Albanian Culture

Urban and rural contrasts



The "Block" in Tirana


Rural Albania

Tirana's active cafe and restaurant-filled "Block," the enclave of the former communist ruling elite, can make one forget the under-development of rural Albania.


Abandoned bunker built during the Hoxha era on the Albanian-Macedonian border.  (Wikipedia Commons)

The legacy of Albania's communist isolation is still visible in the bunkers that dot the countryside.

Kanun: traditional code of honor

The traditional code of honor in Albania's northern mountains was based on a code of law called the Kanun. Among the key concepts on which it rests is Besa, which can be translated as honor, pledge, or alliance -- somewhat similar to the idea that one's word is one's bond. These ideas are now being reinvigorated all across the country: old feuds, which arise when Besa is violated, are said to lie behind much of contemporary politics. Kanun drives sharp distinctions between men and women, and tends to exclude women from public life.


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects individual beliefs. Islam and Christianity are both practiced in Albania, with Muslims (Sunni and Bektashi Sufis) approximately 70% of believers, Orthodox Christians 20%, and Roman Catholics 10%. A 2010 Gallup Global Reports survey showed that only 39% of Albanians say that religion plays a role in their lives.  This is not surprising, given that religious practice was precluded during most of the communist period.

Tunnel at Thirra (Wikipedia Commons)

Tunnel at Thirre in northern Albania on the road from Kukes to the south (Wikipedia Commons)

Since 2000 the government has upgraded many of the major transport arteries, and several new major highways have been built. The completion of the excellent highway between Kukes and the center has sharply reduced travel time from the scenic mountainous north of the country (and Kosovo) to Tirana and the coast at Durres.  Still, many of the roads outside the capital are in poor repair. In 2010, the Albanian government received 50 million Euros from the EBRD for reconstruction of rural roads.

Public transportation remains difficult, but there are now plenty of private taxis for hire by visitors. As vehicles more than doubled in recent years, traffic fatalities have increased.