Tirana is the capital and largest city of Albania, a small country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. The country borders the Adriatic Sea. Tirana is located about 30 miles (48 km) inland just to the north of the very center of Albania. It is in an area of hills at an elevation of about 360 ft (110 m). The main local rivers are the Ishëm and the Tiranë. The population of Tirana is about 620,000, while that of the metropolitan area is a little more than 1 million, about one-third of the national total (2011).
The basin in which Tirana is situated has been occupied for many centuries. The Roman Emperor Justinian built a castle in the area in 520 AD. However, the city itself is said to have been founded as recently as 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini as an Ottoman trading town with a mosque and a Turkish bath. The first Christian settlers arrived in 1800. There was a revival of Albanian national consciousness in the late 19th century, and under the leadership of Ismail Qemali, Albania achieved independence from Ottoman rule in 1912. Tirana was designated to be the national capital in 1920. Between 1917 and 1923, architects from Austria developed a street and land use plan for the city. In 1929, Zog of Albania was crowned King Zog I. In World War II, Tiranba was the scene of battle between Albania Communists led by Enver Hoxha against Italian and German fascists. After the war, from 1946, Albania became a communist country, the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, with Hoxha as ruler until his death in 1985. Communism collapsed in 1991 and the Republic of Albania was established.
The central square in Tirana is named Skanderbeg Square (Sheshi Skënderbej), named after 15th-century Albanian leader against Ottoman expansion, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. His statue stands in the square, as does an iconic clock tower and the National Historic Museum. The Museum of Albanian Clock Towers is nearby the E'them Bey Mosque, completed in 1821, is also located in Skandenberg Square. One more landmark from Skanderbeg Square is Piramida, a pyramid-shaped structure that was built at great cost in 1987 as a museum honoring Enver Hoxha. It has since been converted into a conventions and exhibitions space. The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral is a newly built place of worship in the center of the city. Mother Theresa Square honors the well-known Albanian missionary nun who worked among the poor in India. The University of Tirana faces that square. The ruins of Justinian's castle, now referred to as Tirana Castle, are still another attraction.
The majority religion of Albania is Islam, accounting for perhaps 70 percent of the national population. About 20 percent of Albanians are Orthodox Christians. The official language is Albanian, and Albanians are the dominant ethnic group, forming more than 95 percent of the population. Since the 1990s, ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo have settled Albania. Minority groups include Greeks, Bulgarians, and Macedonians.
Tirana is undergoing transition from an autocratic communist rule to democracy and a capitalist economy. There is considerable new construction and modernization, but critics point to lack of careful planning and illegal building in parklands and destruction of traditional neighborhoods to make way for new tall buildings by developers with political connections.
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