Travelling back to Tirana's Communist Past

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Tirana has a fascinating history and each stage of it has left its marks on the city. From 1944 to 1990, Albania suffered a period of isolation during the Communist regime. While many of the communist landmarks were destroyed following the transition to democracy

These communist landmarks that survive will let you experience a little of the frightening communist regime that existed. From looking at the lifestyle of the old dictator to the surveillance systems that kept control over the country and the ever present bunkers that protected Albania from invasion.

National Museum of History

National History Museum Tirana Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / OdettMelody

Skanderbeg Square is a good starting point for the tour. Above the entrance to the National History Museum is a good example of Socialist Realism art. In the days of the regime there was also a red star in the middle of the partisans flag.

Inside the museum there is a pavilion which is dedicated to the communist crimes during the regime. With photos, documents and objects belonging to the period, from 1944 to 1990. There is also a section dedicated victims of religious persecution at the times. In 1967 Albania was declared the first atheist country in the world, and in the following years many religious sites, churches, monasteries and mosques were destroyed.

Location: Skënderbej Square, Boulevard Zogu I, Tirana , Albania | Hours: 9am-7pm | Price: 200 lekë | Website
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The Palace of Culture of Tirana

Palace Of Culture Tirana Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / ShkelzenRexha

Both the Palace of Culture and the Tirana International Hotel are good examples of communist architecture.

Palace of Culture of Tirana was was also built during the communist era with Nikita Khrushchev laying the first stone during a visit in Albania in 1959. The architecture is typical of those years and reminds to many communist-era buildings spread throughout Eastern Europe. Unfortunately only the exterior of these buildings reminds one of those times as the both the hotel and opera house have recently been renovated.

The Tirana International Hotel was built in 1979 and was designed by Valentina Pistoli, who was an Albanian architect born in Korce, Albania.

Location: Sheshi Skenderbej 1000 Tirana, Albania | Website
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Monument to the Unknown Partisan

Unknown Soldier Tirana Albania
CC BY-SA 3.0 / MirkoS18

The Unknown Soldier Statue is a war memorial dedicated to the partisans that fell in the struggle against the Italians during their occupation in Second World War. The statue is a great example of socialist realism, and depicts a soldier raising his right hand waving troops forward while holding a rifle in his left.

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Bunk’art 2

Exterior Of Bunk Art 2, Tirane, Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Albinfo

This museum of located in a communist-era bunker and underground tunnel system below the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Each of its 24 rooms of the bunker detail stories of the political persecutions of approximately 100,000 Albanians from 1945-1991. it also shows the creation of the state security or Sigurimi during Communism, and exhibitions showing the state’s means of persecution during this dark period of history.

Location: Rruga Sermedin Said Toptani, Tirana | Hours: Sun - Sat 09:00 - 18:00 | Price: 500 Lek | Website
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The House of Leaves

Museum Of Leaves Tirana Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Jcornelius

The House of Leaves is the newest museum opened in Tirana and one of the most interesting. Built in 1931, originally the buildings purpose was rather benign medical clinic. However it was used by the Gestapo during the war and during the post war period the building became the headquarters of the infamous Sigurimi, the Albanian secret service. It is considered to be the equivalent of the Stasi headquarters of the former East Germany.

The name House of leaves came about as the building had dense foliage growing on the front of it.

The proximity of the building to the Central Post Office was no coincidence as this facilitated the interception of the people’s correspondence.

Location: Rruga Dëshmorët e 4 Shkurtit, Tiranë. | Hours: Monday-Sunday 09:00 - 19:00 | Price: 700 lekë | Website
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National Art Gallery

National Art Gallery Tirana Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Pasztilla

The National Art Gallery of Albania is the largest art gallery in Albania and the collections include both 19th-century paintings depicting scenes from daily Albanian life and others with a far more political dimension with some truly fabulous examples of Albanian socialist realism. The building itself shows similar communist architectural style to the National Museum of History and the Palace of Culture.

Don’t miss the small collection of communist statues in storage behind the building, including statues of Lenin and Stalin.

Location: Blvd Dëshmorët e Kombit | Hours: 10am- 6pm Mon-Sat | Price: 200 lek | Website
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Hotel Dajti

Hotel Dajti
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Belgian man

Postbllok, or Checkpoint, is a memorial to communist isolations created by the former dissident Fatos Lubonja and artist Ardian Isufi, which commemorates the country’s political prisoners of Hoxha’s regime located in front of the Government building, in Bulevardi Mother Theresa. The installation, surrounded by green and trees, includes a bunker, remaining supports of a mining gallery from the labour camp of Spaç and an original piece from the Berlin Wall. We suggest you descend the stairs down the bunker and watch people passing near it.

No more than 120 meters from Enver Hoxha’s villa toward the Boulevard “Zogu I”, on the right side of the street you will find a monument called the Post-Block Memorial, a testimony to human resistance during the dictatorship in Albania. It could not be otherwise as one of the co-authors of the memorial is Fatos Lubonja, a publicist who was put in the most infamous communist prison, that of Spaç. The installation is built in three connected parts: a fragment of the Berlin Wall, an original Communist bunker, which guarded the main entrance to the former Block, and several iron columns taken from the notorious Spaç mine, where many opponents of the communist regime were imprisoned. Read our detailed article here.

Hotel Dajti was a hotel that was situated near Rinia Park on Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard (Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard).
During the communist regimes heyday international diplomats and visitors would be required to stay here. The hotel rooms were all equipped with state of the art listening microphones, and the was a listening room in the downstairs basement manned 24 hours a day by members of the Sigurimi.

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The Pyramid

Piramid Tirana Albania
CC-BY-SA / Diego Delso

The most iconic piece of communist architecture in Tirana is Hoxha’s pyramid.

It is situated just across the little Lana River from the Dajti. It has sloping walls at the front and vertical at the back. Originally, the Pyramid was topped by a red star, which has also now been removed. With a little imagination the pyramid from the air has the shape of a two-headed eagle, which also a symbol of Albanian and exists on the national flag.

The architects were Hoxha’s own daughter, and son-in-law – they were tasked with building a mausoleum for the dictator after his death. Until 1991, its main function was as Hoxha’s memorial while, although after 1991, it was converted into a cultural center, a refugee crisis center and nightclub. For many years it has fallen into disuse, although there are plans to renovate and redesign it.

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Café-Museum Komiteti

Komiteti Bar Museum Tirana
© 2024 Andrew Ashton

Just behind the pyramid is Komiteti a self-styled ‘café museum’. The place’s interior design is inspired by the communism era in Albania with exhibits and memorabilia all over the walls.

Location: Rruga Fatmir Haxhiu Tirana Albania
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Postbllok Monument

Postblloku Tirana Albania
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Kj1595

The so-called prefabricated residential buildings are dispersed around the entire capital. Homes to a majority of the Albanian population during communism, these buildings are a symbol of the mostly unattractive communist-era architecture. While they are strikingly similar to other Eastern European communist-era constructions, they still retain a recognizable Albanian style. Many of these facades were painted in bright colors and varying patterns at different periods in time, transforming something grey and mass-produced into something bright and unique and giving the city a much-needed makeover.

Postbllok, or Checkpoint, is a memorial to communist isolations.

It was conceived as an artistic installation and co-created by former dissident Fatos Lubonja and artist Ardian Isufi. Lubonja had suffered thirteen years in hard labour and another four in solitary confinement, for being critical of Hoxha’s regime.

The monument consists of three main elements: one of the small concrete defensive bunkers that litter the country; several concrete supports from the mine at the notorious Spaç labour camp where thousands of political prisoners suffered between 1968 and 1990; and a brightly painted section of the Berlin Wall from Postdamer Platz.

Spaç labour camp (pronounced spach), was a high-security labor camp located in an isolated canyon in the Mirdita region in north-central part of the Alania. The location of the camp was so remote and its climate so harsh that, although there was barbed-wire fencing, there were no actual perimeter walls were built. The other reason for its location was its proximity to a copper mine, where prisoners could be used as slave labor.

Location: Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit, Tirana | Hours: 24 hours daily | Price: Free
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Enver Hoxha House The Former Residence Of Dictator Albania
Flickr / David Stenley

The eastern entrance to the capital is marked by one of the most significant objects of national memory: The Cemetery of the Fallen Heroes of War and the “Mother Albania” Monument. Built on a hilltop, this monumental complex holds the remains of 900 partisans and is visible to any traveler entering or exiting Tirana. The iconic monument made of concrete and 12 meters in height, portrays Albania as a woman holding a laurel wreath and a star on each hand. On the 3 meter high pedestal, the words “Everlasting glory to the martyrs of the nation” are carved. This cemetery once held the body of former dictator Enver Hoxha, later moved to one of the city’s public cemeteries after the fall of the regime in 1992.

Today, Blloku is a lively district of the capital of Albania, with a plethora of cafe, bars and boutique shops. However during the days of the regime the area was off limits to normal Albanians, only the communist elite were allowed in. The party elite were then called ‘Bllok-men’.

The main communist attraction in the area is the house of the dictator Enver Hoxha. This a a relatively simple villa compared to dictators of other eastern block countries. The villa is in the center of this area on a large piece of land surrounded by a light iron fence. The building was built after the 1960s, with the older part of the building mimicing 1930s architecture. The house has not changed since Hoxha died.

Location: Rruga Ismail Qemali
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The Cemetery of the Fallen Heroes of War and the “Mother Albania” Monument

Tirana Mother Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Julian Nyča

The statue to Mother Albania is the largest example of Socialist Realist sculpture in the country. The 12 meter high statue stands, with a cloak blowing in the wind and her right arm is raised high above her head clutching a laurel wreath with a star, as she looking out over Tirana spread below her. She represents the country as a mother, who is guarding the eternal slumber of the 28,000 graves of Albanian partisans. On the 3 meter high plinth, the words “Everlasting glory to the martyrs of the nation” are carved.

Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator of Albania was buried here in 1985, but his body was moved during the counter-revolution of 1990 and he was reburied in the main public cemetery of the city.

Location: Rr Elbasanit
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Bunk’art 1

Bunk Art Entrance Tirane Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / DenisaRucaj

BunkArt is located in the outskirts of Tirana and is situated inside a large converted nuclear bunker built for the Communist-era politicians and military in the event of a war.

The construction of this anti-nuclear bunker, in 1978 was a close guarded secret. It consists of a 5-story underground palace, and includes 106 rooms with large conference hall. A number of the rooms show aspects of Hoxha’s life with photos while others display the original furnishing belonging to the period of dictatorship.

The entrance is a dark tunnel on the hillside near a still-active Albanian military base.

Location: Street Fadil Deliu, Tirana, Albania | Hours: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm | Website
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Spaç Prison

Spac Prison, Mirdite, Albania
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Pasztilla aka Attila Terbócs

A visit to the Spaç Prison, for those convicted of political crimes, makes a strong impression of the realities of the regime in Albania. The camp was styled along the lines of a Stalinist Gulag with forced hard labor in the nearby copper mines.

Ironically the 2 hour drive from Tirana takes you through some of Albania’s most stunning landscapes.

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