Durres, Albania’s second largest city located on the Adriatic coast has become a touristic hotspot not only for the long beach and stunning landscape but also its deep and pluralistic historical background.
One of the most ancient and economically significant cities of Albania, Durres had been under Ottoman authority for 5 centuries. Established in 627 BC as a strategic coastal town across the Italian town of Bari, Durres was just 72 km away from Italy. In the past this geographical closeness created problems as illegal immigrants rushed from Italy to Albania, but today ferry services between Bari and Durres help the Italian and Albanian authorities to overcome illegal immigration.
Having relaxing cafes, a historical port and comfortable restaurants, Durres is also decorated with many monuments in commemoration of Albanian notables who sacrificed their lives for the country. The old castle built on a hill overlooking Durres is the symbol of the city.
Durres served as a safe haven during the Kosovo war in 1999. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovans fled to the city to escape their war-torn homeland. Although this trend remains till this day, the reason today is much different. Today Kosovans leave for Durres not because of a life threatening situation, rather they visit Durres as tourists who come to enjoy the beach and warm weather.
Albania's connection with the rest of the world was minimal when it was ruled by a communist regime. However, touristic destinations like Durres has helped the country rapidly develop a growing international reputation. Albanian coastal towns with newly built comfortable hotels are becoming economic rivals for the Greek Islands, a long time hotspot for European tourists.
The mosques of Durres reminiscent of the Ottomans
In addition to Roman heritage and touristic places, one of the factors that distinguishes Durres from most European coastal cities is its Ottoman heritage. There are numerous Ottoman architectural works in Durres including Fatih, Berat and Korca mosques.
At the beginning of the 16th century, Sultan Mehmet Fatih purchased the land of a church and turned it into a mosque, which is today known as the Fatih mosque. During the years that Albania was ruled by a communist regime, like all other religious institutions mosques also had their services suspended. They were reopened after the collapse of communism in 1990. Renovated by the Albanian Minister of Tourism, Turkey also contributed to the restoration of the Fatih mosque. What makes the Fatih mosque unique in its design is that unlike many Ottoman mosques it does not have a dome, but has a roof.
Another mosque closed by the communists was the New Mosque, which is located in the center of Durres. Built in 1938, the mosque was closed by Enver Hoxha in 1967. The Mufti of Durres Redi Quku said: “When Enver Hoxha waged a war against the mosques, the minaret of the New Mosque was destroyed. After communism, our mosque was reopened in 1994. With the aid of the local Muslim community, restoration work was carried out and the mosque was readied for use of Muslims. The New Mosque does not attract only Muslims’ attention; tourists travelling to Durres also visit this mosque.” The restoration was also financed by Muslims living in Kosovo and Macedonia. Yet, there is still a lot to do and the Muslim community seeks further financial support to accomplish restoration works.
Elbasan, a touristic hotspot in central Albania
The Elbasan district, another Ottoman city, is located in the center of Albania and was a significant residential area in Ottoman history. It was ruled by the Ottomans for 5 centuries and has a special place in Ottoman history due to the fact that Mehmet the Conqueror stopped over in Elbasan on the eve of subjugating Albania. This city, being third largest in Albania, has hosted various civilizations. Established on the Shkumbin River, the city became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century after the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Elbasan served as the Ottomans’ cultural center in the Balkans.
Aiming to take over Kruja in 1466, Mehmet the Conqueror camped in the city and named it Elbasan. For the Ottoman Empire the city was like an entrance gate to Albania. The castle was built after the Ottomans conquered and Elbasan later became the military’s logistic center for further conquests in the Balkans. In addition to military purposes, the Ottoman state attached significant importance to building Islamic architectural works for the purpose of signifying the city’s Islamic character.
Another symbol of Elbasan is the clock tower, one of the constructions in the city center representing the Ottoman architectural style. Having been built in 16th century, the clock tower has reached us today without any major change. The King Mosque, a rare name for Muslims to give their mosques, also stands as a monument of Ottoman heritage. It was built in 1492 and was fortunate to survive Enver Hoxha’s mosque destruction campaign in which 30 historical mosques was demolished.
Two-layered historical houses and traditional streets are also symbols of Ottoman heritage in Elbasan. What is upsetting is that the city’s modern part has nothing in common with the more historical parts of the city and does not reflect the traditional architectural mind. Built during the Enver Hoxha era, monotype apartments and long streets have brought with them the essence of communism to this day.
Kuzey News AgencyGüncelleme Tarihi: 16 Ağustos 2013, 17:47