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Mon Feb 23 2009, 03:58pm

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The city of Shkodra (or Shkodër; in Italian, Scutari; in Turkish, Uskudar; in Montenegrin, Skadar; 83,436 inhabitants in 1991) is the economical capital city of northern Albania and the fourth biggest city in the country. It is the capital city of the district (rrethet) of Shkodra (253,225 inhabitants in 1991; 2,528 sq. km).
Shkodra is located on the south-easternmost point of the lake of Shkodra (liqeni i Shkodrës), the largest lake in the Balkan, shared with Montenegro (169 sq. km in Albania; 199 sq. km in Montenegro). The area is also watered by the rivers Drini, Buna, Shala, Kiri and Gemi and is surrounded by mountains (Jezerca, 2,694 m a.s.l.).

Shkodra is one of the oldest cities in Albania; in the IIIrd century BC, it was the capital city of the Illyrian tribe of Ardeans, whose last king, Genthius, minted his own coins. Genthius set up an alliance with the Macedonian king Perseus (179-168 BC) and was defeated in 168 BC during the third Illyrian War by General Paul Emil (228-160 BC). The historian Titus-Livy reports that Genthius' capital city was protected by walls, towers and donjons. However, it was seized and trashed by the Romans. Shkodra was later rebuilt and became the center of the province of Praevalitania.
By the share of the Roman Empire in 395, Shkodra was allocated to the Eastern Empire (Byzantine Empire). In the XIth century, it was transferred to Serbian lords from Zeta (today, Montenegro), who developed the economy of the city. Shkodra was then transferred to the Albanian family of Balshaj, rulers of the whole northern Albania and parts of Montenegro. Threatened by the Ottomans, the Balshaj sold the city to the Venitians in 1396; Shkodra became an advanced post of Christendom. The city was seized in 1474 and 1478 by the Ottomans, who could not keep it. They eventually seized and trashed it in 1479 after a one-year siege depicted on a famous painting by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). The fall of Shkodra caused the exile of several of its inhabitants to Italy, where they formed the Arbaresh communities in Calabria, Sicily and elsewhere.
Under the Ottoman rule, Shkodra reemerged in the XVII-XVIIIth century; at that time (1767-1773) was built the Lead Mosque (xhamia e plombit), covered with lead leaves. In 1756, Mehmed Pasha Plaku founded in Shkodra the Bushati dynasty, which set up his own rule and established diplomatic relationships with the other European states. Under Kara Mamoud Pasha Bushati, Shkodra had 70,000 inhabitants and was renowned for its craftsmen. In 1831, the Sultan set up a military expedition to get rid of the Bushati rule.
During the Albanian national rebirth (Rilindja), insurrections against the Ottomans broke out in Shkodra in 1876, 1880, 1910, 1911 and 1912. The Serbs and the Montenegrians besieged the city during the Balkan Wars, to no avail. During the First World War, Shkodra was placed under an international administration, then occupied by the Austrians, then by the French (1918-1920), and eventually incorporated to the new Albanian state.
In 1990, Shkodra was one of the main and earliest centers of the revolt that caused the fall of the Communist regime in Albania.

The fortress of Rozafa, dominating the city of Shkodra, is one of the most famous monuments in Albania. It is built on a hill located on the confluency of the rivers Buna and Kiri; it has an oval shape, a perimeter of 600 m and an area of 6 ha. The fortress and its seven towers were successively rebuilt by the Venitians and the Ottomans on the foundations of an early Illyrian fortress. The building of the fortress is related by Rozafa's legend. The three brothers in charge of the building noticed that their daily work was always destroyed during the next night; they were advized by an old man to wall up someone alive in order to calm down the demons that trashed their work. The brothers decided to sacrifice the first of their wives who would come the next day to bring their lunch. The two oldest brothers warned their wife and Rozafa, the wife of the junior son, was sacrificed. She accepted it but asked that a small interstice was made in the wall so that she could breast-feed her young son. Rozafa's fountain, indeed a seepage of calcareous water, can still be seen in the wall of the entrance gate of the fortress. It is a place of pilgrimage for pregnant women. This kind of legend is widespread in the Balkans and was illustrated by famous writers such as Ismail Kadare (The three-arched bridges) and Ivo Andrić (The bridge over the Drina).

Due to its geographical location and contact with the foreign countries, Shkodra has always been a main center of the Albanian culture, especially before the foundation of the Albanian state. The historian Marin Barleti (d. 1512) lived in Shkodra during the three sieges by the Ottomans; after the defeat, he moved to Italy where he published in Latin De obsidione Scodrensis (The siege of Shkodra, Venice, 1504) and Historia de vita et gestis Skanderbegi (History of the life and acts of Skanderbeg, Rome, 1508). The latter book was translated and spread all over Europe and significantly contributed to the fame of Skanderbeg.
Gjon Buzuk, another writer from northern Albania with a nearly totally unknown biography, published in 1555 in Venice the Meshar (The Missal), a series of preaches made after the Gospels. This 188-page book is the oldest known book published in Albanian.
The novelist Ernst Qoliki (1903-1975), born in Shkodra, studied in Italy and went back to Albania after the set up of the Regency government in 1920. After Zogu's coup in 1924, Qoliki exiled to Yugoslavia with the leaders of the Albanian mountain tribes. He came back to Alabania in 1930 but exiled again to Italy in 1933. Qoliki contributed to the popularization of Albanian culture and literature in Italy and was appointed Professor of Albanian at the University of Roma. He accepted the Mussolinian expansionist views and was appointed Minister of Education of Albania during the Italian occupation (1939-1941). In 1943, he presided the Fascist Grand Council in Tirana. After the victory of the Communists, he fled to Italy where he spent the rest of his life.
The most famous writer from Shkodra is the poet and novelist Migjeni (Milosh Gjegj Nikolla, 1911-1938). Born in an Orthodox family, he studied in Bar (Montenegro) and Bitola (Macedonia). Back to Shkodra in 1932, he became a school teacher. He died from tuberculosis in an Italian sanatorium on 26 August 1938. Migjeni's only volume of verse, Vargjet e lira (Free verse), was composed over a three-year period from 1933 to 1935. A first edition of this slender and yet revolutionary collection, a total of thirty-five poems, was printed by the Gutemberg Press in Tirana in 1936 but was immediately banned by the authorities and never circulated. The second edition was released only in 1944. The main theme of the Free verse and of Migjeni's prose, is misery and suffering. Though he did not publish a single book during his lifetime, Migjeni's works, which circulated privately and in the press of the period, were an immediate success. Migjeni paved the way for a modern literature in Albania. His series of short stories entitled Tregimet nga qyteti i Veriut (Chronicles of a Northern City) gives a vivid description of Shkodra under Zogu's feudal regime, insisting on prostitution, something which was then completely taboo in Albania.


* Jean Durand-Monti. Albanie. Arthaud, 1990
* Shkodra website
* Alexandre Zotos (Ed.) Anthologie de la prose albanaise. Fayard, 1984

Ivan Sache, 12 April 2006

[ Edited Mon Feb 23 2009, 04:51pm ]
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Mon Feb 23 2009, 04:22pm

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The origins of the city's name remain shrouded in mystery. Some scholars[who?] believe that the name derives from "Shko-drin" which means "where Drin goes", Drin being the Drin river that connects with the Buna River next to the castle of Rozafa. Others believe the name has a Latin root. Another reference claims that the name "Skodra" was used even before the area was occupied by the Romans.


Shkodër was founded around the 4th century BC. This was the site of the Illyrian tribe Labeates as well as the capital of the kingdom of King Gentius and that of Queen Teuta. In the year 168 BC, the city was taken by the Romans and it became an important trade and military route.

Middle Ages

The dawn of the Middle Ages saw waves of Slavs arriving. De Administrando Imperio describes how Byzantine Emperor Heraclius gave the Serbs the city of Shkodër and the surrounding territories during the first half of the 7th century. The Serbs soon formed the Byzantine sponsored Principality of Duklja there. Shkodër was a major city of the medieval Serb state. Duklja was subjected to its northern neighbor, the Principality of Rascia, forming the Grand Principality of Rascia. Its rulers recognized Bulgarian Czars as their supreme rulers during the first half of the 10th century.

Soon Grand Prince Časlav of the House of Klonimir gained control of the local Serbian lands previously under Byzantine and Bulgarian rule. Shkodër soon became Duklja's capital during the reign of Saint John Vladimir in the second half of the 10th century who defended the city from an uprising of the Arbanas tribes. John had to briefly surrender Duklja to the Bulgarian ruler Samuil.

The Byzantines later incorporated the region directly into their empire, forming the Theme of Serbia governed by Strategos Constantine Diogenes. Stefan Voislav from Travunia expelled the last Strategos of Serbia Theophilos Erotikos and fought the Byzantines successfully during the first half of the 11th century, keeping its independence. It soon became a major city of a revived Duklja. King Constantine Bodin of Duklja and Dalmatia accepted the crusaders of the Crusade of 1101 in Shkodër. After numerous dynastic struggles, in the 12th century Shkodër became a part of Zeta, which was a part of medieval Serbia. It later fell to the hands of the House of Balšić followed afterwards by the Dukagjini control who surrendered the city to the Venetian rule, forming a coalition against the Ottoman Empire with many neighboring Albanian tribes.

15th to 19th centuries

Shkodër (under Venetian rule) resisted a major Ottoman attack in 1474. In 1478 the city was again entirely surrounded by Ottoman forces. Mehmed the Conqueror personally laid the siege. About ten heavy canons were cast on site. Balls heavy as much as 380 kg were fired on the citadel (such balls are still on display on the castle museum). Nevertheless the city resisted. Mehmet left the field and had his comanders continue the siege. By the winter the Ottomans had captured one after the other all adjacent castles: Lezhë, Drishti, Zhabjak. This, together with famine and constant bombardment lowered the morale of defenders. On the other hand the Ottomans were already frustrated by the stubborn resistance. The castle is situated on a naturally protected hill and every attempted assault resulted in considerable casualties for the attackers. A truce that would save some honor and more lives, became an option for both parties. On January 25 an agreement between the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire ended the siege, permitting the citizens to leave unharmed, and the Ottomans to take over the deserted city.

After the Turkish occupation a large number of the population fled. Around the 17th century, the city began to prosper and it became the center of a sanjak, an Ottoman administrative unit smaller than a vilayet. It became the economic center of northern Albania, its craftsmen producing fabric, silk, arms, and silver artifacts. Construction included two-story stone houses, the bazaar, and the Central or Middle Bridge (Ura e Mesit) over the Kir river, built during the second half of the 18th century, over 100 meters long, with 13 arcs of stone, the largest one being 22 meters wide and 12 meters tall.

In the 18th century Shkodër became the center of the (pashaluk) of Shkodër, under the rule of the Bushati family, which ruled from 1757 to 1831. After the fall of the pashaluk, the people of Shkodër had a number of uprisings against the Ottomans (1833–1836, 1854, 1861–1862, and 1869). During this time, many of the Serbian families had to emigrate.

Shkodër became an important trade center in the second half of the 19th century. Aside from being the center of the vilayet of Shkodër, it was an important trading center for the entire Balkan peninsula. It had over 3,500 shops, and clothing, leather, tobacco, and gun powder were some of the major products of Shkodër. A special administration was established to handle trade, a trade court, and a directorate of postage services with other countries. Other countries had opened consulates in Shkodër ever since 1718. Obot and Ulcinj served as ports for Shkodër, and later on Shëngjin (San Giovanni di Medua). The Jesuit seminar and the Franciscan committee were opened in the 19th century. It was also the main spot for transporting 'illegal' things through Montenegro and throughout eastern Europe.[citation needed]

Shkodër played an important role during the League of Prizren, the Albanian liberation movement. The people of Shkodër participated in battles to protect Albanian land. The branch of the League of Prizren for Shkodër, which had its own armed unit, fought for the protection of Plava and Gusinje, Hoti, and Gruda, and the war for the protection of Ulcinj.

In the 19th century Shkodër was also known as a cultural center. The Bushati Library, built during the 1840s, served as a center for the League of Prizren's branch for Shkodër. Many books were collected in libraries of Catholic missionaries working in Shkodër. Literary, cultural, and sports associations were formed, such as Bashkimi ("The Union") and Agimi ("The Dawn"). The first Albanian newspapers and publications printed in Albania came out of the printing press of Shkodër. The Marubi family of photographers began working in Shkodër, which left behind over 150,000 negatives from the period of the Albanian liberation movement, the rise of the Albanian flag in Vlora, and life in Albanian towns during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Before 1867 Shkodër (İşkodra) was a sanjak of Rumelia Eyalet in Ottoman Empire. In 1867, Shkodër sanjak merged with Skopje (Üsküp) sanjak and became Shkodër vilayet. Shkodër vilayet was split into Shkodër, Prizren and Debar (Dibra) sanjaks. In 1877, Prizren passed to Kosovo vilayet and Debar passed to Monastir vilayet, while Durrës (Dıraç) township became a sanjak. In 1878 Bar and Podgorica townships belonged to Montenegro. In 1900, Shkodër vilayet was split into Shkodër and Durrës sanjaks.

20th century

During the Balkan Wars, Shkodër went from one occupation to another, when the Ottomans were defeated by the Kingdom of Montenegro. The Ottoman forces led by Hasan Riza Pasha and Esad Pasha had resisted for seven months the surrounding of the town by Montenegrin forces and their Serbian allies. Esad (Hasan had previously been misteriously killed in an ambush inside the town) finally surrendered to Montenegro in April 1913, after Montenegro suffered a high death toll with more that 10,000 casualties. Montenegro was compelled to leave the city to the new country of Albania in May 1913, in accordance with the London Conference of Ambassadors.

During World War I, Montenegrin forces again occupied Shkodër on June 27, 1915. In January 1916, Shkodër was taken over by Austria-Hungary and was the center of the zone of their occupation. After World War I, the international military administration of Albania was temporarily located in Shkodër, and in March, 1920, Shkodër was put under the administration of the national government of Tirana. In the second half of 1920, Shkodër resisted another threat, the military intervention of the forces of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Shkodër was the center of democratic movements of the years 1921–1924. The democratic opposition won the majority of votes for the Constitutional Assembly, and on May 31, 1924, the democratic forces took over the town and from Shkodër headed to Tirana. From 1924 to 1939, Shkodër had a slow industrial development, small factories that produced food, textile, and cement were opened. From 43 of such in 1924, the number rose to 70 in 1938. In 1924, Shkodër had 20,000 inhabitants, the number grew to 29,000 in 1938.

Shkodër was the seat of a Catholic archbishopric and had a number of religious schools. The first laic school was opened here in 1913, and the State Gymnasium was opened in 1922. It was the center of many cultural associations. In sports Shkoder was the first city in Albania to constitute a sports association, the "Vllaznia" (brotherhood). Vllaznia is the oldest sport club in Albania.

During the early 1990s, Shkodër was once again a major center, this time of the democratic movement that finally brought to an end the communist regime established by Enver Hoxha.


Shkodër is an important educational and industrial center. The city produces various mechanical and electrical components, along with textile and food products. Luigj Gurakuqi University of Shkodëris one of the foremost learning centers of Albania. The public library of the city contains more than 250,000 books. Several other cultural institutions abound, such as the Cultural Center, the Marubi Photo Archives, the Artists and Writers Association, the "Migjeni" Theater (named after Millosh Gjergj Nikolla), the Gallery of Arts, and the Museum of History. Shkoder is the center of Albanian Catholicism and the most prominent city of Sunni Islam in Albania. Historic cultural architecture worth a visit include the Castle of Shkodër, the Turkish Bath, and the Lead Mosque (although the city itself is the best picturesque background for many photos). The Castle of Shkodër become famous during the First Balkan War when it was protected by the Turkish general Hasan Riza Pasha and Esad Pasha.
Mosque in Shkodra

Shkodër is also famous for its Islamic scholarship. The site of the only institution in Albania which provides high-level education in Arabic and Islamic Studies, having produced such famous Muslim personalities as Shaykh Nasirudin Albani.

City tunes differ from the rural music of the land, but both enjoy popularity in Shkodra. Northern music is a refined combination of romantic and sophisticated undertones with oriental-sounding scales and a constant interplay of major and minor. It bears a significant affinity with the sevdalinke of Bosnia and the neighboring Sandzak, but differs from them in their extreme forms while maintaining a typically Albanian quality through the exceptional fluidity of rhythm and tempo. Early descriptions of such music groups, which date from the end of the nineteenth century, suggest a remarkable sound: violin, clarinet, saze, defi, sometimes and Indian-style harmonium and percussion (provided by rattling a stick between two bottles). These days the accordion and guitar have replaced the more exotic instruments, but the intimate approach of the singers remains the same. Among the most important players are Bik Ndoja, Luçije Miloti, Xhevdet Hafizi and Bujar Qamili.

The city and the surrounding area are blessed with a large variety of natural and cultural elements. The most attractive quarters of the city are commonly thought to be Pjaca, identifiable as the main city centre between statues of Mother Teresa and Luigj Gurakuqi, and Gjuhadol, the neighborhood around one of the most scenic streets connecting the Cathedral on the east side of town with the middle of the city. The most recognizable memorial is of course the legendary castle of Rozafa.

Built during the Illyrian reign, the castle has sprouted a legend explaining the keeping of a promise. Rozafa, the bride of the youngest of three brothers, was walled up alive in the mortar of the walls of the castle to ward off evil that was destroying them each night. The calcareous water passing through the stones at the main entrance is connected in the folk fantasy with the milk of the bosom of Rozafa, which she requested be left available to nurse her newborn baby boy. She also requested that one foot be used to rock his cradle and one arm to lull him to sleep. Inside the ancient walls is a museum dedicated to the history and legends of the castle.

The Shkodra Lake is the biggest in the Balkans. It is a major summer attraction for tourists and inhabitants.

Another interesting historical site is the ruins of Sarda, a medieval town situated only 15 km from Shkodër. To go out there you must take a motor-boat from the dam of Vau i Dejes out to the island where Sarda is located (about 10 miles, or 16 km). This boat operates for tourists during the summer season twice per week. Sarda was built atop a hill on the island, roughly 5 ha in area, surrounded by the waters of the Drini river (which has been rerouted now to form an artificial lake). At one time it was the retreat of the famous Dukagjini Feudal Family, affording them a "summer palace".

About 5 km in the east of Shkodër lies the medieval citadel of Drisht.

Many visitors feel that Shkodra is the soul of Albania. The very characteristic appearance of the city is formed by the juxtaposition of ancient houses and narrow streets joined with stone walls and modern buildings. After World War II, some of Shkodër was rebuilt with wider streets to accommodate automotive traffic, and new residential buildings are being constructed all the time.

Shkodra is also the home of Loro-Boriçi Stadium, the biggest and liveliest stadium in Albania.
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Fri May 15 2009, 04:37pm

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