Sprawling across the center of Albania’s capital, Tirana, stands a derelict building imposing its will unto onlookers. Built during the country’s turbulent past, it stands as an unmistakable feature. A concrete structure standing out in a sea of other concrete structures. It’s barred door is covered in gaudy colored glass, now slowly decaying next the graffiti-filled walls slowly becoming a rubble heap. This is the Pyramid of Tirana.
There is a certain beauty and appeal to its chaotic decay. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never seen it. An abandoned gem with scars that tells little of its past. Reaching back in history, from 1944 to 1992, Albania was under a harsh Communist government that tried to model itself after Stalinism.
Stalin, for those not in the know, is one of two dictators vying for power during WWII. The other, of course, was the infamous Hitler. Being a history buff, especially about WWII in Europe, I can tell you that Stalin was even worse than the latter. In terms of body count, Stalin takes the cake and if a government is trying to model itself after his regime; you can see where it’s going.
Enver Hoxha Pyramid
The strange pyramid was erected in the honor of the dictator Enver Hoxha, tried to implement the ideals of Stalin for decades in Albania. The pyramid building was design by Hoxha’s daughter and her husband to keep the dictator’s legacy – sort of like the way Pharaohs in Egypt built pyramids to be their everlasting tomb.
As the cold war thawed and eventually the fall of the Soviet Union, the national attitudes started to change. The building, stripped of its former purpose, was eventually converted into a convention center. This would then lead to the state of dilapidation it is in now. It became a military staging area thereafter, passed from one owner to the next, and along with the communist association led further to the intense neglect.
There were plans to demolish the Pyramid of Tirana but some locals petitioned to keep it alive as it as part of their heritage (dark as it). Believe it or not, the pyramid was the most “expensive” structure ever constructed in Albania at the time of its opening in 1988. No matter the controversy and stained past, I think the pyramid gives Tirana a certain appeal.
Ugly, Awesome, or Odd?
Onlookers new to Tirana will have a range of opinions from grand, ugly, or just odd. It seems so out of place, yet it holds the most written about architecture in Albania. It’s been mentioned in the New York Times and a permanent fixture in Atlas Obscura. It can be said, that the cultural significance of the pyramid to Albanians is the same as the significance of the Eiffel Tower is to the French!
I climbed and crawled up the pyramid of Tirana’s semi-steep sloping walls; all the way to the top out of curiosity. Seeing as there were kids and adults alike sliding and running up and down sloped walls; I figured I wasn’t trespassing.
The views at the top are somewhat meager, it’s the tallest structure in the area. But it does provide a panoramic view above the treeline.
There’s little dome covered with graffiti and some barbed wires meant to deter further excursions but I can tell it’s been definitely ignored.
I would have loved to have explored the dilapidated interior but alas, the chains and padlocks that are wrapped around the doorway say otherwise. Regardless, it’s a fun discovery worth exploring, if not, to look at.
Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, I don’t think this one will last thousands of years. And, unlike the Egyptian pyramids, this one only took 3 years to plan can complete.
A Communist Star
The Tirana Pyramid had a red star Communist symbol at the top. I think it once stood on top of this metallic dome, now peeling and covered in graffiti. Apparently, the interior’s floors had mezzanines on different levels that made it look like an amphitheater; it’s nowhere near that now.
What’s weird about the Tirana Pyramid, if you’re looking closely, is that it’s not even a pyramid!
The shape of a pyramid is only seen at the front of the structure but in the back, it’s just a vertical building. From the top via bird’s eye view, it’s a double-headed eagle that’s the emblem of the Albanian flag. How I wish I had my DJI Pro 2 back then! The Pyramid also was meant to sit alongside Mount Dajti which you can see behind the structure.
After playing host to various nightclubs and cafes, protests and countless public gatherings. The Pyramid now stands as little playground where Tirana’s youth (and some crazy adult, ahem!) use the slanted sides as a slide. And slide you will, granted you have a good pair of shoes with excellent grip to climb the top!
Cold War Era Relic
There is a certain air despair that surrounds this monument, a relic of the cold war era. An iconic symbol of a utopian ideal that was shaped by a dictator’s ego which eventually fell from his grasp. A monument from a past nobody wants to remember and now many don’t want to forget. If you’re ever in Tirana, you have to see this pyramid for yourself.
Where Is The Tirana Pyramid?
Travel Resource & Planning For Albania
If you’re planning for a trip to Albania, here are some very useful resources and guides to make your travels worthwhile in the country. Albania is a mountainous country in the Balkans and often seen as the backwaters of Europe. Don’t let this dissuade you! This is one freakin’ cool country and lots of awesome things to see and experience. Food isn’t half bad either. It’s like being in a European country with a little tug of the Middle East!
Best Guide Book – Albania (Bradt Travel Guide)
Recommended Reading – Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe