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5 unusual facts about Albania


There’s no denying it, Albania can be pretty strange place. Until 1991, it was the most isolated country in Europe, widely considered a “hermit kingdom” – much like North Korea is today. With the fall of communism, the borders finally became less restricted, and people could come and go. But even all these decades later, some of the marks of their former oppression can still be seen and felt. This makes it all the more fascinating for those looking for a unique experience without the need to leave Europe.
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Bunkers, bunkers everywhere

Albania’s former Communist leader Enver Hoxha was a very paranoid man. Convinced of an attack by foreign invaders, hundreds of thousands of bunkers were constructed during the Cold War era. The exact number ranges from 173,000 up to 750,000, depending on who you speak to. Of course this invasion never came, meaning far more people were lost constructing the bunkers than actually defending the country.

Many thousands of these bunkers remain today, scattered across the landscape like concrete mushrooms. Some of them have even been repurposed for modern uses, such as art galleries, hostels, or even a tattoo studio!

Field in Albania with bunkers and a donkey

A language like no other

The Albanian language is as isolated as the country used to be. Classified as an independent branch of the Indo-European language, no other language has been linked to its branch. Whilst neighbouring languages such as Serbian, Turkish and Greek has influenced Albanian, the core vocabulary and structure remains distinct, making it a fascinating subject of study for linguists the world over.

The world’s first atheist country

During Hoxha’s strict regime, religion was outlawed. Churches and mosques were demolished and converted into warehouses, arenas and other secular facilities. Until the fall of communism, you were not even allowed to publicly express your faith.

Today, Albania is shining example of religious tolerance and harmony, where Christians, Muslims and other religious groups coexist peacefully. Despite its Muslim majority, they have a long history of diversity, with each community living and celebrating side by side.

Mavrovo Macedonie
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No means yes, yes means no

Ah, the Albanian head nod. Confusing tourists for decades, Albanian’s nod when they mean “no” and shake their head when they mean “yes”. Think you can get your head around that? Well, it gets even more confusing. One single downward nod might actually mean “yes”.  Then there’s the speed to take into account, as shaking your head at a medium speed might mean “no”, or very slowly might actually be “maybe”. Your best bet is to stick to verbal cues, and don’t be offended if you think someone is disagreeing with you, as they might not be. Or they might be. Who knows.

The tradition of Xhiro

“Enjoy your xhiro”, “Have a nice xhiro”. But what exactly is a xhiro? An event? A tasty snack or drink? No, xhiro literally means walk. And Albanian’s take it very seriously. Early in the evening across the country, people will leave their homes to just simply walk. Down the street, through town centres, along the beach. No matter your age, gender, occupation or religion, everyone is out taking a stroll. In some towns, cars are even banned during this time to make way for pedestrians.

Besides being a great opportunity to catch up with family or friends, it’s also a chance for farmers to sell their produce or for people to start BBQs on the side of the road. What makes it even more interesting is that even though many Albanians do this religiously, no one really knows when or why it started. Have a nice xhiro!

Albania lake and mountains

Get in touch with Albania Specialist Steve

Ready to embark on an adventure to Albania? Get in touch with Albania Specialist Steve, who can help you plan your holiday to Albania. Just get in touch and we’ll do the rest!

Steve Travel Specialist Palm trees
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