Tirana, a model of religious tolerance

“Once the world’s first atheist country, Albania is a model of religious coexistence that the whole world should follow- Pope Francis, Tirana 2014

In Tirana, you will find in one place a Cathedral and a Mosque, the biggest in the Balkans, and on the other hand, the World Center of Bektashi believers.

“Religious tolerance is a treasure that you should protect well and which merits special attention in a time when extremism is threatening religious coexistence. These are the words of Pope Francis during his landmark visit to Albania on 21 September 2014

Here are the most important religious landmarks in Tirana.

1 The Et’hem Bey Mosque

This mosque is the only one of eight XVIII-XIX centuries’ mosques built in Tirana that still exist today.

Molla Bey laid its foundations in 1208 AH (1794 AD), but he died in 1223 AH (1807 AD) after finishing the dome. His son, Hadji Et’hem Bey, finished the building in 1236 AH (1821 AD) and completed the minaret, roof, entrance, interior decorations, and paintings. Two years later, in 1238 AH (1823 AD), the exterior paintings and decorations were also finished. This mosque is part of the building complex that constitutes the historic center of Tirana and is architecturally connected to the Clock Tower. Hadji Et’hem Bey Mosque was declared a Cultural Monument of the First Category in 1948.

  1. The Sacred Heart of Christ Catholic Church

The Church of Jesuit Fathers of Tirana was the first in Albania to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ. The work to build the shrine began in 1938, and it was inaugurated at midnight on December 24, 1939, during the Christmas celebrations. It belonged to the Jesuit order and was built in a Roman style by architect Giovanni Santi (Udine, Italy). The church has an altar of an almost Byzantine style, donated by Pope Pius XII.

When religious buildings were destroyed in Albania (1967), the church was converted into a cinema named Rinia (The Youth). The façade was changed and turned into a rectangular shape so that it lost its initial form. After 1990, the church and its façade were converted back into their original state, and the church was reopened. Mother Teresa visited the church during the same year.

In 1997, a funeral mass was held in this church for Mother Teresa, who passed away on September 5th in Kolkata, India.

3 The Orthodox Church, “Annunciation of the Theotokos Mary”

This church was built near the “Karapic” mosque on September 1, 1874. Due to the drafting of the new urban plan and the pressure from the communist government, the “Annunciation of the Theotokos” church was demolished, and the Tirana International Hotel, which still exists today, was built on its ground.

The new Orthodox Church “Annunciation of the Theotokos Mary” along “Kavaja Street” was built in 1964. During the atheist regime, the church was converted into an indoor gym. After the fall of communism in 1991, the church was returned to the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania in a deplorable state. In 1992, it was completely reconstructed, and auxiliary rooms were added.

4  The Orthodox Cathedral “Resurrection of Christ

The complex of the new Orthodox Cathedral “Resurrection of Christ” is built in the center of the capital, in a ground that was given gradually by state authorities (2001-2005) as compensation for the ground of the old cathedral in Tirana, which was destroyed in 1967 by the communist regime.

This complex comprises the following buildings: the cathedral, the chapel, the bell tower, the see of the Holy Synod, and the cultural center.

The “Resurrection of Christ” Orthodox Cathedral presents the world with a majestic example of an Orthodox Cathedral adopting many traditional Byzantine architectural design elements. A unique feature of the church is the use of mosaics, the most prominent of which is the image of Christ Pantocrator at the dome. Frescoes have been recently painted on the church walls. Another striking feature is the iconostasis, which is made of marble and is masterfully painted with icons. Adjacent to it, there is a small chapel (“Nativity of Christ”) with masterfully made frescoes.

5.  St Paul Cathedral

The Saint Procopius church was inaugurated on May 20, 1945. Its structure preserved the pattern of post-Byzantine structures in southwestern Balkans, that of a cross with a dome. Its construction was made using reinforced concrete, which was a novelty in Albania at the time. In 1967, when religious buildings were destroyed in Albania, the church was converted into a Liqeni bar and restaurant, which included altering the structure of the building.

In 1993, the restaurant was reconverted back into a church.

The Cathedral was built in late 2001 and is one of Tirana’s largest and most modern cathedrals. It belongs to the Tirana and Durrës Catholic Archdioceses. Its name is related to the apostle Paul the first preacher in the Albanian land, in 52 AD. In a letter to Romans, apostle Paul declares that he “preached the Gospel of Christ”“from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum”. His statue is located in the highest spot of the cathedral. At the entrance of the cathedral, one may observe the statues of the Albanian Saint Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II that are located in front of the building.

 

  1. The Namazgah Mosque

A new mosque is being built over a 10.000 m2 area at the place known as Tirana Namazgah. The mosque has a 35-metre-high dome and four minarets that reach 50 meters in height.

The Namazgah Mosque is a multifunctional building complex that transforms the Namazgah into a social area for all the capital city’s inhabitants. Over 5,000 people can attend a service simultaneously, including the outside areas. Up to 10,000 people can say their prayers all together.

The complex will also include a library, a cultural center, a parking lot, a Quran school, an exhibition hall, a cafeteria, and a conference hall. At the same time, a museum called The Museum of Living Together will be built adjacent to it.

 

  1. The Bektashi World Headquarters

This building on George Bush Street, once known as Carnarvon Street, was built in 1927 as a palace for the princesses and King Zog’s sisters. They moved there after Albania was declared a Monarchy.

The building used to belong to the Muslim community, so the royal family rented it from them. After the seizure of property by the state in the 1960s and its return after 1990, it was demolished to build in its site the existing seat of the Muslim Community.

Founded by Hadji Bektash Veliu in the XIII century, Bektashism is a mystical Islamic dogma that deals with the spiritual perfection of people and respects all monotheistic religions. The main headquarters of Bektashism was moved from Anatolia to Tirana in the autumn of 1925.

In Albania, the Bektashi World Council established an independent body recognized by the other communities and remained in existence until 1967.

After almost a quarter of a century of silence in Albania, on January 27, 1991, an interim committee for reviving the Bektashi community was set up. From then on, the new organization has put much effort into reviving Bektashi traditions in Albania. At the same time, the Tekke and the World Headquarters opened in Tirana on March 22, 1991, on the occasion of Nowruz Sultan Day.

The Bektashi Museum is also located inside the premises of the Odeon (The Great Shrine) inside the Bektashi World Headquarters and was inaugurated on September 7, 2015. Through documents, photographs, and original objects, this museum introduces the history of Bektashism worldwide, especially in Albania. It is organized into 12 stands and 12 displays in honor of the 12 Imams. A critical element is the one dedicated to religious tolerance and harmony, to which the Bektashi World Council has given and continues to contribute considerably.

Today, the World Center of Bektashism has been in Albania for 90 years; it’s the pride of our country.

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