Tiranë’s city center has some significant religious buildings belonging to both the Muslim and Christian faiths. Under communism, Albania was officially an atheist state, but religion played a major part in its fall. Almost 60% of Albanians practice Islam while about 17% are Christians. However, according to a 2008 poll, 68% of Albanians don’t consider religion to be a major factor in their life
Perhaps the most important, impressive, and worthwhile religious site to visit in Tiranë is the Xhamia e Et’hem Beut (Et’hem Bey Mosque) and the Kulla e Sahatit (clock tower). Construction started in 1789 by Molla Bey and was finished by his son, Haxhi Ethem Bey, in 1823. The adjacent clock tower stands 35m tall and was built in 1822.
The mosque was closed during communist rule, but in 1991, 10,000 people attempted to attend prayers without the permission of authorities. The police did not interfere and this led to the fall of communism in Albania. Besides its symbolic historic role, the artwork and paintings on the mosque are just plain beautiful.
Another interesting site I visited was the Teqeja Dervish Hatixhe (Tekke of Dervish Hatixhe). It’s dedicated to a Bektashi saint who nursed Tirana through a cholera epidemic in the 18th century. She died in 1798 and the tekke was founded at her tomb.
Near the parliament building, construction was underway on Xhamia e Namazgjasë, a huge mosque financed by the Turkish government. When complete, it will be the largest mosque in the Balkans and the first central mosque for Tiranë’s Muslims to pray in.
Along the Lanë River is Katedralja e Shen Palit (St. Paul’s Cathedral), a Catholic church built in 2002. It has a stained glass window of Mother Teresa and another of Pope John Paul II. There’s also a mosaic of Mother Teresa inside and a statue of her on the outside.
Near Sheshi Skënderbej is the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral. It opened in 2012 with a bell tower standing 46m tall, and functions as the main cathedral for the Albanian Orthodox Church. To me, it looks like something out of a Star Wars film. It’s probably one of the ugliest churches I have ever seen, but hey, I prefer tradition when it comes to Orthodox churches.
From Sheshi Skënderbej, I wandered along Kavaja St., one of the main streets in Tiranë. I was able to visit two small churches: the Orthodox Church of the Holy Annunciation and the Heart of Christ Catholic Church. Both have interesting histories. The Orthodox church was built in 1964, closed in 1967 and used as the Tiranë Sports Club until 1990, when it resumed church services. The Catholic church was built in 1865 as a gift from Emperor Franz Josef. It was closed in 1967 and turned into a cinema. It reopened as a church in 1990 and is the oldest surviving Catholic church in Tiranë.