In this article, I will tell you about the dominant religion in Albania, the formation of religious movements in the country, and how representatives of different denominations relate to each other in this Balkan country.

For thousands of years, Albania has been a battleground for conflicts and wars. The country came under the influence of the Ancient Rome and later the Byzantine Empire. For a long 400 years, Albania was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. All of this led to the emergence of various forms of religious beliefs in Albania. In the 20th century, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha even attempted to eradicate all religions in the country.

Albania religion
Islam and Christianity peacefully coexist in Albania.

General Statistics

Currently, Albania is the only country in Europe where Muslims make up the majority (around 63%). Christians account for about 30% of the population, and the remaining 7% identify as atheists or non-religious.

Read about Albania on the world map in a separate article.

In fact, during population censuses in different years, nearly 20% of respondents refused to answer questions about their religious affiliation. Perhaps the people still remember the persecution of believers during Enver Hoxha’s time. But more on that later.

A Brief History of Religion in Albania

Christianity first appeared in Albanian lands during the Roman Empire. The first Christians lived in Durrës (known as Dyrrhachium in ancient times). However, almost 1,500 years later, the Ottoman Turks conquered these lands. They offered Albanian feudal lords the opportunity to convert to Islam in exchange for privileges.

In addition, special taxes were imposed on Christians, which became a burden for the less wealthy peasants, leading them to also embrace Islam. Towards the end of the 19th century, Protestantism emerged in Albania.

After World War II, the first Communist Party was formed. Its leader, Enver Hoxha, aimed to create the world’s first “atheistic” state and began to eradicate religion in the country. To achieve this, he:

  • Banned all religious ceremonies, including the infant baptism.
  • Sent many religious leaders and their associates to prison, and even ordered some of them to be executed.
  • Closed all places of worship, including mosques, churches, temples, and monasteries.
    • Some of them were converted into industrial buildings, while others were completely demolished.

However, after the death of Enver Hoxha, his successor, Ramiz Alia, came to power. Under his rule, the influence of the communists on the people began to weaken, and religion began to revive.

Albania church
The Grand Mosque in Tirana (Et’hem Bey Mosque) – the largest in Albania – was opened in 2015 by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Religion in Albania: Islam

As you already know, during the Middle Ages, the Turks did not force the native Albanians to convert to Islam. However, an Albanian who converted Islam would receive more rights and opportunities than a Christian:

  • Lower taxes.
  • Greater privileges.

It can be said that the conversion to Islam was primarily perceived as a promotion on the career ladder. This non-coercive influence of Islam on the people’s lives has preserved tolerant relationships between representatives of different religious movements.

As a result of the blending of various traditions, a young movement in Islam called Bektashism emerged. Although this sect originated not in Albania but in Turkey, it became very popular in Albania. The beliefs of the Bektashis satisfy the rules of both Christians and Muslims. For Albanians, friendly “human” relationships are much more important than religious affiliation. Here are some similarities between the Bektashis and Christians:

  • Bektashis have Christian roots and are prevalent among Orthodox Christians who converted to Islam in Turkey and the Balkans (Albania and Bosnia).
  • They perform rituals such as baptism, communion, and confession.
  • Wine, bread, and cheese are ritual foods.
  • Bektashis consume alcohol and engage in winemaking.
  • Bektashi women are not required to wear veils.
  • They respect Christian saints, giving them Muslim names and using icons.
  • Bektashis have monasteries, similar to Christianity, in addition to mosques.

Interesting to know:

Today, about 20% of Albanians consider themselves Bektashis.
Islam in Albania
The Lead Mosque in Shkodra also survived as it was declared a cultural monument in 1948.

Religion in Albania: Christianity and Others

As you have understood, one-third of Albanians are Christians. Catholics mainly reside in the northern part of the country and coastal areas, while Orthodox Christians live in the south, near the border with Greece. However, the majority of Christians in Albania are represented by Serbs, Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians, and Italians residing in the country.

Interesting to know:

Orthodox Albanians often speak Greek, while Catholic Albanians speak Italian.

In addition, unofficial statistics indicate that there are approximately 20,000 Protestants in Albania.

There are very few Jews in the country, around 300 people. Nevertheless, two synagogues are open in Tirana and Saranda.

Monasteries of Albania
One of the few churches in Albania that survived the communist era.

Monasteries in Albania

As you already know, very few religious buildings “survived” Enver Hoxha’s rule. I will now tell you about some of the most famous monasteries and mosques worth visiting in Albania.

  • Church of the Holy Trinity.

If you visit Berat, be sure to climb to the fortress above the city to see the well-preserved church from the Byzantine Empire era. The church was built in the 13th century and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Christianity in Albania
The Church of the Holy Trinity in Berat is the main attraction of the city.
  • Monastery of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ardenica.

The monastery is situated on a high hill and resembles a fortress, fittingly reflecting its history. It was founded around the 10th century BCE and has endured wars, fires, and reconstructions. The communists closed it in 1967 but did not destroy it. Instead, they declared it a cultural monument and opened a hotel within its premises. However, in the early 1990s, the monastery was returned to the church.

Religion in Albania
For a long time, the monastery served as an inaccessible stronghold for Muslims.

Interesting to know:

The monastery in Ardenica is home to the only monk in Albania. All other Albanian monks reside in monasteries in Mount Athos (Greece).

The monastery is conveniently located on the route from Tirana to Saranda. Read all about Saranda in the following article.

  • Monastery of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This monastery is located on Zvernec Island, connected to the mainland by a bridge. It was founded in the 10th century. Currently, it serves as a summer Orthodox camp for boys.

We recommend visiting the monastery for those who are staying in Vlora.

Albania church
If you plan to stay in Vlora, make sure to include a visit to this beautiful monastery in your itinerary.
  • Monastery of Saint Vlash (Shen Vlash).

It is situated in the village of Shen Vlash near Durres. Orthodox believers come here to pray for healing. The monastery also houses a spiritual seminary and a hospital.

  • Resurrection Cathedral in Korca.

Until 1968, the site was occupied by St. George’s Cathedral, which was destroyed by the communists. Resurrection Cathedral was built in 1992 in a neo-Byzantine style. It is now one of the main attractions of the city of Korca.

Read more about Korca in the following article.

All about the religion of Albania
The cathedral in Korca is an example of “new-build.” It was completely rebuilt and became even more beautiful.

In conclusion

Today, there are no confrontations based on religion in Albania. As a result, all religions peacefully coexist with each other. It is a common sight in any town in the country when the morning prayer begins at 5:45 in the mosque, and the loudspeakers on the minarets announce it throughout the city. At 6:00, the church bell across the street starts ringing.

Pope Francis has always held the religion in Albania as an example for other countries.

Now you know everything about religion in Albania and that you can travel safely in the country regardless of your religious affiliation.

Have a wonderful journey through Albania!

Resources to help you plan your dream trip to Albania

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  • Comprehensive travel insurance: EKTA
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