Albania is a small country of 3.2 million people in South East Europe. The official and most widely spoken language of the country is Albanian, a blend of two main dialects Gheg and Tosk. 70% of Albanians are Muslim, with the remaining 20% and 10% divided between Albanian Orthodox and Roman Catholic, respectively. In 1967, all churches and mosques in the country where closed and religious practice was banned, until 1990, when priviate religious practice was once again allowed.
There are two main cultural groups of Albanians, divided geographically by the Shkumbin River: the Ghegs from the North, and the Southern Albanians, or Tosks. The first known peoples to inhabit Albania were the Illyrians, a group of tribes that lived in the western Balkans since the 2nd millennium BC. By the 7th century BC, Greek colonies had been established, then incorporated and Christianized the Roman and then Byzantine Empires, then, with the take over of the Ottoman Empire, Albanians adopted Islam. It is possible to experience colorful traditions, food, people and music in the culture of The Republic of Albania.
The Ottoman Empire also had a strong artistic influence on Albanian art, as mosaics and murals were the main national art forms up until the country's liberation in 1912. After liberation, and due to the country's persistent isolation from Western Europe, Albanian art took on a highly nationalistic and patriotic tone, depicting the country's historical events and national icons, for example, the sculpture of Albania's national hero, Skanderbeg (a 15th century Albanian lord who, for more than two decades, protected his land from the Ottoman Empire).
There are thee main groupings of Albanian folk music: that of the Ghegs from the north, and the Labs and Tosks from the south. In general, music from the north can be characteristized by its rough and rugged tone, while music from the south is softer, more melodic. Despite the differing styles, all Albanian folk music functions as type of oral history, carrying on ancient cultural narratives, through song styles such as: heroic epics, lullabies, work songs, love songs and wedding music.
Albanians are incredibly hospitable, and serve guests copious amounts of food, irregardless of their wealth or poverty. Lunch is the major daily meal, which typically consists of a main dish of slowly cooked meat (gjelle) and vegetable dish, with a salad of fresh vegetables such as: tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olives, with an olive oil, vinegar and salt dressing. Costal areas enjoy seafood dishes, while in the more mountainous regions, smoked meat and pickling is typical. Raki is a traditional Albanian alcoholic drink made from distilled and fermented fruit, typically grapes.