Tirana is the capital and the largest city of Albania. Modern Tirana was founded as an Ottoman town in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini, a local ruler from Mullet. Tirana became Albania’s capital city in 1920 and has a population of 400,000, with metro area population of 763,634. The city is host to public institutions and private universities, and is the center of the political, economical, and cultural life of the country.
The oldest discovery in downtown Tirana was a Roman house, later transformed into an aisleless church with a mosaic-floor, dating back to the 3rd century A.D., with other remains found near a medieval temple at Shengjin Fountain in eastern suburbs. A castle possibly called Tirkan or Theranda whose remnants are found along Murat Toptani Street, was built by Emperor Justinian in 520 AD and restored by Ahmed Pasha Toptani in the 18th century. The area had no special importance in Illyrian and classical times. In 1510, Marin Barleti, an Albanian Catholic priest and scholar, in the biography of the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi Epirotarum principis (The story of life and deeds of Skanderbeg, the prince of Epirotes), referred to this area as a small village.
During this period, the Et'hem Bey Mosque built by Molla Bey of Petrela, was constructed. It employed the best artisans in the country and was completed in 1821 by Molla's son, who was also Sulejman Bargjini's grandnephew. In 1800, the first newcomers arrived in the settlement, the so-called ortodoksit. They were Vlachs from villages near Korçë and Pogradec who settled around modern day Park on the Artificial Lake. They started to be known as the llacifac and were the first Christians to arrive after the creation of the town. After Serb reprisals in the Debar region, thousands of locals fled to Tirana. In 1807, Tirana became the center of the Sub-Prefecture of Krujë-Tirana. After 1816, Tirana languished under the control of the Toptani family of Krujë. Later, Tirana became a Sub-Prefecture of the newly created Vilayet of Shkodër and Sanjak of Durrës. In 1889, the Albanian language started to be taught in Tirana's schools, while the patriotic club Bashkimi was founded in 1908. On 28 November 1912, the national flag was raised in agreement with Ismail Qemali. During the Balkan Wars, the town was temporarily occupied by the Serbian army, and it took part in uprising of the villages led by Haxhi Qamili. In 1917, the first city outline was compiled by Austro-Hungarian architects.
In 1939, Tirana was captured by Fascist forces appointing a puppet government. In the meantime, Italian architect Gherardo Bosio was asked to elaborate on previous plans and introduce a new project in the area of present day Mother Teresa Square. By the early 1940s, the southern portion of the main boulevard and surrounding buildings were finished and renamed with Fascist names. A failed assassination attempt was carried towards Victor Emmanuel III of Italy by a local resistance activist during a visit in Tirana. In November 1941, Enver Hoxha founded the Communist Party of Albania.
The town soon became the center of the Albanian communists who mobilized locals against Italian fascists and later Nazi Germans, while spreading ideological propaganda. On 17 November 1944, the town was liberated after a fierce battle between the Communists and German forces. The Nazis eventually withdrew and the communists seized power.
The northern portion of the main boulevard was renamed Stalin Boulevard and his statue erected in the city square. As private car ownership was banned, mass transport consisted mainly of bicycles, trucks, and buses. After Hoxha's death, a museum in the form of a pyramid was constructed in his memory by the government.
Prior and after the procclamation of Albania's self-isolationist policy, a number of high-profile figures paid visits to the city such as former Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev, former Premier of the People's Republic of China, Zhou Enlai and lately former Minister for Foreign Matters of the German Democratic Republic, Oskar Fischer. In 1985, Tirana served as the ceremonial venue of Enver Hoxha's funeral. A few years later, Mother Teresa became the first religious figure to visit the country following Albania's long declared atheist stance. She laid respect to her parents resting at a local cemetery. Starting at Student City and ending at Skanderbeg Square with the toppling of Enver Hoxha's statue, the city saw significant demonstrations by University of Tirana students demanding political freedoms.
On the political aspect, the city witnessed a number of events. Personalities visited the capital such as former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Pope John Paul II. The former visit came amidst the historical setting after the fall of communism, as hundreds of thousands were chanting in Skanderbeg Square Baker's famous saying of "Freedom works!". Pope John Paul II became the first leading religious figure to visit Tirana after Mother Teresa's visit few years ago. During the Balkans turmoil in the mid 1990s, the city experienced dramatic events such as the unfolding of the 1997 unrest in Albania, and a failed coup d'etat on 14 September 1998. In 1999, following the Kosovo War, Tirana Airport became a NATO airbase serving its mission in the former Yugoslavia.
In 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush marked the first time that such a high ranking American official visited Tirana. A central Tirana street was named in his honor. In 2008, the 2008 Gërdec explosions were felt in the capital as windows were shattered and citizens shaken. In 21 January 2011, Albanian police clashed with opposition supporters in front of the Government building as cars were set on fire, three persons killed, and 150 wounded.
- The Et'hem Bey Mosque Construction was started in 1789 by Molla Bey and it was finished in 1823 by his son Haxhi Ethem Bey, great-grandson of Sulejman Pasha. Closed under communist rule, the mosque reopened as a house of worship in 1991, without permission from the authorities. 10,000 courageous people dared to attend and remarkably the police did not interfere. The event was a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania. Take a look at the frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges - motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. Take your shoes off before entering the inner room. During the totalitarianism of the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, the mosque was closed. On January 18, 1991, despite opposition from communist authorities, 10,000 people entered carrying flags. This was at the onset of the fall of communism in Albania. The frescoes of the mosque depict trees, waterfalls and bridges; still life paintings are a rarity in Islamic art. Tours of the mosque are given daily, though not during prayer service.
- Fortress of Justinian or simply known as Tirana Castle (Albanian: Kalaja e Tiranës) is a castle in Tirana. Its history dates back before 1300 and is a remnant from the Byzantine-era. The fortress is the place where the main east-west and north-south roads crossed, and formed the heart of Tirana. About all that's left of the fortress above ground is a 6m-high Ottoman-era wall, covered in vines. The recently uncovered wall foundations will be incorporated into the pedestrianised street
- The Clock Tower of Tirana was built in 1822 by Haxhi Et'hem Bey, who also finished the building of the Et'hem Bey Mosque. The stairs have 90 steps that go in a spiral fashion. It is 35 metres (115 ft) tall and was the tallest building in Tirana at the time.
The clock tower originally had a bell from Venice that marked the time every hour. In 1928 the Municipality of Tirana purchased a new clock in Germany to replace the existing one. The clock was destroyed by bombardments during World War II and was replaced in 1946 with a Roman numeral clock from a church in Shkoder, Albania. In 1970 the Roman numeral clock was replaced by a Chinese clock. The tower underwent renovation in 1981 and also in 1999. Access to the top of the tower has been available free of charge since 1996.
- The National Historical Museum is the country's largest museum. It was opened on 28 October 1981 and is 27,000 square metres in size, while 18,000 square metres are available for expositions. The museum was designed by Albanian architect, Enver Faja.
The construction of the museum required the demolition of the former Tirana Municipal Building. The gigantic mosaic appearing at the main entrance is entitled The Albanians.
The National Historical Museum includes the following pavilions: Antiquity, Medieval, Rilindja Kombetare, Iconography, Culture of Albania, Albanian Resistance of World War II, and Communist genocide.
- The Tanners' Bridge is an 18th century Ottoman period stone footbridge. The bridge was once part of the Shëngjergj Road that linked Tirana with the eastern highlands. The Shëngjergj Road furnished the city with agricultural produce and livestock. The bridge went across the Lanë stream and was adjacent to the area of butchers and leather workers. The Lanë was rerouted in the 1930s and the bridge was neglected. In the 1990s the bridge was restored to its former glory and is now used by pedestrians only.