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Byline: Ali Raza Soomro and Brunilda Basha


During the centralization of the Turkish Empire had reached its peak in fifteen and sixteen (XV-XVI) centuries Ottoman art in Albania was very similar of that in Skopje or Edirne. On the other hand in the seventeenth (XVII) century when the influence of the central Ottoman government slowly declined; the local contribution to Islamic buildings in Albania gradually increased. In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth (XVIII-XIX) century the blending of Ottoman elements reached its peak with the appearance of a particular style of Albanian-Islamic Architecture. This style presents a synthesis of religious and secular elements such as ottoman local and western.

The fusion of these features seemingly heterogeneous reflects indeed the country of Albania in history as a connecting route of the East and West. These recent works as named by Machiel Kiel (2011) [16] are the products of the "Golden century of Islamic culture in Albania". This time is considered as the "golden age" in terms of architectural development in Albania.

This paper attempts to unfold how Islam was spread in region of Albania and how the religious buildings adapted the Islamic elements breathing harmoniously with the local architectural elements. In this regard the case study of Et'hem Beu Mosque of Tirana has been conducted to unfold the facts of a relationship of local Islamic features and European architecture through literature review on Islam in Albania detailed description on Mosque background history and its architectural implication has been presented. Eventually this study will promote the evolution of Islamic architecture in Albania and its significance in Albanian architectural development.

Keywords: Mosque Islamic Architecture Ottoman Art Muslim Community Islamization


Albania is a small mountainous region located on the southwestern edge of the Balkan Peninsula comparable in size to Maryland. It lies next to the Adriatic Sea and the Strait of Otranto that connects the Adriatic with the Ionian Sea. More than two thirds of Albania's landscape consists of mountains broken up by river valleys. Such terrain has contributed to the relative isolation of many Albanian communities. (Walbank Frank W 2001) [29] Albania has experienced considerable violence and competition for control throughout its history. Greeks Romans Venetians and Ottomans swept through leaving their cultural mark as well as their ruins. Yet at the same time

Albania is one of the most culturally distinct countries of the Balkans. The Albanian language believed to be derived from ancient Illyrian is distinct from any other Indo-European language. ( 2010) [23]

The Ottoman Turks under their leader Osman I emerged during the 14th century from a small ghazi emirate one of several such states in Anatolia during that time. Albania remained part of the Ottoman domain for over four centuries. During this time a majority of the population converted to Islam. Albania became a nation in 1912 after spending many centuries as spoils of various empires. The modern Albanian state was carved out of the Ottoman Empire with the new country's borders based on the regions where many (but far from all) Albanian speakers live (Draper Stark 1997) [9]. After World War II Albania was a communist nation for over 40 years led by Enver Hoxha. Communist rule ended during the early 1990s and since then the nation has traveled a bumpy road to have a democracy with a market-based economy. Today despite decades of secularism Albania is considered a predominantly Muslim country (Vokshi M.2008) [28].

Referring to the architectural development Albania is very prosperous in styles and external influences making its architecture very diverse in different times. The oldest architectural monuments in Albania date from the 1st millennium BC and were constructed by the Illyrians. From the middle of the 1st millennium BC through the middle of the 1st millennium AD the Greeks and Romans who occupied Albania built structures still visible in urban and rural landscapes. In the middle Ages Christian religious architecture emerged in Albania's Christian north while Islamic and Turkish-style architecture emerged in the south.

The Islamic Architectural objects are similar to the Turkish models creating a local physiognomy. The most complex of all is the Lead Mosque in Shkodra built in 1773 1774 by Mustafa Pasha Bushati. The Central volume covered with triangular roofs sitting in the corner the presence of the portico the three consecutive windows are the main characteristics of this mosque. The development of the mosque from its early time indicates the changing roles throughout history. Much of the styles in mosque architecture can be seen to be affected by the use and perceptions of the religious significance of this typology.

In this regard a research attempt has been made with the help of research endowment fund (Type B) sponsored by Research Management Centre IIUM Jalan Gombak 53100 Kuala Lumpur. The research methodology used for this research consists of several methods. The related literature is reviewed to reach the research hypothesis. The observation process has been examined physically to be on site. The case study on Et'hem Beu Mosque of Tirana Albania has been conducted in order to understand not only the role of this mosque to the development of the city but to indicate the architectural elements and their significance in Islamic Architecture. All the data are documented in photographic and video record evidences.

2.Islam in Albania

The first contacts of Albanians to Islam are proven to be relatively early in the medieval centuries. Due to Albanian geographical position it is densely frequented by Turkish and Arab missionaries whether for commercial religious or military purposes. (Zekaj R. 1997) [30] The major Muslim Community of Albania is with Sunni sect. Albanian Muslims in general are deemed to be legitimated" one by the state and other by the international community. The 2009 survey carried out by a Tirana newspaper and citing Muslim Community officials revealed that at present Albania have 568 Sunni mosques as well as 70 Bektashi tekkes (lodges) and mausoleums. The number constructed solely since the end of the Cold War however was not delineated.

The first Muslim religious object was established in 1389 at Berat in the style of Seljuk's. Albania's history after the fall of the Ottoman Empire has seen many unending inquisitions and crusades. In different times of its modern history the Muslim population has especially suffered many persecutions. The worst persecution of Albanian Muslims came in 1967 when its communist regime decided to abolish any religious freedom in the country. During the decades of communist horrors which lasted until 1991 many Albanian Imams (Hojas) and Dervishes were assassinated imprisoned or exiled by the regime. Their temples demolished and religious literature banned and destroyed. The communist state sponsored propaganda and ideology which developed in Albania during the years of communism had its main scope of de-Islamization of Albanians.

With the advent of democracy after 1990 in Eastern Europe the religious freedoms were constituted back in Albania. Albanians were allowed to re-practice their religions again. This made its Muslims feel that they could recover their lost identity. Today's Islamist stirrings in Albania are parallel to similar developments in other Balkan countries. Such states are characterized by their indigenous Muslim populations their transition from former autocratic socialist or communist governments and by their recent experience of foreign Islamist forces attempting to educate local Muslims build mosques provided public services and made investments and so on. The mosque has been the most important places for most of the Muslim communities to represent their collective political economical and cultural developments of the Muslims in Albania.

3.Evolution of Islamic architecture in Albania

With the advent of Islam as a religion Islamic architecture was developed in parallel with the events during that time. When we say Islamic architecture we refer not only mosques but to a range of types of buildings like schools libraries mosques castles etc. In Albania Islamic architecture is mainly influenced by that of the Ottoman Empire. Islamic Architecture in Albania includes mosques masjids plazas (namazgjatA) madrassas guest house shrines and many other building typologies. The first connections of Albanians to Islam and their tracks are proved relatively early. In the medieval centuries pre ottoman Albanian lands due to their geographical position are densely frequented by missionaries from the Turkish-Arab Islamic world whether for commercial religious or military purposes.

The beginnings of Islamic architecture in Albania started mainly with the castle. For example in the very fortress of Berat is the first mosque built in 1389. Another mosque inside the castle is Fetiyye Mosque built in 1417.

The mosques of Fatih Mehmet II located in the castle are simple as they were originally designed for garrisons. But Islamic monumental art in Albania begins in the second period of Bajaziti. The reason why this time is significant is based on the fact that during this time Bajaziti II or Holy Bajaziti put peace among the West and Venice so that trade began to move again. He ordered the people to emerge from the castle and they deployed in the city by building what are called Varos. Varoshi is just outside the castle neighborhood and within each Varoshi by religion had the mosque or church. So for example kullien Berat first descending from the castle made an effort to construct a mosque Bajaziti" that has a roof a portico with columns near this small mosque is a Madrasah that has a guest house which was broken long before. According to Sulejman Dashi professor architect and restorator the product of Islamic art as a mosque masjid madrasah or churches monasteries and buildings

that are found in all parts of the Balkans are historically inhabited by Albanians during flow due to the long history within and outside the artificial boundaries have influences as a product of a truly national art. This is because the geographic position of Albania on the borders of both western and eastern civilizations were allowed to use all the discoveries of contemporary building technology.

The Ottoman Turkish traveler Evliya Celebi writes that when he moved to Albania cities like Berat Gjirokastra Shkodra were skilfully divided and every town had its own domestic architecture. This is also seen in the mosques in cities like Tirana. Another element which is very unique in Islamic architecture in Albania making it different from other Balkan countries or other centers of the Ottoman Empire is the clock tower which stands shoulder to shoulder to the most of the centre Mosques. The presence of the clock tower was as a regulator for the city for hours for the prayer time etc. The first clock tower built during the Ottoman Empire was in 1555 while Elbasan and Berat had already. Clock towers have been in Shkodra Peqin Elbasan Berat Kavaja Tirana Libohove and Gjirokastra.

This is a feature on many buildings since Albania had diplomatic relationship with western cities where clock towers were erected to show the importance of time and pedantic to move from west to east and vice versa.

The first Muslim religious object is established in 1389 in Berat in the style of Seljuk's. Another early mosque is the Ilias Mirahori Mosque in the town of Korce built in 1494 after the Ottomans had gained control of the whole country. One of the most celebrated mosques in Albania is at Kruje 20 km north of the capital Tirane. The mosque located in the grounds of Skanderberg's castle was built in 1779 and has wooden ceilings painted to look like a dome set on squinches. Another famous building is the Peqin Mosque built in 1822 which incorporates a clock towel into the design of the minaret. (P. Ward 1992) According to Hysa 2008 the Ottoman stile of mosques' building is dominant due to Albania's having experienced the Ottoman rule for about 500 years but it has taken also many features from the local constructors who adopted the mosque building to the requirements of time and place. This can be easily noticed at the architecture of those few mosques inherited in the official

Albania from the Ottoman Empire such as Ethem Bey mosque in the capital city the Mbret (King) mosque in Elbasan the mosque e BeqarAve" (of Singles) and the one of Plumbi (Lead) in Berat Muradiye mosque in Vlora Mirahori mosque in Korca etc.

The mosques in Albania are of two types; the monumental style where the distinct volumes were in harmonious balances to one another. The classical Ottoman type derived from Byzantine architecture based on a square domed area with a triple-domed portico and thin minaret near the entrance.

The second one was the rectangular mosque with traditional roof and with wooden painted ceilings which are typical of the Balkans. In choosing the model appears to influence the preference for internal decoration where the art of painting find more places in the mosques with domes while the timber carving was more suitable to the timber ceilings.

Later on the designers began to approach architecture housing indigenous folk. This is noticed in arcades extensive hangers decor exterior colors etc. In Tirana Islamic shrines was put a great asset structural decoration figuring in floral with painted landscapes and engravings in the columns arcades capitals ceilings. All these ornaments are very close with architectural motifs of vernacular architecture. Some of floral motives can be seen to Et'hem Beu mosque in Tirana that will be further explained below.

Relying to a balance-sheet it can be remarked that there were 1127 mosques in the whole country but starting from 1945 their territories or buildings get transformed to another use as it was the case of the mosques e TabakAve" Dine Hoxha" and Kokonozi" while the others were demolished or in places of mosques were built schools parks or blocks of apartments. (Hysa 2008) [13]

During this time the mosques became stables for cows and the churches became gymnasium for volleyball. Thus during 1945-67 there was the liquidation of mosques and their destination changed. Only after 23 years of obliteration democracy was established in the entire country and the city-planning principles changed. Soon after this the reopening of the mosques has been started and demolishing process has been stoped.

4. Et'hem Beu Mosque

4.1 Mosque background

The Et'hem Beu Mosque (fig.12) is the oldest building in the city of Tirana. The founder of the mosque Molla Bey was a feudal from Petrela. He was nephew of Suleiman Pasha. There is likely that mosque begun the construction in 1793 during the reign of Selim III. Molla Bey died in 1808. His son Haji Ethem Bey ended the mosque construction in 1238 H (1822/23) as written in the words of the porch. (Kiel M.2011) [16]. It also contains the date of death of Molla Bey. Et'hem Bey and his wife Ballkize are buried in tombs carved with marble located outside porch near mosque entry on both sides. Both tombs were very well preserved until 1967.

In early '70s the grave stones were taken in a museum warehouse. During the totalitarianism of the Socialist People's Republic of Albania the mosque was closed. On January 18 1991 despite opposition from communist authorities 10000 Muslims entered carrying flags. This was at the onset of the fall of communism in Albania.

The mosque is located in Skanderbeg Square in the city center. Along with the clock tower and modern Cultural palace it is a major landmark of architectural significance in Tirana. It is surrounded by important and momentous buildings such as National Historical Museum Culture and Art Centre Skanderbeg Square and at its back are located the municipality of Tirana. The Clock Tower is located 20 meters on the left of the mosque at its south-eastern side. (A.Hysa 2008) [13]

4.2.1 Space planning analysis of Et'hem Beu mosque

The mosque consist of common prayer room which is domed (10.5 m2) and a wide open hall in front of main prayer room which has a flat ceiling and a wooden roof covered with tiles while on the right side a very long and thin minarets. The mosque design is very simple with a rectangular plan with dimensions of 17.50 x 15.00 m and with a general surface of about 260 m2. There are three main prayer halls. Two are for male worshiper and one for female. The male area is located at ground floor and the porch (verandah) while the female area is located at upper level.

The main male prayer hall has a quadratic plan with the inner leg in the dimension of 7.75 meters wide. Above main prayer hall there is an octagonal tumbler on top of it is a blind cupola with a diameter of about 8 meters covered with a lead material. The internal environment is illuminated by some small window openings in two rows. From inside the dome and flat ceiling is painted harmoniously.

The second prayer hall for male is the porch or verandah. It is located inside the mosque itself. It is in L shape and leads to the main prayer hall.

To ascend there from the prayer hall through a small door there is a stair with ninety helicoidally steps in triangular form spiraled on a perpendicular axle. The prayer hall belonging to the ladies can be reached through the same stairs. The female prayer hall is a small area and it can handle only a one row (saff) (fig.20). It is located as a mezzanine floor in the main hall. It contains book shelve and the floor is carpeted.

Entrance to the ablution area and toilets is located in underground leaded by the stairs that are located next to the main entrance

At the main entrance outside the mosque two graves are located. The first one is the grave of Et'hem Beu: who was the son of Molla Bey the founder of this mosque. The grave is situated on the left of the main entrance of the mosque and it is damaged (fig.26). The second grave is the Balkiza's grave: the wife of Et'hem Bey. This grave is in better condition comparing to the one of her husband. It is located at the right side of the main entrance door opposite to the grave of Et'hem Beu (fig.22).

Et'hem Beu Mosque Architectural features

The mosque is not the work of a single period of construction. The story of its construction is described in two long inscriptions. The oldest part of the building is the domed hall of prayer constructed in 1208 H (1793/94). Three decade latter the external portico was built. The portico shows a relatively long corridor asymmetric toward the axle of the hall and toward the plan itself.

The whole frontage of the mosque is composed of fifteen 15 complete arches re-enforced by high stone columns 2.90 m each with the same diameter stylized and with various capitals at a height of 0.60 m and a base of 0.45 m profiled and sustained on a roof of wood. Among these arcades four of them are to be found on the northern frontage other seven on the eastern frontage and the last three on the western one.

FloorFloor system is made of reinforced concrete slab. The floor is raised from the ground level around 1 meter. In the internal spaces the floor is made of plain concrete covered with carpet while the external staircases are finishes with marble tiles in irregular shapes respectively the basement floor. Toilet floor is finished with porcelain tiles 0.3m x0.3 m each in white colour.

WallFrom the case study it is understood that the wall system used for this mosque is double block system. The block are placed in layer connect with mortar. Internal walls are quite thick providing a recess at the sill height of each window for the books or even one can sit while you are reading Quran or waiting for Adhan to be called. About 2.5 meter from the ground floor the walls are plastered and whitewashed and from that on wards it is all painted with floral motives from artists of that time. External walls are constructed from the main material (concrete blocks) but the finishes varies from simple plastering to some part and veneering of the blocks is exposed especially at the corners as seen from the photos taken during case study.

Roof and ceilingThe roof is the main element that gave the Albanian identity to the mosque and if it was not for the minaret it will have no distinction from the other buildings. It is constructed with clay tiles in pitch form. It covers the porch of the mosque while aabove the main prayer hall it is an octangular tumbler with a blind cupola with a diameter of about 8 meters covered with a lead. The

StairsThe external staircases are made of concrete and covered with marble tiles in regular form. There are 4 steps in half sphere shape leading to the main mosque entrance. The stairs leading to the female praying area are a narrow path with a circular stairs that can be used by one person at the time. Stairs are made of concrete and no finishes are used. The riser is very high and gives difficulties to the users. At the same time there is no hand rail for old people to hold. This stairs are used to reach to the minaret also.

Openings consist of doors and windows. The mosques consist of three main doors. The first one located to main entrance of the mosque portico is a brown colour double leaf wooden door with a rectangular frame around it. The second entrance is the one leading the main prayer hall in the inside part of the mosque; is a wooden frame door with glass panels. On top of the door the wall is decorated with floral paintings. The third one is inside the male prayer hall single leaf with a light arch bended on top leading to the female area.

There are small windows located in various heights in two rows of the mosque. The smaller one are located to the inner walls of the mosque while the bigger one with arch on top surrounding the portico from three sides.


The whole minaret has been built with calcareous stones engraved on their inner and outer sides. It has a general height of 33.44 m and an inner diameter of about 1.40 m. The minaret has the form of an orbicular column with a diameter that getting smaller with the increasing of the height. On its outer side it is lined into 15 parts similar to the Doric columns. The rotund balcony is decorated and is sustained decently getting out somehow in the form of a console. To ascend there from the prayers hall through a small door there are in total 90 helicoidally steps of stair in triangular form sustained on a perpendicular axle located in the midst of the body. The handrail inside along the stair is made of timber

The WellThe water is an important element for the life of the individual in the Muslim community. It is not only a life-giving object but also a very important unit to keep the necessary cleanness and hygiene. Exactly for these reasons in Tirana there were wells at every mosque or Central Square. There was no exception for the Et'hem Beu Mosque. The well is located at the side of the mosque constructed with stones in cylindrical form with a diameter 1 meter. Currently its function is only symbolic and no more water is drawn from it.

Decoration and ornamentationThe walls ceiling and the cupola are depicted with motifs of red and green plants and flowers in the inside and outside of the mosque. The style of these motifs is quite common but the panorama as a whole is very beautiful. Inside the prayer hall is treated with a special approach. The entire surface of the walls and the dome is covered with ornamental motifs which are well preserved and are not found in any other country. Background has a light colour in gray opposing very harmoniously to red-brown and green colour found in the paintings. In-tricate drawings of flowers mixed with paintings of fantastic cities and beautiful mosques create a very similar outlook to those seen in old buildings in Turkey Macedonia and Bulgaria. The mihrab stands in front of the main prayer hall made of timber in dark brown colour and wood railings for the stairs. Other decorations and furniture such as paintings frames clock railings etc. are all made by wood and they are placed around the mosque.


In conclusion it can be said Et'hem Beu Mosque is the best typical example of an Albanian Islamic architecture. It is a testimony of the classical period in which the buildings were small in size but constructed with a clean style that witness the great influences of Ottoman Empire civilization and the ability of the designers to merge this style with the local style and construction methods. Thus the combination of the prayer halls with their large and spacious porches with many columns surrounded by the slender minaret on one side and a high clock tower on the other side is seen as a distinctive Albanian original idea. This combination of religious and secular elements including elements of Ottoman local and western have also shaped the main part of the bazaar and the true core of each of Albanian cities. Combining these elements seemingly and heterogeneously reflects indeed the country of Albania in history as a connecting route of the East and West.

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Date:Sep 30, 2014

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