Tirana is a city going through an urban renewal phase; spend the day there and you will find its vigor and vitality endearing. Having dumped communism, Tirana blossoms with modern architecture that is both creative and attractive. City leaders have bulldozed unauthorized structures of shoddy construction.
As the sun sets, most of Tirana wanders down to the Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit (Boulevard of the Martyrs) for an evening stroll. Since the fall of communism, many hotels, restaurants and cafes have opened, and the nightlife has developed nicely.
The main sites of the city are clustered around Skanderbeg Square, the heart of downtown. In the center of the square is a statue of Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero. Next to the statue are the graceful Tirana mosque and the city's 19th-century clock tower.
Also on the square are the four-star Tirana International Hotel, the Palace of Culture (opera and national library) and the National Museum of History (a huge revolutionary/nationalist mural on the outside and an interesting display focusing on World War II and the resistance movement on the inside). Plans are also under way to revamp the area surrounding the square with new shops and housing, as well as a large movie complex.
If you continue south on the boulevard, you'll pass the government buildings constructed during the Italian occupation of World War II. Farther south are the Fine Arts Gallery and the Hotel Dajti, which was also built during the Italian occupation.
Near the hotel is Rinia Park, previously home to a number of illegal restaurant structures and now a serene park. The park also features a structure known as "Taiwan," which contains an Italian restaurant, a cafe and, interestingly, an underground bowling alley and video-arcade complex.
Just south of the meager Lana River is the former Museum of Enver Hoxha. The building's pyramid shape can be explained by what's missing: It used to have a large illuminated red star on the top, and the building's sloping shape represented rays from the star's light. Now that the star has been removed, the building looks like a flying saucer that landed in downtown Tirana. (The museum has been converted into a cafe and conference center.)
At the end of the boulevard you'll find Mother Teresa Square, named for the holy woman, who was ethnic Albanian. Nearby are the Archaeological Museum and the Art Academy. The Polytechnic University is also there, and beyond it is the city's Grand Park.
Just outside the city—and worth the effort to get to—is the Martyrs' Cemetery, where a dramatic statue of Mother Albania looks over the city and the graves of 900 partisan soldiers who died during World War II. The cemetery once contained the grave of Enver Hoxha, but his coffin (along with those of other Communist leaders) has been moved to a cemetery across town. Plan at least two nights in Tirana.
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