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Albania was first settled by the Illyrian people around 2000 BC. The Illyrians were conquered by the Roman Empire in 165 BC, and Albania was then controlled by a succession of foreign regimes for nearly all of its history, up until the mid-20th century.
Rome ruled the area until the empire’s fracture in the fifth century AD, at which time the Byzantine Empire established control over what is now present-day Albania. The Byzantine administrative system of military provinces contributed to the eventual rise of feudalism in Albania, as soldiers who served military lords later became serfs on their estates. As the empire’s power waned, the area suffered from three centuries of devastating raids from invading tribes, ranging from the Germanic Goths to the Asiatic Huns. These attacks destroyed or weakened the land’s remaining Roman and Byzantine cultural centers, leaving ruins in their stead.
The Albanian territory then passed through the control of the Bulgarian and Serbian empires before finally becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in 1385. During this time, much of the population converted to the Islam in order to take advantage of access to Ottoman trade networks, bureaucratic positions, and places in the army. Many Albanians who chose not to convert or submit to the Ottomans emigrated to Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Turkey, a diaspora that would be repeated during the turbulent post-communist years of the 1990s. The Albanian people chafed against Ottoman rule and briefly wrested control from the empire during a 1443-1478 revolt led by Albania's national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeg. But the Ottomans eventually reasserted their dominance and ruled Albania for the next five centuries.
In the early 20th century, the weakened Ottoman Empire was no longer able to suppress Albanian nationalism; the country declared its independence in 1912. The state was then annexed by fascist Italy during World War II. After the collapse of the Axis powers, Albania became a communist state, ruled with an iron fist by Enver Hoxha for four decades.
The communist regime collapsed in 1990, and the Republic of Albania was founded the following year. The Communist Party was routed in the elections of March 1992, amid economic collapse and social unrest. Following further periods of social and economic upheaval in the 1990s, the Albanian political landscape settled, with the country joining NATO in 2009 and currently applying to join the European Union. Today Albania is a parliamentary democracy, and a new influx of travelers are re-discovering its beautiful scenery and helping to boost its resurgent economy.