Jews and religions in Albania and North Greece

Jews and religions in Albania and North Greece

Religional and archaeological tour

14/02/2019 Release by livingalbania

In Sintesi

Jews and religionsin Albania and North Greece

La notizia

Gaining Albania with a visit means recognizing what this People did during the Second World War by saving many Jews from the Holocaust, otherwise deported to concentration camps.
Thessaloniki, the Mother City of Israel, where, following the Alhambra Decree in 1492, many Jews found shelterand could rebuild their lives.

That’s the Story.
This is a special tour because it leadsto discover the true reality to manystrangers of this country, (which isvery different from that reported bythe media) and of this people, the Albanians, politically divided intoseveral states (Albania, Kosovo,Macedonia and Montenegro), butunited by the common ethnic origin,language, history, culture and traditions, even if with obvious and particular differences among which the religion that does not divide herebut unites the People. In fact thereare four primary religious groups Islam - Sunnit and Sufi-Bektashwhich are part of almost 60% of Albanians; and then Christians -Orthodox and Catholics who are less even there is the first known religion in this country.
However,almost all Albanians follow the quote of  Pashke Vasa, a poet of 1900, who wrote: "Do not look at churches and mosques, the only religion of Albanians is being Albanian”.
Thanks to this tour we will be able to discover the marvelous religious coexistence that exists in Albania. We will visit the capital Tirana where all the religion centers of the country are found,we will visit the Bektashi world center located in Tirana, the Ethem Bey mosque, the Catholic church and then continue with the Orthodox monastic complex in Ardenica, and then remains of the Synagogue in Saranda from where we will begin a more attentive visit to Judaism in Albania and Greece, with the Aslan Pasha Mosque, which houses a museum of the city's history divided by the three communities: Christians, Jewsand Muslims, with the old Kaal Kadosh Synagogue, among the most beautiful inall of Greece, to go on the imposing Meteore rocks that stand out against the horizon as you approach Kalambaka, then we will go to Trikala which was one of the most important bases commercial in the center of the plain of Thessaly, where lived one of the oldest Jewish communities, which had three synagogues before the war; the largest of these, the Synagogue of the Romaniotes escaped destruction andrestored, and then in Thessaloniki which for its importance was called "the Jerusalem of the Balkans" or Ir Va'emBe'Yisrael, Mother City of Israel.
We will then return to Albania, passing from Korça "the cradle of Albanian culture" where we will visit the most important Orthodox cathedral of Albania and the medieval art museum - among the most beautiful in the country, with the most beautiful and big collection of icons of Country.

The Jews in Albania

The first reports of Jews living in Albania date back to 70 AD, the Jews arrived for the first time by sea on the southern coast of Albania, finding refuge here, it seems like prisoners who escaped from the Roman galleys from a ship carrying hostages Jews for the Roman emperor Tito was ship wrecked on the Ionian coast near Saranda. The first Albanian synagogue seems to have been founded in the fourth or fifth century, in the city of Onchesmos, today's Saranda. This is reflected in the sixth century. The Onchesmos Synagogue was supplanted by a Christian church in the sixth century. However little is known of the Jewish community until the fifteenth century.
In the 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela visited the area and recorded that there were Jews. The earliest records of living Jews in Albania date back to the 12th century AD. There were Jewish settlements in most of the major cities of Albania such as Berat, Corizza,Elbasan, Vlore, Durres, Dibra. These Jewish families were mainly of Sephardic origin and descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from Iberia at the end of the fifteenth century following the edict of Alhambra(1492) during the Spanish investigation.
In 1520 in Valona there were 609 families of Jews and in the same city was also the first synagogue of Albania,destroyed later during the First WorldWar.
The Jewish community in Albania has also been enriched by the arrival of Jews from Italy, particularly from Puglia.
According to the Albanian census of 1930, there were only 204 Jews registered at that time in Albania on a population of 803 thousand. In Albania alone, about 300 Albanian Jews and perhaps 100 foreign .Jews were registered in Albania alone in 1938. With the advent of Nazi Germany, a number of German and Austrian Jews took refuge in Albania. Again in 1938 the Albanian embassy in Berlin continued to issue visas to the Jews, at a time when no other European country was willing to take them. After Hitler's rise topower, however, they sought refuge from 600 to 800 Jews from Germany,Austria, Serbia, Yugoslavia and Greece, who hoped to be able to embark on Israel or the Americas from there. Fascist Italy occupied Albania in 1939. Rome exported atleast part of its anti-Jewish legislation to Tirana. Rome was conducting an anti-Semitic policy contrary to the killing of the Jews,but it was oscillating in relation to the requests for collaboration from Berlin. Benito Mussolini gave his permission for the delivery of the Croatian Jews present in occupied Dalmatia to the Germans; however,some Italian diplomatic and military authorities hindered that project, and in the following months no Jews were handed over to the Nazis. The only arrests were carried out in Kosovo then annexed to Albania in Prishtina by the SS Skanderbeg division formed mainly by Albanian and Kosova volunteers, under the direct orders of the German authorities,without the involvement of the Tirana authorities.
In Albania, in spite of the imposed racial laws, many Albanian citizens offered false identities to the Jews to be Albanians. A particular recognition is rightly attributed to King Zog in the years of his presence as King of Albania. Most were hidden in homes and private homes, most of them disguised as Albanian farmers.
The Albanians were mainly Muslim sand the rest of the population was Catholic and Orthodox. It is right to underline that the Jews who were saved in Albania were not only by the Muslim Albanians but also by the Christian Albanians and by a number of Albanians who were skeptical of religion. An important role was played also by the Albanian customary legal code, known as Kanun, who asks for hospitality according to this code appeals to the"Besa" of the landlord, or his personal honor, and is therefore mandatory duty of the latter and the family dependent on him to defend the life of the host.
In the period of the communist dictatorship of Hoxha he banished all forms of religion in order to forge asustainable national unity and new socialism.
He destroyed most of the religion structures of every confession, he interned in concentration camps many religious in which some found death there.
After the fall of communism in 1991,almost all the Albanian Jews emigrated.
They started mainly for economic reasons and not because of anti-Semitism, in fact about 300Albanian Jews immigrated to Israel (mostly settled in Ashdod and Karmiel) and another thirty thirty moved to the United States.
Only adozen Jews chose to stay in Albania.
Nowadays, more than 160 Jews live in Albania, most in the capital ,Tirana.
In December 2010 a new synagogue was established in Tirana known as"Hechal Shlomo" which started providing services for the Jewish community.
Another synagogue is present in a Vlorë (Valona), but now not in use.
Also in December 2010,Rabbi Joel Kaplan was authorized as the first Chief Rabbi of Albania by Prime Minister Sali Berisha. A Jewish community center called "MosheRabbenu" was also inaugurated inTirana, in total disagreement with the Jewish community that denies Kaplan's chief rabbi status.

Albert Einstein in Albania.
Few people know that Albert Einstein went to Albania where he lived for a few months. Documents and testimonies ascertain the presence of the illustrious scientist in Albania, for example when he went to the Bank of Albaniain Tirana on April 9, 1931 to carry out some banking transactions with Germany.
According to official data,Einstein's German passport had been seized by the Gestapo but he went to America twice in 1931 and in 1932 thanks to the only passport that was available at that time, the Albanian one. In April 1931 with Albert Einstein, thanks to the direct interest of King Zog I, the municipality of Pogradec issues the certificate and the certificate of residence in the Burima district of Pogradec. Albert Einstein was also received by King Zog during his stay in Albania.

Jewish civilization in Greece.
Since classical antiquity, important Jewish communities were present in the most important Greek cities,especially as traders who took advantage of the commercial development of the Hellenic world.The conquests of Alexander the Greatin Asia have opened the gates of communication between the East and the West and many more Jews have arrived in the Greek territories in search of a better life. In the "Acts of the Apostles" one can read about the missionary journeys of St. Paul
(Saul of Tarsus), which he had preached in the synagogues to the local Jewish communities. In the year 1492 the Sephardic Jews, driven from Spain by the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella, were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire by the Sultan Beyezid II. Settled in the Greek territories, they enrich them withtheir presence, their culture, thetechnical knowledge and the activitiesthey bring with them. The presence of the Sephardic Jews will beparticularly important for Thessaloniki, since more than 20,000Jews arrive and convert it into aJewish majority city, called up to now Ir Va'em Be'Yisrael, the mother city of Israel. During this trip we visit some of the most important places of Jewish culture, trying to identify the differences between the various communities and to recognize what remains after the great destruction of the Second World War, to recall the presence and the importance of anactive and thriving community.



1-st - Day Arrival and visit of Tirana

Arrival at the airport and transfer to the center of Tirana. Our tour begins with a visit to the center of Tirana,to the Scanderberg square (Giorgio Castriota Scanderberg, the national hero who for twenty years resisted the invasion defending Albania and Europe and its Christian moral and religious values from the Turkish invasion- ottomanna) symbolic place of the City (Ethem Bey Mosque, the Clock Tower).
We will also visit the Orthodox Cathedral located in the city center, a few steps from the Skanderbeg Square. Walk in the Taiwan park and boulevard Deshmoret e Kombit (Pyramid of Enver Hoxha, Government Palace,Qemal Stafa Stadium). (Tirana, the capital of Albania, has almost one million inhabitants, hence almost a third of the entire Albanian population,a city of business excellence, awestern city for the quality of life and the way of living the life in Tirana.Night life is as in any other European city ,very different from all other Albanian cities, here it is commonly spoken Italian and especially English).
Free time for snacks and / or lunchin a restaurant.
We will then visit the world center Bektashi, located north-east of Tirana,and has a large and remarkable tekke with a captivating museum and a small gift shop where visitors can buy various souvenirs of Bektashi. The tekke is adorned from top to the bottom with amazing marble mosaics and a variety of colors and patterns.The Bektashi order is a sect of dervishes that fuses elements of thought predominantly with Shia and Sufi, in a single blend of Islamic faithand philosophy. Quickly banned by the Ottoman authorities in 1862, the Bektashi order re-emerged later, in the nineteenth century, only to be put outlawed again by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, immediately after the founding of the Turkish Republic in1923, event that determined the displacement of the quarters Generalin Albania in 1925. The final restoration of the religious complex was completed on September 8, 2015,in the presence of the leaders of all the Albanian religious communities and representatives of the Islamic communities from any other place in the Balkans, in Europe and beyond.
Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Tirana.

2nd Day- Departure to Saranda.

Breakfast at the hotel.
Departure to Saranda with arrival in Ardenica.
Visit to the monastic complex of Ardenica. Orthodox monastic complex still in use built in 1282 and repeatedly destroyed and recovered and where in 1451 the marriage of Skanderberg, Albanian national hero, was celebrated.
Free time for snacks and / or lunchin a restaurant.
Departure to Saranda, with a stop at the front of Llogora to remain amazed with the breathtaking view
of the Ionian coast and then to Porto Palermo with a visit to the castle with "technical stop" on the seafront of Himare where you can take a goodespresso coffee.
Arrival in Saranda.Late afternoon arrival in Saranda and visit the remains of the first Albanian synagogue, founded in the fourth or fifth century, in the city of  Onchesmos, today's Saranda. This is reflected in the sixth century. The Onchesmos Synagogue was supplanted by a Christian church in the sixth century.
Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Saranda.

3rd day - Visit of Butrint, and departure to Ioannina, Greece.

Breakfast and departure to the site of Butrint, (World Heritage Site -UNESCO,Butrint dates back to the 7th century BC and according to Virgil was founded by Eleno ,son of Priam Re di Troia, the Greeks make Butrint afortified commercial city (the remains of the acropolis are still visible).
Its 6th century BC fortification evokes all the military power of the city and is a symbol of a rich culture and an important and thriving city. Then became an important Roman colony. It then fell under the dominion of the Venetians and Turks, losing its importance over the course of the century and beginning its decline. The city found (only partly excavated) is a very important microcosm of almost 3,000 years of Mediterranean history.
The visit to the Butrint site is carried out with an official site guide.
Visit to the precious antiquarium (museum)on site.
Free time for snacks and / orlunch in a restaurant.
Departure to Ioannina, has been the most important site and large Jewish community in Greece after Thessaloniki, completely disappeared after the Nazi deportations during the war.
We will visit the Ottoman castle of the Ic Kale, Aslan Pasha Mosque, which contains a history museum of the city divided into three parts for the three communities: Christians, Jewsand Muslims, and the old Kaal Kadosh Synagogue, among the most beautiful in all of  Greece.
Accommodation in hotel, dinner and overnight at hotel in Ioannina.

4th Day- Meteora and Trikala visit.

After breakfast departure from Ioannina towards the Meteors.
The imposing rocks of the Meteors stand out against the horizon as we approach Kalambaka.
San Atanasio,the so-called Meteorite, was among the first to come here in search of solitude to dedicate himself to God.He founded the first monastery on the rocky pillars to settle as far as possible from the world. Today the splendid works of art and architecture in the monasteries are not lacking in beauty compared to the breathtaking landscape that surrounds them and which gives the impression of being between the earth and the sky.
We will visit two monasteries and then proceed to Trikala.
Homeland of Asclepius,ancient god of medicine, Trikala was one of the most important commercial bases in the center of the plain of Thessaly, where lived one of the oldest Jewish communities,which had three synagogues before the war; the largest of these, the Romaniotis Synagogue has escaped the destruction and has been restored.
We will visit the Synagogue and the Jewish cemetery, which preserves some tomb stones of even 450 years of age! In ancient Trikki we will pass from the Apslipieion, asanctuary-hospital dedicated to Asclepius, and from the historical center with the picturesque neighborhoods of Manavika and Varosi and the clock tower. At the end of the visit, accommodation at the hotel, dinner and overnight at the hotel in Trikala.

5th day - Thessaloniki visit.

Departure from Trikala in the direction of Thessaloniki.
Besides being a very important city for Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, Thessaloniki was one of the most important cities of Judaism!
The Jewish presence dates back to the foundation of the city itself and today it is an important part of it! In 1492, Thessaloniki welcomed about 20,000 Sephardic Jews from Spain, who converted it into a Jewish majority city, which due to its importance was called "the Jerusalem of the Balkans" or Ir Va'em Be'YisraelMother-City of Israel.
We will visit the center of the old Jewish quarter around the port, where the richest families of merchants and bankers,such as the Allatini and the Modiano, had their bases.
From Piazza Elefterias, where the deportation by the Nazis began, we will cross the Ladadika district towards the Yehudi Hamman. After a short break we will visit the well established Jewish museum, which preserves precious testimonies of the life of the community before the war.
We will visit the Synagogue of Monastir, the only one that remains of the old synagogues of the city.
By bus we will head to the surroundings to visit the beautiful palaces of some of the richest Jewish families of Thessaloniki and the New Mosque,the center of worship of the Jews Donme.
Free afternoon, dinner and overnight in hotel in Thessaloniki.

6th day - Departure to Albania to visit Korça.

After breakfast, completion of the visits of Thessaloniki with the area ofthe palace of Cesare Galerius, the Roman forum and the archaeological museum.
Around noon departure to Albania to reach Korça. Arrival and accommodation at the hotel.
Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Korça.

7th day - Return to Italy.

Breakfast at the hotel.
Visit of Korça - the "city of serenades", cultural cradle of the province, once also called "Little Paris" of Albania. The cultural center of Albania once was Voskopoja (Moscopoli), it has transferred all its culture and wisdom together with many inhabitants right in the city of Korça, this after being burned and destroyed by the Ottomans.
We will visit the center of the city, the Orthodox Cathedral of the "Resurrection of Christ", the largest in Albania, built in 1992 in place of the old cathedral that was demolished during the communist regime and other hundreds of religious structures as at that time the regime did not allowed no religious profession. After the cathedral we will go to the museum that recalls the "First Albanian Language School in Albania" opened in 1887 and is located in the center of the city of Korça.
We will also visit the Museum of  Medieval Art, one of the most important museum centers in Albania with over 7000 artifacts,mostly icons and works in stone,wood, metal and fabrics created fromthe early Middle Ages to the early twentieth century of anonymous andfamous artists from different parts of the country.
In the main hall there is a collection of icons and objects that reflect the different moments of development of the Albanian iconography and their main representatives. There are works by anonymous authors of c. XIII-XIV and others well known as: Onufri, Onufër Cypriot, Constantine, Jeromonaku, Shpataraku, Selenicasi, Zografi brothers, etc.
Departure from Korça to the airportin Tirana.
Arrival expected in the late afternoon.

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€.650 for person per 50 pax



 - 6 overnights in double room in HB (in Greece 3 nights in 3* hotel and in Albania 2 nights in 4* hotel)
 - 6 breakfast in buffet at hotel;
 - 6 dinners in the restaurant of the hotel (included water 0.33 l.And 1 glass of wine or beer p.pax.)coffee and other exluded.
 - Transport with driver, car and /or minivan and / or GT coach (depending on the number of participants) for the itinerary indicated in the program expert in the Albanian.
 - Tourist guide in English language in Albania and in Greece for the whole trip during the above mentioned service hours, with good knowledge of the roads, the road network and its local problems
- Supplementary guide in Greece in English language .
Supplementary guide in English language for groups +15 pax in this site:.
 - Saranda: Archaeological site of  Butrinto .


a) Air tickets from your country to Albania.
b) Lunches, snacks or other notmentioned.
c) Drinks at meals (exept those in“quotes include”).
d) Drinks, snacks etc…during thetour.
e) Medical insurance (obligatory) supplement € 20 pax (can also be done in your country at your insurance agency and / or agency therefore also formulated and integrated as you wish).
f) Personal extras and anythingnot expressly indicated under "the quote includes"
g) Single room.
h) Tips
.i) Entrance tickets for some museums are excluded, except for those indicated under "The quotes include" because the visit is still subjective and the price varies according to age with obvious savings for the benefit of the tourist (even with half costs for over 65 years of  age and for children).
j) Excluding internal guides for sites and museums except those indicated above.
k) Anything else not expressly specified in the program.


The package is scheduled with arrival in the port of Durres and / or at the "Nene Teresa" airport of Tirana on the morning of the first day and departure to Italy in the late afternoon of the 7th day.
Any changes to the afore mentioned program consequent and / or due to delays or other factors not depending on our company will not be imputable to LivingAlbania and will not be subject to any refunds and if this involves additional costs they will be charged to the group leader / or responsible for the reservation.
The above quotation is reported and valid only for the months of March, April,May, June (not more than half),September (the second half) and October 2020.
Prices are to be considered blocked only when the appropriate deposit is paid confirmation and the signing of the relative contract therefore up to that date they may be subject to increasing variations.
Therefore to avoid such increases we recommend to block the package with the booking as soon as possible.The above-mentioned prices for groups refer to the group with complete closed number, if the group is higher or lower the price will increase or decrease and will be quoted according to the exact number of participants.
Methods of payment will be provided upon confirmation.


-For entry into Albania and Greece it is sufficient to show avalid identity card for Italians and Europeans OK but for others I do not think so.
• No health prevention isnecessary. The only precaution is to avoid drinking tap water,better to use bottled water.
• The local currency in Albania is the 'Leke' which now changes toabout 120 Leke for one Euro (it is advisable to change a small amount for own expenses to avoid non regular exchange during purchases).

It’s recommended for this visits practical sports shoes.




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