Albania – and Tirana in particular – has always been a favourite of mine, and YPT have been visiting the country for close to ten years as part of our Eurasian Adventure Tour. There are many reasons why I like travelling to Tirana. Chief amongst them are the people, the food, the history, the block and the architecture.
The history of Tirana’s ‘Block’
When it came to quirkiness, Enver Hoxha was certainly a character and is often compared with Romania’s Ceacescu. There’s something of a “who would win in a quirk-off” debate regarding the eccentricities of the two, and their country’s respective capitals – Tirana and Bucharest – are often brought up in such debates. Once such similarity the two cities have is ‘the block’, AKA the ‘blloku’.
It came as something of a surprise to me that I’d never even heard of the blloku. It was a big deal in Hoxha-era Albania: unmarked on maps and never officially referred to, it was the area of Tirana that housed the Albanian Politburo and other communist princelings.
One building of particular interest – and that we have yet to find – was built in the 1920s and was called the “party house”. This was because people would hold parties here. After the communist rise to power, this house would literally become a party house for the Labour Party of Albania. Here Hoxha would hold court – and not showing up to play pool with Mr Hoxha was pretty much the wrong thing to do. It’s said that he was pretty good at pool – either that, or people were so terrified of beating him that he was, by default, the best pool player in the room. We’ll let you decide for yourself.
Life inside the blloku was very different to life outside – cinemas showed restricted movies, and clothes shops and supermarkets carried the finest in non-communist garb and foodstuffs. One might even be tempted to call it a tad hypocritical, but it’s the nature of any power structure that it becomes one rule for the powerful and another for everyone else.
The whole of the Block was protected by thousands of troops, which fuelled no end of rumours about what actually went on beyond the walls. In 1990, following the fall of the USSR and almost every other communist government east of Berlin, Albanians flocked to the area to find out what was actually going on there.
After the fall of communism and Albania’s own take on glasnost, Ish-Bllloku (English: ‘ex-block’) became an upscale bar/restaurant district, and it’s where the beautiful people of Tirana sip their mochaccinos and eat their fancy steaks.
If you want to find Enver Hoxha’s former home in the area, it’s very easy: the former communist dictator’s digs are directly opposite that stalwart bastion of communism: KFC.