As a geographical and cultural entity, and as a nation, Albania has often been enigmatic and somewhat misunderstood. In the eighteenth century, English historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) described it as "a land within sight of Italy and less known than the interior of America."
The present collection of texts endeavours to throw light on this corner of Europe, which is often ignored by historians and scholars. This website is not designed as a history of Albania or of the Albanians, but is simply a compilation of historical texts - some important and some less important - from the eleventh to the twenty-first centuries, which will add to an understanding of the history and development of Albania and its people. Many of these works have never appeared before in translation.
The Albanian people were originally a small herding community in the mountainous terrain of the southwestern Balkans. They were nomadic tribes in the interior of the country who seem only rarely to have ventured down onto the marshy and mosquito-infected coastline of the Adriatic. As such, they long went unnoticed, and their early history is thus shrouded in mist. Much has been written and speculated about their origins, in particular by the Albanians themselves who are passionately interested in tracing their roots and in establishing their autochthony in the Balkans. Unfortunately, we possess no substantial documents from the first millennium AD which could help us trace the Albanians further back into history. Although the situation improves dramatically in the course of the second millennium, one might nonetheless assert that there is a dearth of information on the Albanians which lasts all the way up to the late nineteenth century.
The documents provided on this website bring together texts focussing not only on the emergence of the Albanians as a people, i.e. early references to them, but also subsequent texts providing a broader view of the history and geography of Albania, and, in particular, of the life of the Albanians over the centuries. These included reports of travellers and chroniclers, many of whom offer fascinating, first-hand glimpses of what they experienced during their travels in the country.
It is to be hoped that the present collection of historical texts will provide food for thought as well as a stimulus for further research into the history and development of Albania and the southern Balkans.
It has often been said that an understanding of the past provides a key to an understanding of the present. This seems to be particularly true of the Balkans.