The Culture of Albania is a term that embodies the artistic, culinary, literary, musical, political and social elements that are representative of Albania and Albanians. Albanian culture has been considerably shaped by the geography and history of Albania. It grew from that of the Illyrians, with their pagan beliefs and specific way of life in the wooded areas of far Southern Europe.
Albanians can be culturally and linguistically separated into two groups such as the northern Ghegs and southern Tosks. The line of demarcation between both groups, based on dialect, is the Shkumbin River that crosses Albania from east to west. Gheg is mostly spoken along with the Albanians of Croatia (Arbanasi), Kosovo, Montenegro and northwestern Macedonia. However, Tosks include the Albanians of Greece, (Chams), southwestern Macedonia and southern Italy (Arbëreshë). The diversity between Ghegs and Tosks can be substantial, both sides identify strongly with the common national and ethnic culture.
Albania is the name of the country attested in Medieval Latin. The name has derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Albanoi and their capital in Albanopolis that was noted by Ptolemy in ancient times. Previously, Albanians called their country Arbëri or Arbëni and referred to themselves as Arbëreshë or Arbëneshë until the sixteenth century as the toponym Shqipëria and the demonym Shqiptarë gradually replaced Arbëria and Arbëresh. The terms are interpreted as the Land of Eagles and Children of Eagles.
The double-headed eagle is the national and ethnic symbol of all Albanian-speaking people. The symbol appears in a stone carving dating from the tenth century as the Principality of Arbanon was established. It was also used as a heraldic symbol by a numerous noble families in Albania at that time. The double-headed eagle appears as a symbol for bravery, valor, freedom and heroism.
Home of Muslims, Christians and Jews, religious tolerance is one of the most important values of the tradition of the Albanian people. It is widely accepted, that Albanians are well known about those values, about a peaceful coexistence among the believers of different religious communities in the country.
Thanks to its long history, Albania is home to many valuable monuments such as among others the remains of Butrint, the medieval cities of Berat and Gjirokastër, the Roman Amphitheatre of Durrës, the Illyrian Tombs and Fortress of Bashtovë. Other examples of important contributions to architecture may be found in Apollonia, Byllis, Amantia, Phoenice, Shkodër and many others.
Despite being a small country, Albania has as three sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List and one Heritage element. The Codices of Berat are eminently important for the global community and as well the development of ancient biblical, liturgical and hagiographical literature. Therefore, it was inscribed on the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2005.
Code of Behavior
The Kanun is still today applied by Ghegs in the north of Albania.
The Kanun, a comprehensive compilation of Albanian traditional customs and cultural practices, was codified by Lekë Dukagjini in the Middle Ages. Scholars have conjectured that the Kanun might have derived from Illyrian tribal laws, while others have suggested that it has retained elements from Indo-European Prehistoric eras. The Kanun reflects notably the historic development of Albanians through its turbulent history and encompasses in a real statute regulating various aspects of life including customs, traditions and wisdom in Albania.
Besa, „to keep the promise “, is the Albanian code of honor and a major component of Albanian culture. It is among the highest and most important concept of the Kanun with a moral and ethical connotation. The term contains the given word or keeping of a promise or obligation and the guaranteed agreement among honorable men.
Most notably, Besa means taking care of those in need and being hospitable to every single person. Albania saved and protected almost 2000 Jewish people during the Holocaust. Rather than hiding the Jews in attics or the woods, the Albanians gave them clothes, gave them Albanian names and treated them as part of the family.
“There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians themselves are divided into three faiths.
Independence Day in Pristina, Kosovo.
In consideration to the long and eventful history of Albania, there are several cultural and religious holidays throughout the country. Albanians, either in Albania, Kosovo and other countries, celebrate their Independence and Flag Day on November 28. Various ceremonies, festivals and concerts take place to celebrate the historic day in major cities amongst them in Tirana and Pristina, holding festive and military parades.
Christmas is celebrated by those following the religion of Christianity and even by Muslims across the country. A christmas tree is typical for Albanians. They have their own Santa Claus, called Babagjyshi i Vitit të Ri or Babagjyshi i Krishtlindjëve, who comes to their home on New Year’s Eve to deliver a few small gifts to the children. The families drink and eat a large meal together with plenty of traditional foods.
Bajram is considered by Muslims as the holiday of forgiveness, moral victory and peace, fellowship and unity. They sacrifice a sheep for this holiday, giving the meat to their family, friends and to the poor people.
Another pagan holiday is Dita e Verës, particularly popular in Elbasan and Gjirokastër. It is celebrated on March 14 and is intended to commemorate the end of winter, the rebirth of nature and a rejuvenation of spirit amongst the Albanians. The ritual of the day begins on the previous day with the preparation of sweets such as ballokume cooked in a wood oven. During the evening ballokume, dried figs, walnuts, turkey legs, boiled eggs and simite are distributed to members of the family.
Teacher day is celebrated on March 7 since 1887 and is regarded by many Albanians as one of the most important holiday of their country. It honors the opening of the first school that taught lessons in Albanian language in Korçë.
Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.
The country’s architecture reflects a rich variety of architectural styles and is rooted in its history, culture and religion. Influences from distant social, religious and exotic communities have contributed to the variety of the architectural landscape in Albania that is richly revealed by archaeological finds that nonetheless retains a certain amount of continuity across history.
Some of the earliest productions, notably from Illyrians, Ancient Greeks and Romans, are found scattered throughout the country. The best collection of Ancient architecture can be found in Butrint in the southwest, Apollonia, Durrës and Byllis in the west and Amantia and Phoenice in the south. Religion and kingship do not seem to have played an important role in the planning of these towns at that time.
In the Middle Ages a variety of architecture styles developed in the form of dwelling, defense, worship and engineering structures. The consolidation of Albanian principalities gave rise to Varosha, or neighborhoods outside city walls. Examples of such developments are centered in Petrele, Krujë, Tepelenë and Lezhë originating from the feudal castle. Some inherited historic structures were damaged by invading Ottoman forces. It is important to note that Ali Pashe Tepelena embarked on a major castle building campaign throughout Epirus.
Much earlier, the introduction of Christianity brought churches and monasteries which otherwhile became the center of most towns and cities in the country. Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques are also on the best examples and legacies of Byzantines and Ottomans, which are specifically exemplified in Berat, Gjirokastër and Korçë region.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Albanian medieval towns underwent urban transformations by various Austo-Hungarian and Italian architects, giving them the appearance of western European cities. This can be particularly seen in Tirana and Korçë. They introduced architectural styles such as Historicism, Art Nouveau, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism.
The dress of the Muslim bride is characterized by its elegance and transparency, in that of the Catholic one can see full colors. The Catholic bride’s dress is characterized by its picturesque effects and harmony. There are two types of Muslim wedding dresses. One is worked on a “shajak” (large piece of wool) and with floral motives worked with “gajtan” (kind of rope) black cotton, sometimes mixed with green. The other one is worked in the same material but with red color. Different from the first here the motifs are enriched with full colors. The difference between these two dresses that at the first dress the motifs occupy all the area, at the second it occupies a little part in the front and back. These dresses have a belt worked with gold and grain necklaces in red, rose, orange creating all together a warm surface. Here the motifs are very small.
Dress of Catholic Shkodran Bride
The dress is tripped from the transparent white, shiny, soft, which spreads all over the body, and is intended to suggest tranquility and a warm purity. This concept of tradition is achieved through the white of the base material and the gold thread over. This dress is composed by the “barnaveke”: some kind of very long pants which seem a skirt.
Ritual songs name various elements which contain “paja” (pronounced paya) of the girl, which are the goods parents give to the daughter to wear, to furnish the house, gifts for her husband and the intimate cousins. Elements are typically made by weaving clothes using looms. The preparation of the “paja” for the parents of the bride is a pleasure which means also accomplishing the obligations toward the daughter.
“Dhunti” in Shkodra means the gifts that the groom prepares for the bride during the engagement, mainly clothes, jewelry, gold ornaments and tricks, which are sent to her a few days before the wedding. In addition to those received by the family of his father, the bride takes many gifts from the groom and his family. “Dhuntia”, which had a considerable monetary value, was prepared with great care by the family of the boy, because in some way embodied respect and love for his young bride, to whom these gifts were made, love for their son that he married at the same time was also a representation of the family in its economic and aesthetic. In “dhunti” there were enough clothes and items for use always, in joy and in sorrow, which expressed particular attention to the role of women.