Location: Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea
and Ionian Sea, between Greece and Serbia and Montenegro
Geographic coordinates: 41 00 N, 20 00 E
Map references: Europe
total: 28,748 sq km
land: 27,398 sq km
water: 1,350 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Maryland
total: 720 km
border countries: Greece 282 km, The Former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia 151 km, Serbia and Montenegro 287 km (114 km with Serbia,
173 km with Montenegro)
Coastline: 362 km
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters; hot,
clear, dry summers; interior is cooler and wetter
Terrain: mostly mountains and hills; small plains along
lowest point: Adriatic Sea 0 m
highest point: Maja e Korabit (Golem Korab) 2,753 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium,
copper, timber, nickel, hydropower
arable land: 21%
permanent crops: 5%
permanent pastures: 15%
forests and woodland: 38%
other: 21% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 3,410 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: destructive earthquakes; tsunamis occur
along southwestern coast
Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil erosion;
water pollution from industrial and domestic effluents
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Hazardous Wastes,
Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: strategic location along Strait of Otranto
(links Adriatic Sea to Ionian Sea and Mediterranean Sea)
Size: 28,750 square kilometers (land area 27,400
square kilometers); slightly larger than Maryland.
Location: Southeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea
and the eastern part of the Strait of Otranto, opposite the heel
of the Italian boot; between approximately 40° and 43° north
Topography: A little over 20 percent is coastal
plain, some of it poorly drained. Mostly hills and mountains, often
covered with scrub forest. The only navigable river is the Bunë.
Climate: Mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters
with a January low of 5°C; hot, clear, dry summers with a July
high of 28°C; interior is cooler and wetter.
Boundaries: Land boundaries total 720 kilometers;
borders with Greece 282 kilometers; border with former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia 151 kilometers; border with Serbia 114 kilometers;
border with Montengro 173 kilometers; coastline 362 kilometers.
Data as of April 1992
The 70 percent of the country that is mountainous is rugged and
often inaccessible. The remainder, an alluvial plain, receives precipitation
seasonally, is poorly drained, and is alternately arid or flooded.
Much of the plain's soil is of poor quality. Far from offering a
relief from the difficult interior terrain, the alluvial plain is
often as inhospitable as the mountains. Good soil and dependable
precipitation, however, are found in intermontane river basins,
in the lake district along the eastern frontier, and in a narrow
band of slightly elevated land between the coastal plains and the
interior mountains (see fig.
In the far north, the mountains are an extension of the Dinaric
Alps and, more specifically, the Montenegrin limestone plateau.
Albania's northern mountains are more folded and rugged, however,
than most of the plateau. The rivers have deep valleys with steep
sides and arable valley floors. Generally unnavigable, the rivers
obstruct rather than encourage movement within the alpine region.
Roads are few and poor. Lacking internal communications and external
contacts, a tribal society flourished in this area for centuries.
Only after World War II were serious efforts made to incorporate
the people of the region into Albanian national life. A low coastal
belt extends from the northern boundary southward to the vicinity
of Vlorë. On average, it extends less than sixteen kilometers inland,
but widens to about fifty kilometers in the Elbasan area in central
Albania. In its natural state, the coastal belt is characterized
by low scrub vegetation, varying from barren to dense. There are
large areas of marshlands and other areas of bare, eroded badlands.
Where elevations rise slightly and precipitation is regular--in
the foothills of the central uplands, for example--the land is highly
arable. Marginal land is reclaimed wherever irrigation is possible.
Just east of the lowlands, the central uplands, called Çermenikë
by Albanians, are an area of generally moderate elevations, between
305 and 915 meters, with a few points reaching above 1,520 meters.
Shifting along the faultline that roughly defines the western edge
of the central uplands causes frequent, and occasionally severe,
Although rugged terrain and points of high elevation mark the central
uplands, the first major mountain range inland from the Adriatic
is an area of predominantly serpentine rock (which derives its name
from its dull green color and often spotted appearance), extending
nearly the length of the country, from the North Albanian Alps to
the Greek border south of Korçë. Within this zone, there are many
areas in which sharp limestone and sandstone outcroppings predominate,
although the ranges as a whole are characterized by rounded mountains.
The mountains east of the serpentine zone are the highest in Albania,
exceeding 2,740 meters in the Mal Korab range. Together with the
North Albanian Alps and the serpentine zone, the eastern highlands
are the most rugged and inaccessible of any terrain on the Balkan
The three lakes of easternmost Albania, Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa,
and Prespa e Vogël, are remote and picturesque. Much of the terrain
in their vicinity is not overly steep, and it supports a larger
population than any other inland portion of the country. Albania's
eastern border passes through Lake Ohrid; all but a small tip of
Prespa e Vogël is in Greece; and the point at which the boundaries
of three states meet is in Lake Prespa. Each of the two larger lakes
has a total surface areas of about 260 square kilometers, and Prespa
e Vogël is about one-fifth as large. The surface elevation is about
695 meters for Lake Ohrid and 855 meters for the other two lakes.
The southern mountain ranges are more accessible than the serpentine
zone, the eastern highlands, or the North Albanian Alps. The transition
to the lowlands is less abrupt, and the arable valley floors are
wider. Limestone, the predominant mineral, is responsible for the
cliffs and clear water of the coastline southeast of Vlorë. Erosion
of a blend of softer rocks has provided the sediment that has caused
wider valleys to form in the southern mountain area than those characteristic
of the remainder of the country. This terrain encouraged the development
of larger landholding, thus influencing the social structure of
Data as of April 1992
With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands
backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country
lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during
the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic
regions for so small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically
Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental
climate. In both the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies
markedly from north to south.
The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7° C. Summer
temperatures average 24° C, humidity is high, and the weather
tends to be oppressively uncomfortable. In the southern lowlands,
temperatures average about five degrees higher throughout the year.
The difference is greater than five degrees during the summer and
somewhat less during the winter.
Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation
than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in
the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates
the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly
winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower
than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but
daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in
the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights
are almost always cool.
Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of
the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental
air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain
rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical
currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause
frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by
high local winds and torrential downpours.
When the continental air mass is weak, Mediterranean winds drop
their moisture farther inland. When there is a dominant continental
air mass, cold air spills onto the lowland areas, which occurs most
frequently in the winter. Because the season's lower temperatures
damage olive trees and citrus fruits, groves and orchards are restricted
to sheltered places with southern and western exposures, even in
areas with high average winter temperatures.
Lowland rainfall averages from 1,000 millimeters to more than 1,500
millimeters annually, with the higher levels in the north. Nearly
95 percent of the rain falls in the winter.
Rainfall in the upland mountain ranges is heavier. Adequate records
are not available, and estimates vary widely, but annual averages
are probably about 1,800 millimeters and are as high as 2,550 millimeters
in some northern areas. The seasonal variation is not quite as great
in the coastal area.
The higher inland mountains receive less precipitation then the
intermediate uplands. Terrain differences cause wide local variations,
but the seasonal distribution is the most consistent of any area.
Data as of April 1992
Albania, with a total area of 28,750 square kilometers, is slightly
larger than the state of Maryland. It shares a 287- kilometer border
with the Yugoslav republics of Montenegro and Serbia to the north,
a 151-kilometer border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
to the north and east, and a 282- kilometer border with Greece to
the south and southeast. Its coastline is 362 kilometers long. The
lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea and the strategically
important Strait of Otranto, which puts less than 100 kilometers
of water between Albania and the heel of the Italian "boot."
The distinct ethnic character of the Albanian people and their
isolation within a generally definable area underscored their demands
for independence in the early twentieth century. In some places,
however, the mingling of different ethnic groups complicated the
determination of national borders. Kosovo, across the northeastern
Albanian border, was a Serbian-governed province, although ethnic
Albanians made up over 90 percent of its population. Many Albanians
still regarded Kosovo's status as an issue. Greeks and Albanians
lived in the mountains on both sides of the southeastern Albanian
boundary. Neither Greece nor Albania was satisfied with the division
of nations effected by their common border.
With the exception of the coastline, all Albanian borders are artificial.
They were established in principle at the 1912-13 conference of
ambassadors in London. The country was occupied by Italian, Serbian,
Greek, and French forces during World War I, but the 1913 boundaries
were essentially reaffirmed by the victorious states in 1921. The
original principle was to define the borders in accordance with
the best interests of the Albanian people and the nationalities
in adjacent areas. The northern and eastern borders were intended,
insofar as possible, to separate the Albanians from the Serbs and
Montenegrins; the southeast border was to separate Albanians and
Greeks; the valuable western Macedonia lake district was to be divided
among the three states- -Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia--whose
populations shared the area. When there was no compromise involving
other factors, borderlines were chosen to make the best possible
separation of national groups, connecting the best marked physical
Allowance was made for local economic situations, for example,
to prevent separation of a village from its animals' grazing areas
or the markets for its produce. Political pressures also were a
factor in the negotiations, but the outcome was subject to approval
by powers having relatively abstract interests, most of which involved
the balance of power rather than specific economic ambitions.
Division of the lake district among three states required that
each of them have a share of the lowlands in the vicinity. Such
an artificial distribution, once made, necessarily affected the
borderlines to the north and south. The border that runs generally
north from the lakes, although it follows the ridges of the eastern
highlands, stays sixteen to thirty-two kilometers west of the watershed
divide. Because negotiators at the London conference declined to
use the watershed divide as the northeast boundary of the new state
of Albania, a large Albanian population in Kosovo was incorporated
In Albania's far north and the northeast mountainous sections,
the border connects high points and follows mountain ridges through
the largely inaccessible North Albanian Alps, known locally as Bjeshkët
e Namuna. For the most part, there is no natural boundary from the
highlands to the Adriatic, although Lake Scutari and a portion of
the Bunë River south of it were used to mark Albania's northwest
border. From the lake district south and southwest to the Ionian
Sea, the country's southeast border goes against the grain of the
land, crossing a number of ridges instead of following them.
Data as of April 1992