Tirana is an ancient city with an early history enriched by the interplay of cultural forces originating in
the Islamic and European Christian worlds.
There are a number of hypotheses concerning the origin of the name.
An often-repeated explanation is that ‘Tirana’ was so named by Sulejman Pasha, the Turkish military
leader at the time of Turkey’s conquest of Persia in the 17th century, after Tehran, the capital of Persia
(now Iran). Such a theory would, however, seem to be contradicted by the evidence of Tirana’s name in
its current form appearing in a 1418 Venetian document.
A further ‘spin’ on the Sulejman Pasha idea is that when he was at the location of what became the city
of which he is considered to have been the founder, he came across an elderly woman who, when he
asked her what she was doing, replied, ‘Po tir an’: which mean ‘spinning silk’.
Records of the first land registrations under the Ottomans in 1431-32 reveal that Tirana then consisted
of 60 inhabited areas, with nearly 1000 houses and 7300 inhabitants.
Marin Barleti, the first to write a history of Albania (and himself of Albanian descent), tells us that in the
15th century there were ‘Tirana e Madhe’ and ‘Tirana e Vogël’ (Great and Small Tirana). Barleti, a
Catholic priest and scholar, was largely responsible, through his biography of him, for creating what
became the cult of Iskander Bey, the title (in Turkish) (rendered in Albanian as ‘Skenderbeu’, and
frequently anglicized as ‘Skanderbeg’) given to Gjergj Kastrioti, an Albanian nobleman who, after being
forcibly brought to Adrianople as a youth and given military training, distinguished himself in a number
of campaigns for the Ottomans, and was promoted to the rank of general, but then returned to Albania
to liberate it, and spent the next 25 years, until his death, leading a successful guerilla resistance against
the forces of the Turkish empire. Skenderbeu continues to be the national hero of Albania.
The 1583 registration records inform us that at that time Tirana had 110 inhabited areas, 2900 houses
and 20,000 inhabitants.
When Sulejman Pasha established the city in 1614, his first constructions were a mosque, a bakery and a
hamam (Turkish sauna).
Two centuries later, control of the city was won by the Toptani family of Kruja. It was noted that the two
oldest neighbourhoods were Mujos and Pazari, between the geographical centre and Elbasani Street, on
either side of the Lana River.
In 1703 Tirana had 4000 inhabitants.
In 1769 Tirana and its environs exported 2600 barrels of olive oil and 14,000 packages of tobacco to
In 1820 Tirana had 12,000 inhabitants.
In 1901 its population was 15,000. It had 140,000 olive trees, 400 oil mills, and 700 shops.
In 1938 Tirana’s population had grown to 38,000.
By 1945 it had 60,000 inhabitants.
The construction, by the best artisans in the country, of the mosque in the centre of Tirana, called the
Mosque of Ethem Beu, was begun in in 1789 by Molla Beu of Petrela (a locale in Albania). It was finished
in 1821 by his son, who was also Sulejman Pasha’s grand-nephew. The Clock Tower was started by Haxhi
Et’hem Beu around 1821-22, and was finished with the help of the richest families of Tirana. Its
installation was the work of the Tufina family. In 1928 the Albanian state bought a modern clock in
Germany, and the tower was raised to a height of 35 metres. The clock was damaged during World War
II, but was restored to full function in July 1946.
The Orthodox Church of Saint Prokop was built in 1780.
The Catholic Church of Saint Maria was constructed in 1865 at the expense of the Austrian-Hungarian
Emperor, Franc Josef. The Tabakëve and Terzive bridges (respectively in front of the Parliament building
and on Elbasani Street) date from the beginning of the 20th century. The mosque that is also the tomb
of Kapllan Hysa (near the monument to Ushtari I Panjohur (‘the unknown soldier’)) was built in 1816.
The Library was established in 1922, with 5000 volumes.
The Fortress of Petrela, 12 kilometres from Tirana, dates from the fourth century BC. It took its current
form in the 13th century, under the rule of Topiaj, and later became the property of the Kastriotis.
On 8 February, 1920 Tirana was made the temporary capital by the Congress of Lushnja, and acquired
that status permanently on 31 December, 1925.
Since 1925, when they were banned in Turkey, Tirana has been the primary centre in the world of the
Bektashis, an order of dervishes who take their name from Haji Bektash, a Sufi saint of the 13th and
14th centuries. (It was the same Haji Bektash who blessed the Janissaries, the famed Ottoman fighting
corps that originally comprised non-Muslim conscripts, many of them Albanians.)
The first regulatory plan of the city was compiled in 1923 by Estef Frashëri. Durrësi Street was opened in
1922, and was called Nana Mbretneshë (Mother Queen). Many houses and surrounding properties were
demolished to make way for it. The existing parliamentary building was raised in 1924, and first served
as a club for officers. It was there, in September 1928, that Ahmet Zogu proclaimed the monarchy.
The centre of Tirana was the project of Florestano de Fausto and Armando Brasini, well known
architects of the Mussolini period in Italy. The Palace of Brigades (of the former monarch), the ministries
buildings, the National Bank and the Municipality are their work.
The Dëshmoret e Kombit (National Martyrs) Boulevard was built in 1930 and given the name Zogu I
Boulevard. In the communist period, the part from Skënderbej Square up to the train station was named
The Palace of Culture (Pallati I Kulturës), where the Theatre of Operas and Ballet and the National
Library stand, was completed in 1963 on the site of the former Trade of Tirana building, with the first
brick being placed by Soviet president Nikita Hrushov in 1959.
The monument to Skënderbeu, raised in 1968, is the work of Odhise Paskali in collaboration with Andrea
Mana and Janaq Paço. It commemorated the 500th anniversary of the death of the national hero.
The monument to Mother Theresa, 12 metres high, was inaugurated in the Dëshmoret e Kombit
cemetery in 1971.
The Academy of Sciences building was completed in April 1972.
The Gallery of Figurative Arts was created in 1976, and includes around 3200 works by Albanian and
The National Historical Museum was built in 1981. The ornamental mosaic on its front is called ‘Albania’.
The International Cultural Centre, formerly the Enver Hoxha Museum, was inaugurated in 1988.
Popularly referred to as ‘the Pyramid’, it was designed by a group of architects under the direction of
the dictator’s daughter, Pranvera, and her husband Klement Kolaneci.
In 1990 Tirana had 250,000 inhabitants, and since then the large scale influx from other parts of the
country has increased the population to over 700,000.
In 2000 the centre of Tirana, from the central campus of Tirana university up to Skënderbej Square, was
declared the place of Cultural Assembly, with special claims to state protection. In the same year the
area began a process of restoration under the name ‘Return to Identity’.
Sources: http://www.worldmayor.com by Nick Swift