One of the goals for our trip to Albania and Greece was to encourage students to think comparatively about the two countries. Leaving aside the current economic crisis, Greece often evokes positive images–mountains, sea, and plain; blue skies, blue seas; democracy and theaters and philosophers; ancient ruins in a scenic landscape; Mama Mia and Traveling Pants and Zorba. Albania, by contrast, produces few comparable mental images. The lack of images for Albania in contrast with the numerous images of Greece is especially striking in light of the two countries’ common history (Greek poleis, Roman and Byzantine provinces, Ottoman era, etc..), geography, and culture. One of the rewarding things about leading this trip was seeing students with almost no knowledge of Albania before the trip describe the country as one of Europe’s “hidden treasures.”
One of the profound differences that I noticed (as an historian and archaeologist) was how differently Albania and Greece projected their pasts in the present. In Albania, Skanderbeg, the 15th century national hero, is the real focal point in the past. We saw his image frequently on postcards, in statues, and signs. The ancient Illyrians made a weak showing at archaeological sites and museums but not to the same degree as Skanderbeg (shown below).
In Greece, by contrast, archaeological remains and classical antiquity are constantly imaged and marketed for the visitor. The difference was striking even in the Corinthia. Some examples.
The fast food restaurant known as Goody’s has collected (at its Isthmus location) images of the diolkos and canal. Here one of our students visits the posters after enjoying a delicious value meal:
The Temple of Apollo is an icon of ancient Corinth, projected throughout the tavernas and stores of the village.
I love that there is a “diolkos” cafe in Ancient Corinth! How fun it was to drink espresso and use the internet at the diolkos!