Albania is a small, mountainous country in the Balkan peninsula, with a long Adriatic and Ionian coastline.
Along with neighbouring and mainly Albanian-inhabited Kosovo, it has a Muslim majority - a legacy of its centuries of Ottoman rule. Approaching twenty per cent of the population are Christians, divided mainly between the Orthodox and smaller Catholic denominations.
After World War II, Albania became a Stalinist state under Enver Hoxha, and remained staunchly isolationist until its transition to democracy after 1990.
The 1992 elections ended 47 years of communist rule, but the latter half of the decade saw a quick turnover of presidents and prime ministers.
Many Albanians left the country in search of work; the money they send home remains an important source of revenue.
During the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, nearly 500,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo spilled over the border, imposing a huge burden on Albania's already fragile economy.
While there have been signs of economic progress with inflation under tighter control and some growth, the country remains one of the poorest in Europe outside the former Soviet Union. By 2013, public debt stood at 60% of GDP.
At a glance
- Politics: Edi Rama's Socialist Party won a landslide victory in the 2013 parliamentary election, ending eight years of conservative rule
- Economy: Albania is transforming into to a market economy, but is poor by Western European standards. Agriculture is a key sector and a major employer
- International: Albania joined Nato in 2009 and was granted EU candidate status in 2014
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
Unemployment remains stubbornly high, and the infrastructure and corruption continue to deter much foreign investment. According to a report published by graft watchdog Transparency International in 2012, Albania is currently the most corrupt country in Europe.
Albania made a formal application for membership of the European Union in 2009, on the basis of a 2006 Stabilisation and Association agreement. It was granted EU candidate status in June 2014.
The EU is keen to encourage further reform, particularly as regards stamping out organised crime and corruption and developing media freedom and property and minority rights.
Edi Rama, the Socialist Party leader who took over the reins of government in 2013, has vowed that Albania will achieve full EU membership within the next ten years.