Zog The First, King of the Albanians

Today Ela, one of the hostels’ Albanian staff took me to see the residence of King Zog I, King of the Albanians.

The walk up the hill was interesting.  As you can see, I’ve found the “door to nowhere”.  Notify Sarah Palin, she may want to put this with her “bridge to nowhere”.

Opening the Door to Nowhere

Along the way this puppy, who obviously has a great nose, could smell the doggie biscuits in my pocket and “dogged” us all the way up to the barbed wire.

Dog with a nose for biscuits

Well, now at the residence I must say, the research I’ve done tells me King Zog was a man with an “interesting” history.

His residence, now under unknown ownership – but with a security guard, is in ruins.  Everything I’ve read about the property said you cannot gain access.

Guess who gained access, yep!  Nope, not giving out my James Bond secrets.


The property is cordoned off with barbed and razor wire and a large hinged gate apparatus.

King Zog's Palace

The palace has 3 floors and an elevator shaft that once held the iron horse; and, more than 20 rooms including a sauna for the queen.

Ela and I and the grand marble staircase

Ela and I at the bottom of the grand staircase.

Zog had a bird's eye view of Durres

Zog had a bird’s eye view of Durres from this side and a great view of the Adriatic Sea from the other side.

Wanna Dance in the Grand Ballroom

Come dance with me in the grand ballroom, overlooking the blue Adriatic Sea.


It’s unfortunate the owner of the property could not see the potential for tourism dollars.  Vandals have hacked away big chunks of marble; torn up the parquet flooring, and removed all of the plumbing.

IMG_5454 (3)

Talk about a room with a view?  Bet those buildings were not there when the “palace” was constructed.  It was beachfront property then.

  • King Zog created his throne for himself as Europe’s only Muslim king and ruled Europe’s most obscure country.
  • January 31 1925 Ahmet Zogu is elected President of the republic of Albania
  • September 1, 1928 the constitutional assembly proclaims Albania an inheritable democratic parliamentary kingdom.
  • However, Zog’s constitution forbade any Prince of the Royal House from serving as Prime Minister or a member of the Cabinet, and contained provisions for the potential extinction of the Royal Family. Ironically, in light of later events, the constitution also forbade the union of the Albanian throne with that of any other country.

The proclamation as King of the Albanians:

During 1920s, Albania was experiencing extended periods of political turmoil and instability. The parliament decided to take under consideration the proposal made by the deputies of Skrapar, the issue of constitutional change. Immediately after the early elections on August 25, 1928, it was proposed to change the governing structure. The Statute Commission was held, which proposed the regime change, from Republic into Monarchy.

After he accepted the Throne, His Majesty Zog I, King of Albanians took His oath on the Bible and Quran, with these words: “I, Zogu , King of the Albanians, at this very moment I step foot on the Throne of the Albanian Kingdom and, undertaking the Monarchy Power , I swear to the Almighty power to preserve the National Union, the Independence of Land and State. I swear to be loyal to the Statute and act according to its articles and laws in power, considering, always the well-being of the people. Lord may help me”

It was reported that he often left his residence in Albania to “carouse” in European capitals where he was prone to gambling and drinking.  This was something he could not be seen doing in Albania, the poorest country in eastern Europe; I guess that’s how he “considered the well-being of his people” – what you don’t know can’t hurt you, theory.

He offered the crown to any heiress who would marry him and bring $1,000,000.00 to Albania.  I’m not sure if that was for the economy of Albania or Zog.

He eventually married a US /Hungarian heiress who was, unfortunately, down on her luck, but who had royal connections. Geraldine  Steuart, was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, a daughter of Count Gyula Apponyi de Nagy Appony (1873–1924).

The King’s sister had approached Geraldine on behalf of the monarch. The King had seen the young Hungarian woman’s photograph. She went to Albania and within days the couple were engaged to be married. Known as the “White Rose of Hungary,” and Geraldine was raised to royal status as Princess Geraldine of Albania prior to her wedding.

On 27 April 1938, in Tirana, Albania, Geraldine married the King in a ceremony witnessed by Galeazzo Ciano, envoy and son-in-law of Il Duce and Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini. She was Roman Catholic and King Zog was Muslim. They drove to their honeymoon in an open-top scarlet Mercedes-Benz 540K, a present from Adolf Hitler.

Their son was born a year later, on April 5, 1939. He was given a 101-gun salute and the title Crown Prince Skander, but two days later Mussolini’s army invaded the country.

After exhorting his people to “fight to the last drop of blood to defend our independence” King Zog took his wife, newborn heir, sisters, nephews, nieces and a 20-strong retinue of courtiers, advisers and bodyguards, and fled Albania.

• May 2 1939 he moves to Turkey

• August 1939 he moves to Paris and leaves Bordeaux, France, 8 hrs before the German invasion on the 27th of June 1940 to England.  They caught one of the last boats out of France ahead of the invading Nazis and moved into the Ritz Hotel in London, where they took up almost an entire floor.

• In 1946 he moves to Egypt, 1951 he visits the United States of America and purchases a mansion in Muttontown, New York on the Gold Coast of Long Island.

According to the Nassau County Department of Parks, King Zog was the last monarch of Albania, and fled his country after the Italian invasion in 1939. He acquired the Knollwood Estate at Muttontown in 1951 for over $100,000, and it included a 60 room granite mansion. Zog chose to live in Europe and Africa instead, but he envisioned this mansion to be his new palace, staffing it with fellow Albanians. Sadly, he never moved there and sold the estate in 1955. The mansion lay abandoned, and rumors began to spread about his hidden treasures within the mansion walls. Vandals quickly looted the property, and the new owners had the mansion demolished in 1959.

• In 1948-1951 King Zog becomes one of three leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

• In 1949 before the Arab Israeli war he gains the support of the Arab league to resist the communist regime.

It has been in estimated that King Zog is in the top 10 rulers to have the most assassinations attempts on their lives, 55.

There were about 600 blood feuds reportedly existing against Zog. One of these occurred inside the corridors of the Albanian Parliament premises on 23 February 1924. Beqir Valteri, originating from the same area as Zog, was waiting for him and opened fire suddenly.  Zog was shot twice. Meanwhile, Valteri fled but, surrounded by the militia, took refuge in one of the bathrooms, refusing to surrender and singing patriotic songs.

• In 1954 he organizes covert operations against the communist regime with the support of the allies, betrayed by a Russian spy (Kim Philby).

• July 1955 he returns to France to settle in Cane where he eventually dies.

And, that’s the end of the story of King Zog I, Ruler of Albania.

(Many different sources helped me with this history, wikipedia, History Today, Cracked.com, metafilter.com, and Albanian History.com.) Virtual Tourist, King Zog, Durres, Albania  will give you additional information and photos.

But, not the end of my day.  Ela and I wandered down the hill to the Venetian Tower which now houses a bar/coffee house where we sat and had cappuccinos served to us by a very nice young man who spoke English, Italian and Albanian.


Inside the tower.

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After coffee and on the way to the hostel we passed the chocolate bakery/coffee bar and found ourselves sitting there sharing a lovely “postre”.  We do not remember opening the door, or ordering the yummy dessert swirled with white chocolate.  This woman just showed up at the table.


It was magical.

Magical dessert

Where will the next adventure take us?





Berat, Albania; The City of 1,000 Windows

The city of Berat is located about 110km (68 miles) southeast of Durres.  The Old Town was designated a UNESCO  World Heritage Site in 2008 as a rare example of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period.  Ottoman Empire History.  UNESCO describes Berat as a 2400 year old museum.  It lies at the foot of the Tomorri mountains and is considered in antiquity as a sacred site.

Berat is known as the White City, as most all of the dwellings there are painted white.  It is also known as The City of a Thousand Windows as demonstrated by this golden hued early morning photo of the Mangalem section of Berat, taken from my hotel balcony.

1,000 Windows at dawn

The city is divided by the Osum River. The city has 3 sections, the Mengalum where I was staying, The Castle high on the hill overlooking the houses in the photo and the Gorica on the other side of the river.  The city also has a Medieval Center which includes a 15th century mosque. The Mengalum area is known by its multi-windowed buildings and narrow charming, but stony pathways.


One of several minarets outside of my hotel balcony.  Who needs an alarm clock?

When we think of a Castle, we tend to envision a stone dwelling with thick walls and perhaps a moat and drawbridge.  However, this Castle was built as a fortress surrounding the old city, similar to the Alhambra in Granada.

Castle walls

It was an excellent choice which gave the inhabitants full view of the valley in both directions, access to the river for trade and a fortress easily defendable due to the difficulty in mounting an offensive UP the side of the mountain.

Looking Up from the town

Looking up the road from the town.  It is about a 20 minute walk up.  It took me 30 minutes walking down due to uneven stones and steepness.  The stones are uneven and it would be easy to turn an ankle or trip.

Looking down into the town of Berat, Albania

Within the Castle there were many residences and 42 churches of the Byzantine era (330 BC), today only 8 intact shrines and ruins of the Red and White mosques exist. There is an area called the Acropolis built on the higher ground within the Castle and which had a second perimeter wall; and, inside is found remnants of the Turkish military garrison.  Today there are approximately 150 residents still living within the Castle ruins.

Castle walkway

Byzantine architecture, Building style of Constantinople (now Istanbul, formerly ancient Byzantium) after ad 330. Byzantine architects were eclectic, at first drawing heavily on Roman temple features. Their combination of the basilica and symmetrical central-plan (circular or polygonal) religious structures resulted in the characteristic Byzantine Greek-cross-plan church, with a square central mass and four arms of equal length. The most distinctive feature was the domed roof. To allow a dome to rest above a square base, either of two devices was used: the squinch (an arch in each of the corners of a square base that transforms it into an octagon) or the pendentive. Byzantine structures featured soaring spaces and sumptuous decoration: marble columns and inlay, mosaics on the vaults, inlaid-stone pavements, and sometimes gold coffered ceilings. The architecture of Constantinople extended throughout the Christian East and in some places, notably Russia, remained in use after the fall of Constantinople (1453). See also Hagia Sophia.ica (Taken from http://www.Britannica) Click on underlined words to access original article.

The Church of St. Mary

This is the small Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas with the walls of the Acropolis behind.


Bust of Emperor Constantine 57th ruler of the Roman Empire, 4th Century, 306-322 AD The medieval church saw him as a paragon of virtue while secular rulers saw him as a prototype and critics portrayed him as a tyrant .. not much different from politics today.

While walking through the Castle with map in hand this old man, who spoke relatively good English approached and started telling me about the history of the area (which I had already researched before coming to Berat).  He said he lived in the Castle and could show me around.  I knew, of course, that this was a “free tour” which means you pay what you think it is worth at the end.

As we walked and took photos, I found that his favorite saying was “Oh, my God!” usually uttered after each photo he took of me.  I think it was meant to be a positive expletive, but it could be taken either way.  LOL

Although you cannot see the writing on the hills through the arch, I will tell you, it spells out N E V E R in very large letters.  My tour guide said it was put there to remind Albanians that they will NEVER again be under the rule of the communists, a tyrant, or a government that puts the people last.

The NEVER story:  The NEVER Story


Well, the old man was quite a talker and I enjoyed his company so when we parted at the museum he asked for … and  I gave him … 1000 Leke ($7.11 US) which he was very pleased to get.  I know, I know, $7 is not much; but remember that this is a poor country and to this man, 1,000 Leke is a good return on his 30 minutes. Actually, in US terms, he made $14.00 an hour, not bad compensation.   Compare this to the 3,500 Leke ($24) I paid for a night at an Albanian 4 Star hotel.

Tour guide

He also was my photographer.  He showed me his house and pointed out where his roof needed repairs.  He pointed out plants like wild rosemary and chamomile; shared local history and explained the process for Berat to become a UNESCO site.  This alone was worth the 1000 Leke.

Tough walking in the Castle area

Tough walking in the Castle.


One of the interesting things within the Castle is the variety of building/architectural techniques. You can clearly see the differences starting in about the 4th century.  There are Roman-Byzantine, Turkish/Ottoman,  and Albanian.  The buildings inside the Castle were mostly built in the 13th century and are preserved as cultural monuments.


He left me at the Onufri National Iconographic Museum, which is housed in the Cathedral of St. Mary, where I paid 300 Leke ($2.13) for entrance.  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed.  (The Cathedral is very small, 3 rooms only)

Go to the first link “Altar description of the church” and read about the carving of the altar area.  THEN, go to the photo on the bottom right of the page.  This is the altar photo.  It is a phenomenal piece for the craftsmanship of this age.

You might then like to view all of the other photos on this page as well.  Images of the purple codices are included.

Altar description of the church

The altar was the first impression as you walk in the door; however, the item I really wanted to see was the Purple Codex which is one of the oldest known variants of the gospels written in the 6th century and is only one of 5 known existing codices in the world.

This is a copy from “VIRTUAL TOURIST” site, submitted by author JLBC

(The photos of this tip are not mine but have been borrowed to the Unesco web site Codex Beratinus where you will find full details on the Codex Beratinus : JLBC author note)  I give here a short summary of its content.
Two very old Gospels (codices) have been found in Berat, Albania: ?Beratinus-1?, dating from the sixth century, and ?Beratinus-2? from the ninth century. Both form part of the seven ?purple codices? which survive today. Two of the ?purple codices? are preserved in Albania, two in Italy and one each in France, England and Greece.
They are proposed for inclusion in the Unesco Memory of the World International Register.

?Beratinus-1? ? sixth century is a Gospel handwritten in uncial majuscules. It represents one of the three or four oldest New Testament archetypes and is an important reference point for the development of biblical and liturgical literature throughout the world. ?Beratinus-2? ? ninth century comprises Gospel manuscripts from the standard text period. Some paragraphs are semi-uncial. In terms of style and age, it is comparable to Greek Codex 53 (Saint Petersburg). It contains the four complete Gospels.

The two Albanian codices are very important for the global community and the development of ancient biblical, liturgical and hagiographical literature. The seven ?purple codices? were written one after the other over a period of 13 centuries, i.e. from the sixth to the eighteenth centuries. The two codices represent one of the most valuable treasures of the Albanian cultural heritage.

In the 1970s, in accordance with an intergovernmental agreement between Albania and China, they were sent to the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Science to be restored. Identical reproductions were then created so that they could be fully accessible to researchers. After being restored, both codices are kept at the Albanian National Archives in Tirana, in a strong-room financed by UNESCO.


Codex BeratinusCodex Beratinus
Another Willie Nelson wonder.  “Seeing things I’ve never seen before, and may never see again.”
I am sure I will make another trip to Berat before leaving Albania because there are other things of interest here to see.
Let me leave you with this little tidbit of information.  Did you know that Mother Theresa, Stan Dragoti, Hollywood director; and the Belushi brothers have Albanian ancestry?
Tjeter Ndalesa Tirane
Next Stop Tirana
Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty






Durres, Albania

I’ve included 2 youtube videos .. the first one, at the beginning, for the tourists, the second, at the end, for people who want to see and know the real Albania.

Summer tourist video of Durres

Following the collapse of communist rule in 1990, Durrës  (second largest city in Albania) became the focus of mass emigrations from Albania with ships being hijacked in the harbour and sailed at gunpoint to Italy. In one month alone, August 1991, over 20,000 people migrated to Italy (which is why ITALIAN and not English is the second most used language in Durres).

Italy intervened militarily, putting the port area under its control, and the city became the center of the European Community‘s “Operation Pelican“, a food-aid program.

In 1997, Albania slid into anarchy following the collapse of a massive pyramid scheme which devastated the national economy. An Italian-led peacekeeping force was controversially deployed to Durrës and other Albanian cities to restore order, although there were widespread suggestions that the real purpose of “Operation Alba” was to prevent economic refugees continuing to use Albania’s ports as a route to migrate to Italy. (Wikipedia) (my additions in purple)

Durres History

  • Durres was occupied by Italy in 1915  during the 1st World War
  • By Austria-Hungary in 1916-1918
  • It was captured by the Allies in October 1918
  • Restored to Albanian sovereignty, Durrës became the country’s temporary capital between 1918 and March 1920.
  • It experienced an economic boom due to Italian investments and developed into a major seaport under the rule of King Zog, with a modern harbour being constructed in 1927.  (I will be visiting King Zog’s residence later)
  • An earthquake in 1926 damaged some of the city and the rebuilding that followed gave the city its more modern appearance
  • The Second World War saw Durrës (called Durazzo again in Italian) and the rest of Albania being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy between 1939–1943, then occupied by Nazi Germany until 1944
  • Durrës’s strategic value as a seaport made it a high-profile military target for both sides. It was the site of the initial Italian landings on 7 April 1939 (and was fiercely defended by Mujo Ulqinaku) as well as the launch point for the ill-fated Italian invasion of Greece.
  • The Communist regime of Enver Hoxha rapidly rebuilt the city following the war, establishing a variety of heavy industries in the area and expanding the port. It became the terminus of Albania’s first railway,  begun in 1947 (which does not go outside of the country of Albania, nor does it connect with any surrounding country).
  • In the late 1980s, the city was briefly renamed Durrës-Enver Hoxha.
  • The city was and continues to remain the center of Albanian mass beach tourism during the summer months.
View from the hostel roof.


home of the boat builder, arround the corner from the hostel

This is the home of the boat builder, just a short distance from the hostel.  You can see the roof of his house in the previous photo.

mosque in the plaza (1)
Mosque across the plaza from the hostel which was built in 1503, and still standing. As you can see by the foundation, the mosque has been updated over the last 5 centuries.

plaza across from the hostel

This plaza is new in the last 4 years.  A dutch man who stays at the hostel from time to time told me how he viewed the improvements each time he visited the area.  This is directly across the street from the hostel.  Actually you can see the hostel fence between the trees in the bottom of the photo.

Tourism poster of Durres
Tourism poster of Durres

As you can see, there is a definite separation between the old and the new, the haves and the have nots.  The tourist area, the main street up from the beach is bright and shiny, but not far away, it is what we think of when we say “third world country”.

Tomorrow I will be going by bus 2.5 hours southeast to Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I will be staying in a new 4 star hotel, for which I will be paying 26 US dollars, and it includes breakfast.

See you in a few days,  Sherrill


Now, here is a 1 hour and 12 minute documentary on Albania .. country, people, government.  Enlightening.

Notes from Albania


PARMA, Italy UNESCO World Heritage Site

PARMA Visit with hosts #3 Stephana and Vittorio; and, children Ilaria, Chiara and Benedetta and aunt Marian


Fabulous Galleria National de Parma

Parma has one of the largest and most impressive collections in the National Gallery, the Archaeological Museum, and the Farnese Theater.  The 16th century Palazzo della Pilotta was badly bombed during World War II but the spectacular theatre is an exact replica of the wooden original built in 1619.

The National Gallery has an entire section devoted to another regional talent: Antonio Allegri, more commonly known by his hometown, Correggio. One of the foremost artists of the Renaissance Parma School, Correggio was considered to be quite ahead of his time thanks to his talent at foreshortening (possibly influenced by Mantegna and Leonardo).


Unfortunately, I do not have photos taken inside of the Galleria, which was marvelous.  The Riva family arranged for us to have a private tour of the gallery .. limited to 30 minutes, which was just not enough time to appreciate the hundreds of paintings and historic items.  I would need at least 4 additional visits to see everything.

In addition to the museum we also visited (on another day) the church, the baptistery and, the archeological museum, all with English language audio guides.  Fascinating does not begin to cover it all.



Parma, Italy is the birthplace of music conductor Arturo Toscanini and artist Girolamo ‘Parmigianino’ Mazzola, hosts the world-famous Verdi Festival, and its fascinating history includes the establishment of one of the oldest universities in the world.
The city’s location made it an ideal resting place for pilgrims en route to Rome and, by the 16th century – now a Duchy run by the art and antiquity-collecting Farnese family – Parma entered a golden age of art, music and architecture.
In spite of Charles of Bourbon lifting many of the city’s treasures when he left to claim the Kingdom of Naples, Parma still has plenty to offer its visitors.  The colourful painted façades hark back to the Bourbon era when young designer, Petitot, encouraged the use of yellow (now known as Parma yellow) to emulate the gold of the court. This has the added effect of bathing the city in a permanent golden glow.
Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise of Austria and Duchess of Parma, also had an extraordinary influence on Parma; as well as securing  the return of many of the city’s artworks and commissioning the building of the Regio theatre, she persuaded the monks to create an essence from her favourite flower – the Parma violet. Violet candies, postcards, writing notes, perfume, and other sundry items for sale in Parma.

The three great foods associated with Parma—Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and handmade pastas (especially little ones you fill, such as tortellini, cappelletti, and anolini)—owe their first debt to this extraordinarily fertile land.

Wheels of Parmesan are branded with the year and month they were produced, so you know exactly what you’re getting. Aged for 18 months to three years, the cheese is generally at its most expressive at about two years. Winter Parmesan has a deeper, more complex flavor than that made in summer.  (excerpt from:  Jan Fusco, One Day in Parma from Bologna for Connoisseurs)


In addition to traveling to Parma and Verona with the Riva family, I was treated to a rendition of YMCA by Chiara on the far left, in a school musical.

Chiara far left YMCA

Christmas music school show with Benedetta who is the only one playing the drum.

Also in this photo 2nd row, far right  in the shirt with the gold front, is Chiara, daughter of Marzia and Luca, my second host family.

Bene 2nd row second on right

And, roller skating lessons

Bene and Chiara skating lessons

And, I was invited to participate in the arrival of Santa Lucia who brings the gifts to children on December 13th.   She brought me a large bag of tasty, colored, twisty marshmallows, yummmm.

Benedetta opening her gift from Santa Lucia at grandmothers house

So, with my time in Italy at an end I took the train from Parma south to Bari and then boarded the ferry for an overnight sailing to Durres, Albania.

Arrivederci, Italia and thanks for all the great memories I take with me.