Albania is a fascinating place with a diverse history and culture. During my time here so far, these are some facts I have acumulated.
1. Religious tolerance is an underlying foundation of Albanian culture. Whilst the country is on paper, predominantly Muslim, it does not make up a significant aspect of their culture. There are also Christian and Jewish communities in the country and they live in peaceful coexistence paying little or no attention to the religious beliefs or differences of others.
2. Albania is the name of the country in Medieval Latin- a name which derived from the Illyrian tribe known as Albanoi. Prior to this, the country was known as Arberi and the inhabitants referred to themselves as Arbereshe until the 16th Century when the toponym Shqiperia and the demonym Shqiptare began to be used instead. The terms are generally interpreted as meaning Land of Eagles, and Children of Eagles respectively.
3. The national and ethnic symbol of Albania is the double-headed eagle and it first appeared on a stone carving which dates from the 10th Century around the time that the Principality of Arbanon was established. The symbol represents the bravery, heroism, valour, and freedom of the Albanian people.
4. The Albanian people are linguistically and culturally separated into two distinct groups- the northern Ghegs, and the southern Tosks. The so-called “boundary” between the two groups and the dialect that they speak, is the Shkumbin River that crosses the country from East to West. Gheg is mainly spoken by ethnic Albanians in Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and northwest Macedonia, whereas Tosk is spoken by ethnic Albanians in Greece, southwestern Macedonia and southern Italy.
5. Whilst Albania may be a small country, it is home to no fewer than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one Intangible Cultural Heritage element. These include Butrint, Berat and Gjirokaster.
6. The Kanun was an exhaustive list of traditional Albanian customs and practices which was codified by Leke Dukagjini back in the Middle Ages. The Kanun acts as not only a list of “rules” to live by but also as a historical and socio-political record of the historical development of Albanians through their turbulent history. The Kanun regulates areas of life including the Besa which is considered as the highest and most important part of the Kanun and it refers to the importance of keeping a promise or obligation, taking care of those in need, being hospitable, and remaining honourable.
7. During WWII, the Albanian people protected almost 2000 Jews during the time of the Holocaust. Rather than hiding them in attics and woods, they gave them clothes and Albanian names and integrated them into society, treating them as a part of the family instead of outsiders.
8. Traditional Albanian music is incredibly diverse and has its roots in indigenous sounds and heritage. Forms of sung epic poetry, folk music, and instruments such as homemade wind instruments, violins, lahuta, and def are common and traditional dancing is extremely popular. When it comes to modern music, Albania and its diaspora have produced some internationally renowned musicians such as Rita Ora, Dua Lipa, and opera singer, Inva Mula.
9. Every year, on March 14th, the people of Albania celebrate Dita e Veres, or The Day of Summer and it is the countries largest and most prominent pagan festival. The day celebrates the end of the winter, the rebirth of nature, and a rejuvenation of mind, body, and spirit. The focus of the festival is in the city of Elbasan, it is also widely celebrated in Tirana with large street parties and festivities. In addition to this, from the 1st of March, youngsters and unmarried people wear a traditional bracelet known as a verore which is made of two braided strings that are typically red and white. On the 14th of March, the bracelet is hung on a tree branch for good luck, in the hope that a Swallow will use the thread to build its nest.
10. Albanians nod when they mean no, and shake their head when they mean yes, so be careful how you answer questions, particularly if you are using your head or you could end up getting yourself into a bit of trouble!
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