Albania is a country in southeastern Europe which boasts a unique and diverse culture, with a Muslim population of some 65 percent. The country’s art works and forms were greatly influenced by the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Albania for more than 500 years.
The official language of the country is Albanian, which is a branch of the Indo-European languages and successor of the Illyrian language. Lexically, Albania’s language stems from Greek, Italian and Latin origins, as well as the Slavic language of the Balkans and Turkish roots.
Two cultural groups exist in Albania: the Ghegs (northern Albanians) and Tosks (southern Albanians), with the Shkumbin River serving as geographical borderline between the two groups. The Ghegs, generally those of Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia, speak with typical nasalisation traits. The Tosks, mainly those in Greece, southwestern Macedonia and Italy, speak with typical rhotacism traits. Although there are significant differences between the two cultural groups, they keep a strong national identity and ethnic culture.
Most of the traditional architecture of Albania gradually disappeared during the 1944-90 Stalinist regime. The bazaars and old towns of Tirana, and in many other cities, were destroyed, and socialist-style buildings and uniform housing blocks were built in their place, including the Catholic cathedrals in Shkodra and Tirana, which were transformed into a sports hall and movie theatre, respectively. However, Berat and Gjirokaster were declared museum cities. Some public buildings in Tirana survived the communist rule, such as the university and ministries of the main government, dating from the Italian period of the 1930s and 40s. The main street of the capital, Tirana, which stretches from Scanderbeg Square to the university, was built by the Italians as a symbol of Italian Fascism. During the communist regime, most of the old villas, houses, public gardens and parks were destroyed, and a myriad of cafes and kiosks cropped up.
Literature increased in the second half of the 19th Century in Albania with the rise of the powerful Rilindja Kombëtare movement, or national awakening, which strived for independence from the decaying Ottoman Empire. The movement was characterised by romantic nationalism, a key to understanding the Albanian mentality today. A new intellectual elite was formed in the beginning of the 20th Century, when Catholic educational institutions were established by Jesuits and Franciscans in Shkodra under the protection of the Austro-Hungarian Kultusprotektorat (religious protectorate), which produced the foundation of a more sophisticated literature, mainly in the form of poetry. Another culminating point in Albanian literature before World War II was the works of the Franciscan priest and national poet Gjergj Fishta.
Pre-war Albanian literature was swept away by the political revolution during and after World War II. Many writers and intellectuals left the country; those who stayed regretted their decision. Intellectuals were persecuted and a break with most cultural and literary traditions created a vacuum until the 1960s, an impact which can still be felt today. Albania was integrated in the Soviet Bloc in the 1950s, and Soviet literary models followed, in spite of the constraints of socialist Realism and Stalinist dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s. However, Albanian literature made great progress in originality and creativity. The Albanian poet and prose writer Ismail Kadare won international recognition and popularity. His influence can still be felt among the young post-communist writers of the 1990s, the first generation permitted to express their ideas without restraints.
Albanian folklore continues to be rich in diversity and artistic value, comprising literary, musical, choreographic and dramatic pieces. The country’s literary tradition covers poetry, folk tales, short stories, legends, proverbs and anecdotes. From 1937 to 1944, some 15 volumes of folklore were published under the title Nation’s Visars. In recent years, thousands of volumes with literary, musical and choreographic folklore were published. Eight volumes of literary folklore and 10 volumes of music folklore were published in Prishtina.
Albanian cinema debuted after World War II, in 1947. The film studio New Albania (Albafilm) was created in 1952 and produced its first full-length feature film Tana in 1958. The studio began producing 14 feature films annually, some of which have been screened in European cinemas and awarded prizes at international events. Archaeological excavations have even revealed theatres and amphitheatres dating from the 3rd and 4th Century BC in the country’s regions. Albania’s amateur theatre came into existence in the period of Rilindja Kombëtare, introducing traditions of Korca, Shkodra, Gjirokastra and Elbasan. Albania was also home to the famous Albanian-born stage actor Alexander Moisiu (1879-1935). The High College of Drama in Tirana was named Aleksander Moisiu in honour of the actor. The larger cities of the country boast many professional show troupes, such as those of the National Theatre and the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Tirana, as well as puppet and variety-show theatres.