Albanians are a native Balkan people who live in Southern Europe. They call themselves Shqiptarë. Albanians live in ethnically compact settlements in large areas, primarily in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, but also in Montenegro and Greece. Albanian culture is unique and diverse. There are two cultural groups in Albanian territories: the Ghegs and Tosks. Ghegs live in the north part while Tosks live in the south part. Although there are some differences between the two cultural groups, they keep a strong national identity and ethnic culture.
Albanian cuisine is typically Balkan influenced by Italian and Turkish cuisines, but also ancient Illyrian, Roman and Greek cooking. Most traditional Albanian food consists of vegetables, spices, meats, fish, vinegar, yogurt and herbs. Cow, lamb, rabbit and chicken meat is used heavily in various dishes. Vegetables are used in almost every dish. Milk and its byproducts, as well as eggs, are daily food.
There are many popular dishes of Albanian food. The most famous is Spinach and Cheese Pie. Albanian pies are generally made of thin pastry leaves which can be rolled out at home. Pastry leaves are laid inside the baking pan and then sprinkled Spinach with salt and cheese are added over the already laid pastry leaves. It is finished by covering the spinach with the rest of the pastry leaves and then baked.
Bean Yahni Soup is also a very popular dish. It is dry white beans, mixed with chopped onions, chopped parsley, salt, chili powder and olive oil. It should be boiled in hot water for 10 minutes until thick sauce is formed.
Another popular dish is Stuffed Peppers. Bell peppers are usually used for this dish. Peppers are stuffed with mince meat, rice, fried onions, chopped dill and parsley and placed on a tray for baking. Water is added until the rice and peppers are soft.
Fried Meatballs is very popular dish, as well. Ground meat, bread crumbs, oil, onion, parsley, salt, pepper, and mint are mixed thoroughly and sprinkled with salt, oregano, and pepper. It is then rolled in flour and fried in hot oil and served hot with French Fries or mashed potatoes.
Albanian cuisine is also very rich with delicious desserts. The most famous is Baklava. Baklava is made of rolled dough, walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and water. It is really yummy.
Nowadays Albanians are westernized and many dressing options are available. Young people, but also adults, wear jeans, miniskirts, etc, similar with people from western world. However, traditional clothing still exists among Albanian people.
Traditional clothing is made by specialized craftsmen and women with cotton, wool and silk. It is decorated with colors, embroidered symbols, themes like the Albanian eagle, incorporating gold and silver.
Clothing for women consists of bright and colorful embroidery and rich in detail. Older women still commonly dress in traditional wear.
Clothing for men includes a white kilt, called a Fustanella and long pant called Tirqe that are worn with a long-sleeved jacket or vest and a white felt hat, called Qeleshe. The hats come in a variety shapes according to the different Albanian regions.
Traditional Albanian shoes are called Opinga. They are worn by both men and women but they are made in a different colors and shapes.
Festivals, holidays, Celebrations
Because of Albanians history, ethnic and religious backgrounds, there are many cultural and arts festivals throughout the country. Every year Albanian people celebrate different festivals and holidays.
One of the largest is the pagan Summer Festival. It is celebrated on March 14 and it is intended to commemorate the end of winter, the rebirth of nature and a rejuvenation of spirit amongst the Albanians.
Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival is an artistic music festival that takes place every 5 years and is regarded as the most important event in Albanian culture. The festival promotes Albanian traditional music, dress and dance from Albania, the Diasporas, and Albanian inhabited lands throughout the Balkans.
Kënga Magjike (Magical Song) is another major musical event in Albanian territories. It is a great mixture of singers and bands from Albania and neighboring countries. Songs from this contest have resulted in many hits for Albanians throughout the world.
The most important Albanian holiday is Independence Day. It is celebrated on November 28. It was declared in 1912 marking the end of five centuries of Ottoman control.
On March 8 Albanians celebrate the Mother’s Day. It’s generally celebrated in many of the same ways, as it would be around the world. One of the traditions is to give a simple gift of a mimosa sprig.
Albanians are very keen to celebrate Christmas and New Year Eve. It is usually celebrated by staying up past midnight where fireworks are involved. It’s usually spent with family and friends and there are usually large feasts, sweets and drinking.
Other Albanian holidays areBayram Day; Islamic holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, Teacher’s Day, Mother Teresa Day, National Youth Day, Liberation Day, Children’s Day, May Day, April’s Fool Day, etc.
Famous Stories or Epics
Epic tales and legends are very much alive in Albanian regions. They are learnt by heart and pass from one generation to the next. The fundamental theme of Albanian folk tales is the struggle between good and evil. Usually readers assure that in the fantastic world of Albanian folk literature the good always win out.
One of the most famous legends is Besa Konstandinit (Constandis Promise), or Who Brought Doruntine Back:
Doruntine was the only daughter in a family with 13 children. When Doruntine was asked in marriage by a foreign prince, everyone in the family disagreed to let her go so far away. Only Constandin, the youngest of Doruntine’s twelve brothers, wants to make her happy and promises his mother that he’ll bring Doruntine back to see mother as soon as mother wants to. Mother then agreed to the marriage because of Constandin’s promise. Also all twelve brothers agree to the marriage, but soon they all die in a war, Constandin included. Mother cannot bear the loss of all of her children and not having even her daughter close to her at an old age, her mourning too heavy to bear. Her monologue is full of pathos and anger. During her rage she curses her own dead son, Constandin, who made her a promise he couldn’t keep. At the curse, Constandin wakes up from death and brings Doruntine back, because a mother’s curse even after death, is worse than anything else. He finds Doruntine dancing during Easter time. Doruntine knew absolutely nothing about all 12 brothers being dead. Constandin tells her to come immediately with him and brings Doruntine back overnight on the back of his horse. She observes that he looks tired and that he is full of dust, but he tells her that it’s because of the long trip. She cannot know that he is already dead. When they arrive back home, he leaves her at the door and tells her that he has to go to take the horse inside the barn, but instead goes back to his grave. Doruntine doesn’t realize that she has travelled on his brother’s horse when he was already dead, until she is told so by her mother. The finale is breathtaking because of the shock of the two women who realize that Constandin has risen from the dead.
Another famous legend is RozafaCastle. Rozafa was the castle associated with a famous legend about a woman who was buried in the foundation of the castle:
Three brothers were set about building the castle. They worked all day, but the walls fell down at night. They met a clever old man who advised them to sacrifice someone so that the walls would stand. The three brothers found it difficult to decide whom to sacrifice. Finally, they decided to sacrifice one of their wives who would bring lunch to them the next day. So they agreed that whichever of their wives was the one to bring them lunch the next day was the one who would be buried in the wall of the castle. They also promised not to tell their wives of this. The two older brothers, however, explained the situation to their wives that night, while the honest youngest brother said nothing.
The next afternoon at lunch time, the brothers waited anxiously to see which wife was carrying the basket of food. It was Rozafa, the wife of the youngest brother. He explained to her what the deal was, that she was to be sacrificed and buried in the wall of the castle so that they could finish building it, and she didn’t protest.
Rozafa, who was predestined to be walled, was worried about her infant son, so she accepted being walled on condition that they must leave her right breast exposed so as to feed her newborn son, her right hand to caress him and her right foot to rock his cradle:
When you wall me
Leave my right eye exposed
Leave my right hand exposed
Leave my right foot exposed
for the sake of my newborn son
so that when he starts crying
Let me see him with one eye
Let me caress him with one hand
Let me feed him with one breast
Let me rock his cradle with one foot
May the castle breast be walled
May the castle rise strong
May my son be happy
Albanian most popular children’s game is Hide and Seek. All Albanian children play this game at least every second day. Game rules are very simple. Children gather around a landmark, such a tree or a wall. One of them will be chosen to close eyes and count while others players hide. He or she will be called “It”. When finishing counting “It” will call out “Ready or not here I come” and will go to search and look for other players. While “It” is searching, other children try to run to home base; therefore “It” should be very careful. “It” will try to find and touch the hidden and running players before they reach the home base. The first player to be touched will be “It” in the next round.
Verbal or nonverbal communication
Some nonverbal communications in Albanian culture show drastic differences comparing to some other peoples’ culture around the world. It is very common for Albanians to greet each other with a kiss or a hug, even between the same genders. Albanians consider two men or two women walking hand-in-hand to standard behavior while in the United States, two men or women holding hands would indicate a romantic relationship. While Americans smile freely at strangers, in Albanian regions this is considered a little strange and sometimes impolite. Albanians tend to use more eye contact when they are speaking, but less when they are listening. It is believed that avoiding eye contact is the way to show respect. Physical distance is another major difference in the nonverbal communication between Albanians and other cultures. Acceptable distance for Albanians is much shorter than what most Americans feel comfortable with. When Albanians place the hand on the chest is to say, “thank you”, when they stroke the shoulder lightly means “good luck”.
There are some differences in Verbal Communications, as well. Albanians may frequently talk loudly to each-other but it is not because they are angry. They raise their voices even in normal conversations. Albanian women tend to speak more than listening and when in groups you would be listening two or more women speaking at the same time. It is not unusual when Albanian parents would tell to their kids “I will kill you”. This usually happens when kids do something wrong or don’t obey their parents and it is a routine expression. However, parents never mean to do so and they never do so, and nobody takes it seriously. It is only an attempt to discipline their children.
Albanian people in general are very hospitable. It is not unusual for an Albanian family to spend a month’s salary to feed a visitor. A person invited to dinner will be given enough to “feed an army,” even though the host may go hungry the next day. By tradition women are expected to stay at home and to obey their husbands. They usually take care of the house and their children. However, recently, women are being emancipated. For Albanians the family is considered to be the most stable institution therefore they prefer to live all together; husband, wife, children, father, mother, brothers, and sisters.
Albanians are hard workers and especially women. Besides working at home, Albanian women living in rural areas are frequently compelled to do agriculture work. They also take care of cattle.
There are three religions practiced in Albania; catholic, 30%, orthodox, 10 % and Islam, 60 %. There is an extraordinary religious tolerance among Albanians and religious divisions are not significant at all. Members of the same family sometimes belong to different religions.
Nowadays Albanian Legal System is being integrated into Euro-Atlantic legal system, but in some rural areas The Code of Lekë Dukagjini is still being practiced. This code is a set of traditional Christian Albanian codes and laws developed by Leke Dukagjini. Although Kanun is not legal today, it is widely respected and still practiced in some parts of Albania and Kosovo. This code has influenced the Albanian culture with focus on the sections family and marriage. According to this Code Albanian men and women were not allowed to choose their wives or husbands by being attracted to them. Instead, their parents interfered and made such decisions. Still according to this Code the definition of marriage is “to form a household, adding another family to the household, for the purpose of adding to the work force and increasing the number of children”.
There is another interesting tradition among Albanians in rural areas. Although this custom is enormously fading away there are cases when men and women are not allowed to stay together in the same room when visiting relatives. Men will be separated from women and will be taken to a special room called Oda. Women are not allowed to enter Oda for any reason while men are inside. Also men are not allowed to enter women room. Only very close family members are allowed to do so, such us husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and uncles.
There are many famous places in Albania where you can still find their own culture and tradition.
One of them is KrujaCastle. This is a castle in the city of Kruja and the center of Skanderbeg’s battle against the Ottoman Turks. It is a center of tourism in Albania, and a source of inspiration to Albanians.
Another famous place lies in southern part of Albania and it is called Butrint. It was an ancient Roman city in Epirus but now it is an archeological site near the city of Saranda. It attracts many visitors each year.
Rozafa Fortress is the place where you can find the old world charm. It is a castle near the city of Shkodër, in northwestern Albania, one of Albania’s oldest and most historic towns, as well as an important cultural centre. It rises imposingly on a rocky hill, 130 meters above sea level.
Mt Dajti National Park is a weekend gateway where you can relax and leisure. It is situated in the northeast of the capital city of Tirana. All kind of flowers and different climate zone is the striking feature of this place. This is an ideal place for people to enjoy walking in a peaceful and quiet surrounding.
IonianCoast is another famous place among different famous places in Albania. It is known for beautiful beaches where people can enjoy swimming along the Ionian and Adriatic coasts.