The Brief History of Albania in this article will give you an overview of all the historical stages. You will learn important milestones of its development, starting from ancient Rome and ending with the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. You will be amazed by the sheer number of bunkers and learn everything about Albania during the Yugoslav era.

Continue reading, as this article contains essential information for tourists planning a trip to Albania. It will help you understand the historical phases, making your journey through the country more comfortable and comprehensible.

Albania former Yugoslavia
Albania boasts a vast architectural tapestry of history that dates back 4,000 to 3,000 years before Common era.

A Brief History of Albania Before the 20th Century

Historical findings confirm that the territory of modern-day Albania was inhabited by Illyrian tribes around 3,000 BCE. The Illyrians developed independently on Albanian lands until the rise of the Roman Empire.

However, as expected, conflicts arose between the Illyrians and Rome. They were eventually conquered by Rome in 167 BCE. Interestingly, under Roman rule, the people of Albania experienced a long period of prosperity. So, conquests are not always negative.

  • The Romans built large cities and established an excellent network of roads, which contributed to a significant amount of infrastructure, cultural buildings, and defensive structures.
    • For instance, the city of Durres is home to the largest amphitheater in the Balkans, which has remarkably survived. You can read all about Durres in a comprehensive overview article.
Albania in the Roman Empire
The Roman amphitheater in Albania, situated on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, is a testament to their architectural prowess.

However, with the decline of the Roman Empire and its division into the Eastern and Western empires in 395 CE, Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire, serving as its western periphery. What does it mean to be a periphery in any country? It means that all military conflicts would either start or pass through these lands.

During this time, Albania’s history was intertwined with endless wars, conquests, and shifts in spheres of influence. Albanian lands were subject to invasions by Germanic tribes, Bulgarians, Normans in the Middle Ages, Venetians, Greeks, and Serbs.

Finally, in the early 15th century, the Ottoman Turks occupied the territory of Albania. Turkish rule brought stability and relative peace to these lands for four centuries. Only in the late 19th century did Albania witness the emergence of a movement for independence.

The History of Albania in the early 20th Century

By 1912, the Ottoman Empire was in decline, embroiled in wars with other Balkan countries. Albanian leaders realized that the victors of this confrontation would divide the country. Therefore, anticipating this, they organized a liberation uprising of peasants in 1912.

Since the Turks were preoccupied at the time, the Albanians managed to achieve independence on November 28, 1912. This date holds great significance for the entire country because:

  • The last time Albania had been independent was in 167 BCE, which was 2,000 years ago.
  • For the past 2,000 years, they had been under the control of larger states and empires.
  • However, if we go back to 167 BCE, there was no Albania or Albanian people as such. They were the Illyrians.
  • Thus, November 28, 1912, marked the first time in its history that Albania became an independent state.
  • Today, it is one of the most important national holidays, celebrated throughout the country for two days.
  • In the article linked, you can read about all the major Albanian holidays and festivals.

A month later, Albania’s independence was recognized by major powers such as Russia, Britain, France, and Austria.

Shortly before the start of World War II, Italian influence intensified in Albania. As a result, Italian dictator Mussolini invaded the country and appointed a temporary government. During the Second World War, Albania was an ally of fascist Germany.

An important fact:

In 1941, an underground communist party was formed in the country. It was led by a young and ambitious politician named Enver Hoxha, who envisioned Albania’s future only in alliance with the Soviet Union. In 1944, when Germany suffered defeats on all fronts and rapidly lost its allies, the communist party managed to come to power. And as history knows, Enver Hoxha led the country for the next 40 years. But that’s an entirely different story.
A Brief History of Albania
Throughout the country, you can find architectural structures that are over 1000 years old or even older.

The Dictatorship of Enver Hoxha and His Rule

Assessing the period of Enver Hoxha’s rule as positive or negative is a difficult task. It was a time of profound changes, repression, development, economic growth, and the eradication of religion. However, unquestionably, these 40 years were one of the most significant periods in Albania’s history.

Enver Hoxha entered the annals of history as a committed communist and “Stalinist” who implemented radical reforms. Here is a brief list of his “accomplishments,” and it is up to you to decide whether they were beneficial or detrimental for the country.

  • He completely modernized the country’s entire industrial sector.
  • He nationalized the economy, seizing everything possible from private businesses.
  • All agricultural land was transferred to collective farms.
  • One of his most important achievements was the eradication of illiteracy.
    • Prior to 1945, over 70% of the country’s population in Albania was illiterate, unable to read.
    • By 1985, illiteracy had been completely eradicated in the country.
    • Education became free and compulsory for all.
  • Enver Hoxha was an atheist, believing that religion could not build a prosperous state but only hinder it
    • All churches and mosques in the country were closed.
    • The strictest prohibitions were imposed on all religious rituals and services.
    • All of this was enforced under the threat of death.

While there were some advantages for the country, his methods were incredibly inhumane.

  • By his order, wealthy landowners were executed.
  • All officials disloyal to the regime were subjected to repression.
  • All private property was confiscated.

Useful to know:

To those reading these lines, do you find any similarities with Stalin? Interestingly, Joseph Stalin was Enver Hoxha’s closest friend and his ideal. The relationship between Albania and the Soviet Union was so strong and friendly that it seemed unbreakable. However, after Stalin’s death and the change in the party’s course, Khrushchev quickly soured relations with Hoxha. The paths of the Soviet Union and Albania diverged.
Albanian history
Enver Hoxha and Stalin

Bunkers in Albania

This topic deserves special mention as it remains a unique situation that continues to astonish all travelers to Albania.

As you have read, Albania has endured hundreds of wars, conflicts, and conquests. The history of peaceful Albania is relatively short. Enver Hoxha knew this and understood that Albania’s advantageous geographical location, combined with its small size and lack of a substantial army, made it an excellent target for enemies.

From the early years of his rule, he began fortifying the country’s defenses. However, his approach was unique. While other countries focused on building military might for both defense and offense, Hoxha had no plans to attack neighboring countries.

Instead, he started constructing concrete military bunkers all over the country. Here are some facts about them:

  • The bunkers were built with reinforced, high-strength concrete capable of withstanding bomb impacts.
  • They were constructed throughout the country, in every region.
  • The majority of the bunkers were small, designed for one family (4-5 people).
  • Each bunker had firing slits, allowing occupants not only to seek shelter but also to defend themselves against the enemy.
  • And now, pay attention: over 700,000 bunkers were built. With a population of less than 3 million people, each family would have had their own personal bunker in the event of war.
  • And these bunkers, as shown in the photo below, are not easy to destroy. Imagine encountering such bunkers 700,000 times throughout the country. The enemy would have faced tremendous difficulty.
Bunkers in Albania
700,000 bunkers like this can be found in the country.

Useful to know:

The majority of these bunkers have survived and can still be found across the country. Moreover, they are freely accessible. In the center of the capital, Tirana, one of these bunkers has been transformed into a museum and art space. Read all about the attractions of Tirana in the article linked.

In conclusion:

After World War II, Albania maintained friendly relations with all its neighbors, particularly Yugoslavia.

Useful to know:

It is often misunderstood, but Albania was never part of Yugoslavia. For more intriguing facts about this country, read here.

No one has ever invaded the country. Albanians are still contemplating what to do and how to make use of such a vast number of bunkers.

After the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985, his protégé Ramiz Alia came to power. He attempted a few minor reforms. However, as a result of student demonstrations in the early 1990s, he was forced to allow the creation of new political parties and hold elections.

Stability gradually returned to Albania, and the economy has been steadily growing. However, Albania is still considered one of the poorest countries in Europe. Nevertheless, the number of tourists has increased twentyfold in the past decade. Albania awaits tourists and is ready to show them what is unique and unavailable elsewhere in Europe.

The history of Albania has seen ups and downs, hundreds of wars and military conflicts. It has been under the rule of empires and dictators. Today, it is a European country where safety is assured, costs are low, tourists are always welcomed, and a new chapter in its history is being written.

Wishing you an unforgettable vacation in Albania!

Resources to help you plan your dream trip to Albania

  • Flights at the best prices with best discounts
  • Car rental in Albania (cheaper – only by bus):
    • DiscoverCars – a major international resource
    • LocalRent – the leader in the Albanian car rental market. Very low deposits, even in cash.
  • Hotels and apartments throughout the country:
    • Hotellook – compares prices among dozens of platforms and offer you the best one.
    • Booking – large online booking platform.
    • Agoda – even more accommodation options in Albania.
  • Tours, excursions and activities:
    • GetYourGuide – more than 550 tours
    • Viator – 920+ excursions and activities throughout the country
  • Comprehensive travel insurance: EKTA
  • Internet and Calls:
    • Airalo eSIM in Albania from $4.5
    • DRIMSIM – universal SIM card (or eSIM) in any country in the world.
  • Taxi and airport transfer: Intui.Travel