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Named after a national hero of Albania, Skanderbeg Square (Sheshi Skënderbej) is the main plaza in the capital city of Tirana. All roads in Tirana seem to lead into the square, which has been the subject of various reconstruction plans since 2010. Many of the original buildings on the square were destroyed during communist times, but a few older structures do remain, like the early 19th century Eth’em Bey Mosque and Clock Tower. In 1968, a statue of Joseph Stalin was replaced by the Skanderberg Monument, honoring a nobleman who once resisted the Ottoman invasion. The equestrian monument stands 11 meters tall and depicts Skanderberg on horseback in full armor, with an Albanian flag flying alongside.
Around the square today, you will find the National History Museum, the Tirana International Hotel, the National Library of Albania, City Hall and the Palace of Culture, which is home to the National Theater of Opera and Ballet. Don’t miss a climb up the Clock Tower, which offers superb views around Tirana.
Constructed in 1988 to celebrate the legacy of Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha, the Pyramid of Tirana is one of the city’s most distinctive buildings. After communism fell only a few years later, the pyramid fell into disrepair. Once used as a conference center, NATO base, and temporary exhibition space, it is currently in disuse.
Marked by undulating rock formations and stalactites, the Cave of Pëllumbas (Shpella e Pëllumbasit) is an easily-accessible adventure day trip from Tirana. Known by locals as the Black Cave and located a short hike away from the village of Pëllumbas, the karst cave is located on the slopes of the Dajti mountains, in Dajti National Park.
Stuffed to the brim with Albanian cultural and archaeological exhibitions, the National Historical Museum (Muzeu Historik Kombëtar) opened in 1981 and has since been updated to include information about Albania’s Communist legacy. Items are arranged in chronological order across eight different pavilions, and most of the displays are in English.
Et'hem Bey Mosque (Xhamia e Et'hem Beut) is a historic religious structure, which somehow managed to escape destruction when an atheist movement took hold in Albania during the 1960s. The structure and those who worship there have a long history of surviving turmoil, as the mosque was forced to shut its doors when communists ruled the country.
In 1992, Et’hem Bey Mosque once again opened as a place of worship against the wishes of those who were in charge. Today, it’s one of the largest and most prominent gathering places for Muslims in Albania. The mosque is known for its colorful frescoes and finely detailed interiors, making it a worthwhile stop for travelers interested in history, religion and architecture.
The Tirana Clock Tower (Kulla e Sahatit), built in 1822 by Haxhi Et'hem Bey, stands as an Ottoman-era beacon in the center of the capital city. The simple stone tower is topped with clocks on four sides and a pyramid-shaped cupola, and it shares the skyline with Et'hem Bey Mosque next door. Climb the tower for views or explore the attached museum.
Erected to honor military leader Gjergj Kastrioti, Skanderbeg Monument sits in the middle of the central square that also bears his name. As the leader who created a united Albania in the 15th century before it was occupied by the Ottomans, he is a symbol of Albanian national pride. The monument, from 1968, depicts him riding a horse.