The Land & The People

Albania has a reputation as a land of great natural beauty and romantic remoteness. These two characteristics have made it all the more attractive, mysterious, forbidding, challenging, or exasperating to outsiders, be they travelers, scholars, diplomats, or merchants. For example, in a work he published in 1913, the Croatian scholar Milan von Sufflay called Albania regio mirabilissima, "a most singular country" or "a most marvelous country" (1). Others have referred to it as the "Switzerland of the Balkans" or as the "rock garden of southeastern Europe." On the other hand, the country's uncommon isolation from the world, arising generally from its rugged, mountainous terrain, has led foreigners to speak of it as "the Tibet of Europe" or as a country more mysterious than central Africa. It is an attitude that has had currency for centuries. We find it, for instance, in the writings of Edward Gibbon, the great eighteenth-century British historian. Speaking of Albania, Gibbon said that it is "a country within sight of Italy, which is less known than the interior of America." (2)

The remoteness and isolation of the country became practically legendary and all too frequently gave rise to reports and descriptions of the land and of the people - even in books and encyclopedias - that were closer to legends than to reality. Perhaps because of its romantic remoteness and other reasons, Albania has exerted a continuous fascination on artists, including poets, playwrights, composers, and more recently film makers and producers of television programs. Shakespeare set his comedy Twelfth Night in Illyria - the name by which Albania was known in former times. Lord Byron, who visited southern Albania in 1810, wrote some stirring lines about her landscape in his poem Childe Harold.

Morn dawns: and with it stern Albania's hills...
Robed half in mist, bedewed with snowy rills.

In Mozart's comic opera Cosi fan tutte the principal male characters, Ferrando and Guglielmo, appear for the most part as two "Albanian noblemen" in clever scheme to test the love of their fiances. [The women fail the test when they succumb the charms of the Albanians but succeed nevertheless in winning back the love of their men.]

From: Prifti, Peter R. Socialist Albania since 1944 - Domestic and Foreign Developments. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1978.