Culture of Albania

The Culture of Albania (Albanian: Kultura Shqiptare; Albanian pronunciation: [kuˈl:tuˈra ʃcipˈta:rɛ]) is a term that embodies the artistic, culinary, literary, musical, political and social elements that are representative of Albania and Albanians. Albanian culture has been considerably shaped by the geography and history of Albania. It grew from that of the Illyrians, with their pagan beliefs and specific way of life in the wooded areas of far Southern Europe.

Albanians can be culturally and linguistically separated into two groups such as the northern Ghegs and southern Tosks.[1][2] The line of demarcation between both groups, based on dialect, is the Shkumbin River that crosses Albania from east to west.[3] Outside of Albania, Gheg is mostly spoken by the Albanians of Kosovo, northwestern Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia (Arbanasi). On the other hand, Tosk is spoken by the Albanians of Greece (Arvanites, Chams), southwestern Macedonia and southern Italy (Arbëreshë). The diversity between Ghegs and Tosks can be substantial, both sides identify strongly with the common national and ethnic culture.

Albania is the name of the country attested in Medieval Latin. The name has derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Albanoi and their capital in Albanopolis that was noted by Ptolemy in ancient times.[4][5][6][7][8] Previously, Albanians called their country Arbëri or Arbëni and referred to themselves as Arbëreshë or Arbëneshë until the sixteenth century as the toponym Shqipëria and the demonym Shqiptarë gradually replaced Arbëria and Arbëresh.[9][10][11][12] The terms are interpreted as the Land of Eagles and Children of Eagles.

The double-headed eagle is the national and ethnic symbol of all Albanian-speaking people. The symbol appears in a stone carving dating from the tenth century as the Principality of Arbanon was established. It was also used as a heraldic symbol by a numerous noble families in Albania at that time. The double-headed eagle appears as a symbol for bravery, valor, freedom and heroism.

Home of Muslims, Christians and Jews, religious tolerance is one of the most important values of the tradition of the Albanian people. It is widely accepted, that Albanians are well known about those values, about a peaceful coexistence among the believers of different religious communities in the country.[13][14]

Thanks to its long history, Albania is home to many valuable monuments such as among others the remains of Butrint, the medieval cities of Berat and Gjirokastër, the Roman amphitheatre of Durrës, the Illyrian Tombs and Fortress of Bashtovë. Other examples of important contributions to architecture may be found in Apollonia, Byllis, Amantia, Phoenice, Shkodër and many others.[15]

Despite being a small country, Albania has as three sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List and one Intangible Cultural Heritage element. The Codices of Berat are eminently important for the global community and as well the development of ancient biblical, liturgical and hagiographical literature.[16] Therefore, it was inscribed on the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2005.

Lifestyle

Kanun

The Kanun is still today applied by Ghegs in the north of Albania.

The Kanun, a comprehensive compilation of Albanian traditional customs and cultural practices, was codified by Lekë Dukagjini in the Middle Ages. Scholars have conjectured that the Kanun might have derived from Illyrian tribal laws, while others have suggested that it has retained elements from Indo-European Prehistoric eras.[17][18] The Kanun reflects notably the historic development of Albanians through its turbulent history and encompasses in a real statute regulating various aspects of life including customs, traditions and wisdom in Albania.[19]

Besa, „to keep the promise“, is the Albanian code of honor and a major component of Albanian culture.[20] It is among the highest and most important concept of the Kanun with a moral and ethic connotation. The term contains the given word or keeping of a promise or obligation and the guaranteed agreement among honorable men.

Most notably, Besa means taking care of those in need and being hospitable to every single person. Albania saved and protected almost 2000 Jewish people during the Holocaust. Rather than hiding the Jews in attics or the woods, the Albanians gave them clothes, gave them Albanian names and treated them as part of the family.

Holidays

In consideration to the long and eventful history of Albania, there are several cultural and religious holidays throughout the country. Albanians, either in Albania, Kosovo and other countries, celebrate their Independence and Flag Day on November 28. Various ceremonies, festivals and concerts take place to celebrate the historic day in major cities amongst them in Tirana and Pristina, holding festive and military parades.

Christmas is celebrated by those following the religion of Christianity and even by Muslims across the country. A Christmas tree is typical for Albanians. Santa Claus in Albania is called Babagjyshi i Vitit të Ri or Babagjyshi i Krishtlindjeve, who traditionally "comes" to their home on Christmas or New Year's Eve to deliver small gifts to the children. The families drink and eat a large meal together with plenty of traditional foods.

Bajram is considered by Muslims as the holiday of forgiveness, moral victory and peace, fellowship and unity. They sacrifice a sheep for this holiday, giving the meat to their family, friends and to the poor people.

Another pagan holiday is Dita e Verës, particularly popular in Elbasan and Gjirokastër.[23] It is celebrated on March 14 and is intended to commemorate the end of winter, the rebirth of nature and a rejuvenation of spirit amongst the Albanians. The ritual of the day begins on the previous day with the preparation of sweets such as ballokume cooked in a wood oven. During the evening ballokume, dried figs, walnuts, turkey legs, boiled eggs and simite are distributed to members of the family.

Dita e Mësuesit is celebrated on March 7 since 1887 and is regarded by many Albanians as one of the most important holidays of the country. It honors the opening of the first school that taught lessons in Albanian language in Korçë.

Cuisine

Olive oil was used since ancient times in Albanian cooking.[24]

The Albanian cuisine, a representative of the Mediterranean cuisine, has developed through the centuries of social and economic changes and more importantly referable to different factors that stands in close interaction with each other such as the small and mountainous territory of the country with virgin forests, narrow valleys, vast plains and a favourable climate that offers excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits.

Food is for Albanians an important component of their culture and is deeply rooted in the history, traditions and values of the country. The cooking traditions of the Albanian people are diverse and nevertheless olive oil is the most commonly used vegetable fat in Albanian cooking, which has been produced since antiquity throughout the country particularly along the coasts.[25]

Albanian cuisine uses a variety of ingredients which include a wider availability of vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, cabbages and spinach, as well as cereals such as wheat, corn, barley and rye. Herbs and spices include oregano, mint, garlic, onion and basil. Widely used meat varieties are lamb, goat, beef, veal, chicken and other poultry and pork. Considering the direct proximity to the sea, seafood specialities are particularly popular along the Albanian Adriatic and Ionian Sea Coasts.

Hospitality is a fundamental custom of Albanian society and serving food is an integral to the hosting of guests and visitors. It is not infrequent for visitors to be invited to eat and drink with locals. The medieval Albanian code of honour, called Besa, resulted to look after guests and strangers as an act of recognition and gratitude.[20]

Religion

Christianity, Islam and Judaism are the traditional religions of Albania. The constitution extends freedom of religion to all citizens and the government generally respects this right in practice. Albania have always been considered as a unique country in terms of religion and religious tolerance is one of the main characteristics of Albanians.

Christianity has a long and eventful history in the country whereby it belongs to one of the most ancient countries of Christianity. There are thought to have been about seventy Christian families in Durrës as early as the time of the Apostles. Paul the Apostle was the founder of the Archbishopric of Durrës while he was preaching in Illyria and Epirus.[27][28] In the eleventh century, Albanians first appeared in Byzantine sources and at this point, they were already fully Christianized. The first known bishop of Albania was the Bishop of Scutari founded in 387 in Shkodër. In the late seventeenth century, Pope Clement XI served as the Pope from 1700 to 1721. He was born to an Albanian father descended from the noble Albani family from the region of Malësi e Madhe in Albania.

Pope Clement XI, the first pope of Albanian heritage.

The history of Judaism in the country can be traced back to the classical era. Jewish migration from the Roman Empire is considered the most likely source of the first Jews on the country's territory. It may have first arrived in Albania in the first century BC.[29] They build the first synagogue in Sarandë in the early fifth century. In the sixteenth century, there were Jewish settlements in most of major cities such as Berat, Elbasan, Vlorë, Durrës and as well as in Kosovo region.

Albania was the only country during the Holocaust in Europe where Jewish population experienced growth.[30] After the mass emigration to Israel following the fall of communist regime, only 200 Albanian Jews are left in the country today.[31][32] In 2010, a new synagogue "Hechal Shlomo" started providing services for the Jewish community in Tirana.

Islam arrived for the first time in the ninth century to the region, when Muslim Arabs raided the eastern Adriatic Sea.[33] In the fifteenth century, Islam emerged as the majority religion during the centuries of Ottoman rule, though a significant Christian minority remained. After declaration of independence in November 28, 1912, the Albanian republican, monarchic and later the communist regimes followed a systematic policy of separating religion from official functions and cultural life. Albania never had an official state religion either as a republic or as a kingdom.

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