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 Vlorė. 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
Just east of the lowlands, the central uplands, called Ēermenikė
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
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 Korēė. 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 Peninsula.
The three lakes of easternmost Albania, Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa,
and Prespa e Vogėl, 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 Vogėl 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 Vogėl is about one-fifth as large. The surface elevation
is about 695 meters for Lake Ohrid and 855 meters for the other
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 Vlorė.
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 southern Albania.
Data as of April 1992