There may have been settlements of Jews in the northern region of Albania since early Roman times. During the Communist period, Albanian archeologists discovered the remains of a 5th- or 6th-century synagogue at Saranda on the coast, opposite the Greek island of Corfu; it was excavated in 2003 by a joint team from the Archaeology Institute of the Albanian Academy of Sciences and the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology.
Documentary or physical evidence of Jews in Albania is sparse for the medieval period, but Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th century Spanish Jewish traveller and writer, states that Jews were settled in the region in his time. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Jewish exiles settled in Albanian seaports, where they were joined by refugees from other areas. Trading communities developed at Berat, Durazzo, Elbassan, and Valona. As elsewhere in the Sephardi diaspora, synagogues were founded by Jews from Castile, Catalonia, Sicily, Portugal and Apulia in southern Italy — but none of the sites of these synagogues is known today.
Albania was ruled by the Ottoman empire from 1478 to 1913. After 1850, Jews again came from Greece, establishing a community at Vlora. After World War I there were only about 200 Jews in the entire country, mostly in Koritsa (Korçë), capital city of the district of the same name.
By the beginning of World War II, an influx of refugees had expanded the Albanian Jewish community to about 600. With little history of anti-Semitism, many were kept hidden by locals. Most Albanian Jews thus survived the Holocaust, including the refugees who had fled there from Serbia and Croatia, though the Jews of Pristina in nearby Kosovo did not fare as well.
Religion was banned under the Communist regime and the Jews of Albania were effectively cut off from the world. In 1991, after the fall of Communism, most of the small Albanian Jewish community was airlifted to Israel. Only a small number of Jews remain in the country, most of them in Tirana, the capital — Chabad opened a synagogue in Tirana in 2010.
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