Are you planning a visit to Albania this year and wondering what are the must-see museums? Or perhaps you are lucky enough to live in this Balkan gem and you are looking to soak up a bit of culture at the weekends? Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the best museums in central/north Albania. The best museums in the south will be covered in a seperate post!
The House of Leaves
One of Tirana’s newest museums, entry for adults is 700lek and 300lek for a child. The site of the previous HQ of the National Intelligence Service, or the ‘House of Spies’ dating from Albania’s communist era, you can cut the atmosphere in this place with a knife. Cold, dark, and foreboding, you can really begin to understand some of the atrocities that were inflicted upon the Albanian people as a result of things that happened here.. The original building was built in 1931 as a medical clinic and it was also used by the Gestapo during the Second World War. After the end of the war, it was taken back by the Albanian government and used as a security office. Within its four walls lie a multitude of whispers and legends that are dedicated to the people that suffered at the hands of a brutal, all-seeing, all-controlling regime. The museum is split into 9 sections and comprises 31 rooms in total. Be sure not to miss it.
Bunkart 1 & 2
Again, no trip to the Albanian capital is complete without understanding the troubles that its people passed through not so long ago. Bunkart 1 and Bunkart 2 are a series of underground passages and chambers, built during the reign of Enver Hoxha to house the political elite in case of the war or invasion that he feared, that never came. Today they have been reimagined as a memorial to those who died and who are still missing, as well as the key members of the party. You can view authentic artefacts, short films, photos and much more- but be warned, it is an emotional and moving experience.
Bunkart 1 is situated on the outskirts of Tirana, whilst Bunkart 2 is located in the heart of the city. Both will give you chills and probably reduce you to tears and in need of a raki or two afterwards.
National History Museum
The largest museum in the country, the National History Museum sits on the edge of Skanderbeg Square. Detailing Albanian history from ancient illyrian times right up until the postcommunist era, it also includes impressive relics from Greek and Roman times as well. A recent addition to the collection is a gallery dedicated to those that suffered under the communist regime, and you can also check out an Onufri exhibition with beautiful examples of works by this Albanian master.
Skanderbeg National Museum
To understand what it means to be Albanian, you need to understand a bit about the national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu, or Skanderbeg for short.
The museum has been built in the Kurja fortress which is a reminder of the defeat of the Ottoman armies for three consecutive years, during the 1800s.The museum offers a number of original documents and objects as well as reproductions of artefacts that give a clear account of Albanian history. There are a number of different sections of the museum including antiquity, early medieval, Ottoman rule, and the Albanian resistance.
Once you have explored the beautiful museum inside and out, you can sit on the bastions of the castle and enjoy some traditional food, including kabuni- an unusual lamb-based dish, unique to Kruja. Be sure to hang around for sunset as the views over Durres and the Adriatic beyond, are to be seen to be believed.
National Ethnographic Museum
Said to be one of the best museums in the country, the Ethnographic Museum in Kruje is situated just below the castle. Offering a fascinating insight into Albanian traditions, it is situated in a house dating back to the mid 18th Century, built by Ismail Pashe Toptani. Here you can check out old bee hives, farming tools, items made for young women before they get married, as well as examples of traditional items used in Albanian hospitality- something they are particularly famous for.
Marubi National Museum of Photography
Marubi National Museum of Photography was compiled by three generations of Marubi family photographers. Pietro Marubbi was an Italian painter and photographer who found himself in Shkodra from 1850 where he founded a photography business. The oldest images in this collection date from 1858. The family business was taken over by Kel Marubi after
Venice Art Mask Factory
No trip to Shkodra is complete without a trip to the Venice Art Mask factory. This factory and its warehouse has on display literally hundreds of beautifully hand-crafted Venetian masks. Made in the traditional way, on site you can choose from whimsical, beautiful, ornate, and downright terrifying. Photograph them or purchase them at an almost wholesale price, and take home a piece of Venetian beauty with an Albanian twist.
Site of Witness and Memory
The first site of remembrance in Albania, the Site of Witness and Memory is testament to the atrocities committed by the 50 years of communism that ended in 1990. A Franciscan Monastery that was repurposed by the regime, it has been turned into a museum that shows the cells and interrogation rooms that were used to brutalise citizens during this dark time. In this location, countless people were detained, tortured and killed, and whilst you may not consider this a nice way to spend an hour or so, to truly understand Albania, you need to understand what has happened here in recent memory.
The Kulla “Blood Feud” Tower
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To me, the whole of the mountainous village of Theth is like a museum. LIke the land where time stands still, it is almost totally preserved and remains unspoilt and difficult to access. After travelling for two hours or so on perilous mountain tracks, you can wander through this stunning valley until you reach this unique location. Run by a local family, the tower once provided protection to families that were cursed by the blood feud vendetta. Here they would hide out until a resolution could be resolved or until the man gave and faced the fate that awaited him.
Archaeological Museum of Durres
The largest museum of its type in the country, the museum was first opened in 1951 and is built partially into some 6th-century Byzantine walls. Most of the museum consists of artefacts found in nearby Dyrrhachium as well as other objects from Ancient Greek and Roman periods. Tombstones, sarcophagi, mosaics, and ceramic can be observed in close proximity with handy notes to guide you through the areas history.Follow The Balkanista!