• 001 - the logo.jpg
  • 002 - Hiroshima sunset.jpg
  • 003 - Auschwitz-Birkenau ramp.jpg
  • 004 - Chernobyl contamination.jpg
  • 005 - Darvaza flaming gas crater.jpg
  • 006 - Berlin Wall madness.jpg
  • 007 - Bulgaria - monument at the bottom of Buzludzhy park hill.jpg
  • 008 - Ijen crater.jpg
  • 009 - Aralsk, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 010 - Paris catacombs.jpg
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  • 015 - Colditz Kopie.jpg
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  • 022 - Chacabuco ghost town.jpg
  • 023 - Eagle's Nest, Obersalzberg, Berchtesgaden.jpg
  • 024 - Kursk.jpg
  • 025 - Bran castle, Carpathia, Romania.jpg
  • 026 - Bestattungsmuseum Wien.jpg
  • 027 - Pripyat near Chernobyl.jpg
  • 028 - Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic.jpg
  • 029 - Pyramida Lenin.jpg
  • 030 - Falklands.jpg
  • 031 - Majdanek.jpg
  • 032 - Soufriere volcano, Montserrat.jpg
  • 033 - moai on Easter Island.jpg
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  • 035 - Hötensleben.jpg
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  • 037 - Polygon, Semipalatinsk test site, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 038 - Srebrenica.jpg
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  • 040 - Vemork hydroelectric power plant building, Norway.jpg
  • 041 - Enola Gay.jpg
  • 042 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial.jpg
  • 043 - Robben Island prison, South Africa.jpg
  • 044 - Tollund man.jpg
  • 045 - Marienthal tunnel.jpg
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  • 049 - Treblinka.jpg
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  • 052 - Holocaust memorial, Berlin.jpg
  • 053 - Komodo dragon.jpg
  • 054 - cemeterio general, Santiago de Chile.jpg
  • 055 - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Phen, Cambodia.jpg
  • 056 - West Virginia penitentiary.jpg
  • 057 - ovens, Dachau.jpg
  • 058 - Derry, Northern Ireland.jpg
  • 059 - Bulgaria - Buzludzha - workers of all countries unite.jpg
  • 060 - Sachsenhausen.jpg
  • 061 - Tiraspol dom sovietov.jpg
  • 062 - modern-day Pompeii - Plymouth, Montserrat.jpg
  • 063 - Pico de Fogo.jpg
  • 064 - Trinity Day.jpg
  • 065 - Zwentendorf control room.jpg
  • 066 - Wolfschanze.jpg
  • 067 - Hiroshima by night.jpg
  • 068 - mass games, North Korea.jpg
  • 069 - Harrisburg.jpg
  • 070 - Nuremberg.jpg
  • 071 - Mostar.jpg
  • 072 - Tu-22, Riga aviation museum.jpg
  • 073 - Gallipoli, Lone Pine.jpg
  • 074 - Auschwitz-Birkenau - fence.jpg
  • 075 - Darvaza flaming gas crater.jpg
  • 076 - Atatürk Mausoleum, Ankara.jpg
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  • 078 - AMARG.jpg
  • 079 - Chacabuco ruins.jpg
  • 080 - Bucharest.jpg
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  • 083 - Mandor killing fields.jpg
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  • 085 - Jerusalem.jpg
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  • 087 - Panmunjom, DMZ, Korea.jpg
  • 088 - Ijen blue flames.jpg
  • 089 - Derry reconsilliation monument.jpg
  • 090 - Ebensee.jpg
  • 091 - Mödlareuth barbed wire.jpg
  • 092 - skull heaps in Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic.jpg
  • 093 - Nikel.jpg
  • 094 - Fukushima-Daiichi NPP.jpg
  • 095 - Tital launch control centre.jpg
  • 096 - Dallas Dealy Plaza and Sixth Floor Museum.jpg
  • 097 - Auschwitz I.jpg
  • 098 - Stalin and Lenin, Tirana, Albania.jpg
  • 099 - Malta, Fort St Elmo.jpg
  • 100 - Peenemünde.jpg
  • 101 - Tarrafal.jpg
  • 102 - Kilmainham prison, Dublin.jpg
  • 103 - North Korea.jpg
  • 104 - Mittelbau-Dora.jpg
  • 105 - St Helena.jpg
  • 106 - Stutthof, Poland.jpg
  • 107 - Merapi destruction.jpg
  • 108 - Chueung Ek killing fields, Cambodia.jpg
  • 109 - Marienborn former GDR border.jpg
  • 110 - Mig and star, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 111 - Nagasaki WWII tunnels.jpg
  • 112 - Hellfire Pass, Thailand.jpg
  • 113 - Kiev.jpg
  • 114 - Grutas Park, Lithuania.jpg
  • 115 - Zwentendorf reactor core.jpg
  • 116 - two occupations, Tallinn.jpg
  • 117 - Trunyan burial site.jpg
  • 118 - Ushuaia prison.jpg
  • 119 - Buchenwald.jpg
  • 120 - Marienthal with ghost.jpg
  • 121 - Murmansk harbour - with an aircraft carrier.jpg
  • 122 - Berlin Olympiastadion.JPG
  • 123 - Bastille Day, Paris.jpg
  • 124 - Spassk.jpg
  • 125 - Theresienstadt.jpg
  • 126 - B-52s.jpg
  • 127 - Bledug Kuwu.jpg
  • 128 - Friedhof der Namenlosen, Vienna.jpg
  • 129 - Auschwitz-Birkenau barracks.jpg
  • 130 - mummies, Bolivia.jpg
  • 131 - Barringer meteor crater.jpg
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  • 133 - NTS.jpg
  • 134 - Mauthausen Soviet monument.jpg
  • 135 - pullution, Kazakhstan.JPG
  • 136 - palm oil madness.jpg
  • 137 - Berlin socialist realism.jpg
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  • 140 - flying death, military museum Dresden.JPG
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  • 143 - ex-USSR.JPG
  • 144 - Indonesia fruit bats.JPG
  • 145 - Alcatraz.JPG
  • 146 - Chernobyl Museum, Kiev, Ukraine.JPG
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  • 148 - Rosinenbomber at Tempelhof, Berlin.jpg
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  • 150 - hospital, Vukovar, Croatia.JPG
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  • 154 - Groß-Rosen, Poland.jpg
  • 155 - at Monino, Russia.jpg
  • 156 - blinking Komodo.jpg
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  • 158 - Mount St Helens, USA.JPG
  • 159 - Maly Trostenec, Minsk, Belarus.jpg
  • 160 - Vucedol skulls, Croatia.JPG
  • 161 - colourful WW1 shells.JPG
  • 162 - Zeljava airbase in Croatia.JPG
  • 163 - rusting wrecks, Chernobyl.JPG
  • 164 - San Bernadine alle Ossa, Milan, Italy.jpg
  • 165 - USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.JPG
  • 166 - Brest Fortress, Belarus.JPG
  • 167 - thousands of bats, Dom Rep.JPG
  • 168 - Hohenschönhausen, Berlin.JPG
  • 169 - Perm-36 gulag site.JPG
  • 170 - Jasenovac, Croatia.JPG
  • 171 - Beelitz Heilstätten.JPG
  • 172 - Kremlin, Moscow.jpg
  • 173 - old arms factory, Dubnica.JPG
  • 174 - Pervomaisc ICBM base, more  missiles, including an SS-18 Satan.jpg
  • 175 - Cellular Jail, Port Blair.jpg
  • 177 - control room, Chernobyl NPP.JPG
  • 178 - Podgorica, Montenegro, small arms and light weapons sculpture.jpg
  • 179 - Vught.jpg
  • 180 - Japanese cave East Timor.jpg
  • 181 - Ani.jpg
  • 182 - Indonesia wildfire.jpg
  • 183 - Chacabuco big sky.jpg
  • 184 - Bunker Valentin, Germany.JPG
  • 185 - Lest we Forget, Ypres.JPG
  • 186 - the logo again.jpg

National History Museum, Tirana  

  
  - darkometer rating:  2  (at present; formerly maybe up to 7)
front facade in 2008 detailProbably the most significant sight in Tirana, at least from the outside: the gigantic mosaic on its front façade is without a doubt the most iconic image of Albania at large. The content of the museum exhibition used to be of special interest to the dark tourist too, but at the time I visited it I found it quite severely downgraded by "refurbishments", with the entire section on the labour camps and repression during the totalitarian Hoxha years gone. Only marginally dark elements remain for the moment.  

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

  
What there is to see: You will most likely recognize the huge mosaic on the front of this central Tirana landmark building the second you set eyes on it. It is by far the best-known image of modern Albania. It represents the country's heroic history from antiquity to the partisans that liberated the nation in 1944 (which marked the beginning of the Hoxha reign).
 
When I was there in April 2011, however, it was scaffolded-up, presumably for refurbishment. So I could only make out the famous mosaic through the scaffolding from a distance. Fortunately, though, a friend of mine who was there in 2008 let me have her photos from back then so I can show you the mosaic in its old glory all the same. At least the refurbishment is a good sign that the mosaic is likely to escape the otherwise destructive revisionist approach in Albania to anything that's a reminder of the Hoxha years.
 
Inside, the museum's contents are a lot more mundane than the proud façade may suggest. This is not just due to the fact that the museum apparently lost many of its prized exhibits during repeated looting in the chaotic 1990s. It's also the dearth of information in English and the generally rather stuffy nature of the museum.
 
So I shuffled through the downstairs part rather quickly … at least there was the promise of some more dark history covered upstairs … The first few halls on the ground floor cover early Albanian history (and pre-history), and as such are of very limited interest to the dark tourist anyway. Needless to say, the ubiquitous national hero Skanderbeg is lavishly represented, but that's neither surprising nor particularly spirit-raising.
 
Upstairs, the theme first continues with periods that leave the dark tourist rather cold too (lots of peasant-y stuff and the like). This is particularly true for a large hall in red with a gallery around the side in which religious items, primarily icons and pieces of painted altar triptych wood are displayed. I can confidently guarantee 100% that this section would not have been here between 1967 and the fall of communism in Albania (since Hoxha had banned all religion in 1967 and made Albania the first 100% atheist country … and I must admit that I can't really be too angry with the man about that one aspect of his otherwise repugnantly repressive regime).
 
Things get marginally more interesting as the exhibition trawls through the days of resistance against foreign occupations, though that against the Ottomans is less relevant to modern dark tourists than perhaps the partisans' efforts against Italy and Germany in WWII! Many of the exhibits here are also rather yawn-inducing (piles of weapons, uniforms, documents without any information in English). But there are exceptions.
 
An especially notable one is a glass display case that contains (yes! I could hardly believe it myself!) items that belonged to Enver Hoxha in the days when he led the partisans to victory in 1944, including a leather jacket and a revolver.
 
Dotted around the same hall are also some noteworthy statues and paintings in the predictable socialist realism style, as well as more artefacts that can raise an eyebrow or two in different ways. For instance, there's a display cabinet from which the uncomfortably familiar red Nazi flag looms! It is part of a set of trophies, items taken from a German officer in one of the battles fought in the liberation of Albania from Nazi occupation.  
 
As a kind of counterpart to this, there's also an urn wrapped in bits of barbed wire, and containing soil/ashes from the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, in which – amongst thousands others – also a few hundred Albanians perished.
 
On a wall nearby there's a black plaque with a list of names and a dedication: to those righteous Albanians who during the German occupation and the Holocaust sheltered Jews and thus saved them. As far as I understood it from descriptions in guidebooks this plaque used to be outside on a corner of the museum building. Why this has been moved here, I cannot say.
 
However, it was a much more significant change at the National History Museum, that turned out to be a real blow: the very prime attraction to the dark tourist was gone when I visited in late April 2011! This was the section about the Hoxha years from WWII to his death in 1985. Instead, the last hall of the museum, where I presume this part of the exhibition would have been, was completely bare, cordoned off and possibly about to undergo refurbishment. I can only speculate, but I fear this might be a permanent loss. Whatever may fill this section when the refurbishment is complete, I doubt it will still cover the full dark scale it once did.
 
That would be so typical of Albania, which seems to have adopted a clear path of revisionism. It's not uncommon to find this in formerly communist countries (cf. e.g. the Tito museum in Belgrade), but Tirana is a particularly stark example. Instead of dealing with the past, the official line seems to be to rewrite history instead. For the principle as such, I suppose, Stalin would be proud of them – though less so for being included in this wiping out of traces of the real past. (But: as if to make up for it, you can still find a rare large Stalin statue hidden away behind the National Gallery!)
 
These changes at the National History Museum must have come about very recently, shortly before I was there in late April 2011. I must have missed the old section so narrowly – as e.g. the In-Your-Pocket guide for "spring/summer 2011" still hailed the museum as the only spot where you can get information about the totalitarian Hoxha years and see "harrowing" displays about the labour camp system. No longer, you can't! It's just too bad that I didn't get to Tirana earlier to have seen it … oh well.
 
There was, on the other hand, a section about former King Zog and his descendants. I presume some current family member would theoretically be the heir to the throne, should the monarchy ever be reinstated … who knows …
 
The museum shop also needs to be mentioned. It is mostly an arts-and-crafts affair and also has some general touristy stuff (like postcards and Albania scarves and T-shirts). I couldn't resist and bought a massive glass paperweight featuring the Albanian national flag (which I have always found one of the most visually appealing in the world). However, there was nothing like proper information material about the museum and in particular: nothing about the country's dark parts of 20th century history. I drew a blank there, again.  
 
Labelling and texts are mostly in Albanian only, except for the odd information panel (e.g. "Albania during the Second World War") and a random proportion of the artefact labels in English (partly halfway decent in translation, sometimes not so much). Overall, way too little to be sufficient for foreign visitors.
 
In sum, then: without the part of the exhibition about the dark era under Enver Hoxha, there is very little for the dark tourist worth seeing in this museum, which isn't particularly well geared up for foreign visitors in any case. You will have to decide for yourself whether it still warrants even a brief visit.
 
Should, however, that final hall in the museum turn out to be, or at least include, a section about that period of Albanian history, then that would change things dramatically. So, if anyone hears about or gets to see the new part and can report back, please contact me and let me know! (Especially as I doubt I will make it back to Tirana myself any time soon.)
 
 
Location: on the northern side of Skanderbeg Square, right in the centre of Tirana.
   
Google maps locator: [41.329,19.817]
  
 
Access and costs: easy to get to; cheap.
 
Details: the museum building is one of the easiest to locate in all of Tirana, thanks to its very central location right on the city's main square and thanks to its impossible-to-overlook giant mosaic on the front façade. The main obstacle is currently the extensive construction work that is going on all over Skanderbeg Square, including right in front of the museum. This makes dodging the dangerously ruthless car traffic even more of a challenge than it usually is in Tirana.
 
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Mondays.
 
Admission: 200 lek (half price for students with a relevant ID); free on certain special days (e.g. Albanian Independence Day) as well as every last Sunday of the month (except in summer!), and at any time for journalists, tour guides and professional museum staff (!).
 
 
Time required: unless you have a keen interest in ancient history, and unless you can read Albanian, you won't need to spend much time here at all – at least as long as the section about the Hoxha years remains missing. I was out again within roughly half an hour.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: see Tirana.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Tirana.
    
  Photos (2008 images courtesy of Catherine Nash):
 
 
  • 01 - NHM front facade April 201101 - NHM front facade April 2011
  • 02 - NHM front facade in 2008 closer up02 - NHM front facade in 2008 closer up
  • 03 - NHM front facade in 2008 detail03 - NHM front facade in 2008 detail
  • 04 - NHM front facade in 200804 - NHM front facade in 2008
  • 05 - NHM facade 201105 - NHM facade 2011
  • 06 - NHM foyer06 - NHM foyer
  • 07 - NHM interior 1 - old history07 - NHM interior 1 - old history
  • 08 - NHM interior 2 - independence and war08 - NHM interior 2 - independence and war
  • 09 - NHM interior 3 - war and liberation09 - NHM interior 3 - war and liberation
  • 10 - NHM interior 4 - weapons10 - NHM interior 4 - weapons
  • 11 - NHM interior 5 - plaque for the righteous amongst Albanians11 - NHM interior 5 - plaque for the righteous amongst Albanians
  • 12 - NHM interior 6 - some socialist realism12 - NHM interior 6 - some socialist realism
  • 13 - NHM interior 7 - but little of dark tourism interest left13 - NHM interior 7 - but little of dark tourism interest left
  • 14 - NHM Mother Teresa worship14 - NHM Mother Teresa worship
 
  

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