President: Bujar Nishani (2011)
Prime Minister: Edi Rama (2013)
Land area: 10,579 sq mi (27,400 sq km); total area: 11,100 sq mi (28,748 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 3,020,209 (growth rate: 0.3%); birth rate: 12.73/1000; infant mortality rate: 13.19/1000; life expectancy: 77.96; density per sq mi: 272
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Tirana, 419,000
Other large cities: Durres, 113,900; Elbasan, 97,000
Monetary unit: Lek
Albania is situated on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, with Montenegro and Serbia to the north, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south. Slightly larger than Maryland, Albania is composed of two major regions: a mountainous highland region (north, east, and south) constituting 70% of the land area, and a western coastal lowland region that contains nearly all of the country's agricultural land and is the most densely populated part of Albania.
A part of Illyria in ancient times and later of the Roman Empire, Albania was ruled by the Byzantine Empire from 535 to 1204. An alliance (1444–1466) of Albanian chiefs failed to halt the advance of the Ottoman Turks, and the country remained under at least nominal Turkish rule for more than four centuries, until it proclaimed its independence on Nov. 28, 1912.
Largely agricultural, Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. A battlefield in World War I, after the war it became a republic in which a conservative Muslim landlord, Ahmed Zogu, proclaimed himself president in 1925 and king (Zog I) in 1928. He ruled until Italy annexed Albania in 1939. Communist guerrillas under Enver Hoxha seized power in 1944, near the end of World War II. Hoxha was a devotee of Stalin, emulating the Soviet leader's repressive tactics, imprisoning or executing landowners and others who did not conform to the socialist ideal. Hoxha eventually broke with Soviet communism in 1961 because of differences with Khrushchev and then aligned himself with Chinese communism, which he also abandoned in 1978 after the death of Mao. From then on Albania went its own way to forge its individual version of the socialist state and became one of the most isolated—and economically underdeveloped—countries in the world. Hoxha was succeeded by Ramiz Alia in 1982.