 17th centuries, the catechism E mbësuame krishterë (Christian Teachings) (1592) by Lekë Matrënga, Doktrina e krishterë (The Christian Doctrine) (1618) and Rituale romanum (1621) by Pjetër Budi, the first writer of original Albanian prose and poetry, an apology for George Castriot (1636) by Frang Bardhi, who also published a dictionary and folklore creations, the theological-philosophical treaty Cuneus Prophetarum (The Band of Prophets) (1685) by Pjetër Bogdani, the most universal personality of Albanian Middle Ages, were published in Albanian. The most famous Albanian writer is probably Ismail Kadare.
Before the rise of Communist regime, Albania's illiteracy rate was as high as 85%. Schools were scarce between World War I and World War II. When the Communist regime gained control in 1944, it gave high priority to the wiping out of illiteracy. Strict regulations were introduced, anyone between the ages of 12 and 40 who could not read or write was mandated to attend classes to learn. Since then the country's literacy rate has improved remarkably. Today the overall literacy rate in Albania is 98.7%, the male literacy rate is 99.2% and female literacy rate is 98.3%. With large population movements in the 1990s to urban areas, the provision of education has undergone transformation as well. The University of Tirana is the oldest university in Albania, founded in October 1957.
Radio Televizioni Shqiptar (RTSH) is the public radio and TV broadcaster of Albania, founded in 1938 in Tirana. RTSH runs three television stations named Televizioni Shqiptar (TVSH, TVSH 2, and TVSH Sat), and three radio stations, using the name Radio Tirana in addition to 4 regional radio stations. The international service broadcasts radio programmes in Albanian and seven other languages via medium wave (AM) and short wave (SW). The international service has used the theme from the song "Keputa një gjethe dafine" as its signature tune. The international television service via satellite was launched since 1993 and aims at Albanian communities in Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and northern Greece, plus the Albanian diaspora in the rest of Europe. RTSH has a past of being heavily influenced by the ruling party in its reporting, that being left or right winged.
According the National Council of Radio and Television (KKRT), Albania has an estimated 257 media outlets, including 66 radio stations and 67 television stations, with three national, 62 local and more than 50 cable TV stations. Last years Albania has organized several shows as a part of worldwide series like Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother Albania and Albanians Got Talent.
The cuisine of Albania – as with most Mediterranean and Balkan nations – is strongly influenced by its long history. At different times, the territory which is now Albania has been claimed or occupied by Greece, Italy and the Ottoman Turks and each group has left its mark on Albanian cuisine. The main meal of Albanians is lunch, and it is usually accompanied by a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and olives with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Lunch also includes a main dish of vegetables and meat. Seafood specialties are also common in the coastal cities of Durrës, Sarandë and Vlorë. In high altitude localities, smoked meat and pickling is very common.