As my time in Rome draws to a close, I realized that I had not visited many of the areas that were once part of the Roman Empire, especially those that were once behind the Iron Curtain. Back in August, I decided to make it the “Fall of the Iron Curtain” and draw back the curtain from the top in Estonia down to Albania. I did not succeed.
If you are a map geek like I am, try looking at Vox’s active map as it shows the rise and fall of the Roman empire. Rome was vast and when I did visit parts of the former Roman empire, I did in a plane ride what would have taken a Roman more than 20 days. That was in modern day Albania. In Roman times, modern day Albania was known as Illyria or Epirus, on the coast of Dalmatia and Macedonia. It was very Greek. One can visit Greek temples in Albania, and it seems like someone invested a lot of money on roads in the area around them.
One of the reasons why I visited Malta was a curiosity to see the influences of the Roman world. In modern times, it can be hard to recall that the Romans looked up to the Greek empire as an ideal. But, in places like Sicily which was part of Greece (Magna Greca) for hundreds of years, one can see the Greek influence in Italy. Italy has only been a unified country for 150 years. The Roman empire lasted about 900 years.
In places like Tirana, the modern capital of Albania, it is hard to see traces of the Roman empire. Except perhaps in the faces. In Montenegro, it seemed quick obvious that it was once a Roman area.
The town of Budva looks much like towns in certain parts of Italy. In contrast, the people are giants compared to Italians.
But, back to Albania. The people there were not giants. The contrasts of rich and poor were quite apparent in Tirana. There were many non-touristy things about Tirana. But, if one escapes to the sea, then one can see why it is compared to northern Greece. Another odd thing I noticed were the men wearing headbands. Then I realized that they had hair implants. I guess this surgery is very cheap over here. The food was good in Albania. Fresh seafood and surprisingly good sushi. The most striking thing about Albania is that Mother Theresa was from there.
In terms of tourism, Albania has the potential, with Greek temples, good beaches, cheap bus and taxi options from the airport, and some English speakers. BUT, 90 percent of Albanians smoke. This will keep the tourists away.
In conclusion, I did not make it to all 20 (or so) iron curtain countries. Looking at the map, I realize that I have already been to many of the far edges of the Roman empire. More from my adventures next time.