Albania, officially the Republic of Albania (Republika e Shqipėrisė), is located in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula on the Strait of Otranto, the southern entrance to the Adriatic Sea. It encompasses an area of 11,100 square miles (28,748 square kilometres), with a maximum length from north to south of about 210 miles (340 kilometres) and a maximum width of about 95 miles. It is bounded to the northwest by Montenegro, to the northeast by the Kosovo region of Serbia, to the east by Macedonia, and to the southeast and south by Greece. To the west and southwest, Albania is bordered by the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Albania's immediate western neighbour, Italy, lies some 50 miles across the Adriatic. The capital city is Tiranė.

Albanians refer to themselves as shqiptarė, meaning "sons of eagles," and to their country as Shqipėria. Descended from the ancient Illyrians, they have lived in relative isolation and obscurity through most of their difficult history, in part because of the rugged terrain of their mountainous land but also because of a complex of historical, cultural, and social factors. Owing to its location on the Adriatic Sea, Albania has long served as a bridgehead for various nations and empires seeking conquest abroad. In the 2nd century BC the Illyrians were conquered by the Romans, and from the end of the 4th century AD they were ruled by the Byzantine Empire. After suffering centuries of invasion by Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars, and Slavs, the Albanians were finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. Turkish rule cut off Albania from Western civilization for more than four centuries, but in the late 19th century the country began to remove itself from Ottoman Orientalism and to rediscover old affinities and common interests with the West. Albania was declared independent in 1912, but the following year the demarcation of the boundaries of the new country by the Great Powers of Europe assigned about half its territory and people to neighbouring states. Ruled as a monarchy between the world wars, Albania emerged from the violence of World War II as a communist state that fiercely protected its sovereignty and in which almost all aspects of life were controlled by the ruling party. But with the collapse of other communist regimes beginning in 1989, new social forces and democratic political parties emerged in Albania. This shift reflected the country's continuing orientation toward the West, and it accorded with the Albanian people's long-standing appreciation of Western technology and cultural achievements--even while retaining their own ethnic identity, cultural heritage, and individuality.

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