Elbasan

Elbasan (Scampa, Scampis, Hiscampis, Skampis) (pop. 120.000) is one of the most important towns of Central Albania which lies on the Skhumbin River, some 50 km south of Tirana. Under the Roman Empire it was the town of Scampis on the Via Egnatia – Roman trading road, and just a few km away was the road-station Ad Quintum. In 519 Elbasan became a garrison town and the Christian center and the seat of a bishop, with a cathedral and a basilica outside the walls.

When Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the Via Egnatia trading route gained principal importance as a connection to the Western Provinces of Apollonia and Dyrrachium, the Balkans, and in particular to the Italic peninsula. During this period (already most likely around 320 A.D.) the town of Scampinus (ancient name for Elbasan) was fortified with a surrounding wall which was able to house an entire legion. It was equipped with 26 towers and its main purpose was to protect against the barbaric invasions. The four-sided fortification castrum system established the actual decumanus of the Via Egnatia route. Inside the Elbasan fortress visitors can visit the Royal Mosque, from the 15th century, the Orthodox Church of Holy Virgin-St. Mary, built in 1650, and the Byzantine  Church.

The Ottoman invasion in 1466 led by Sultan Mehmet, which occurred after a century of wars and rebellions, marked the end of a long and extraordinary period of the Roman-Byzantine rule and architecture. Sultan Mehmet constructed a massive four-sided castle with a deep moat and three gates. He named it Elbasan, meaning in Turkish ‘crushing fist’. Elbasan became a center of Ottoman urban civilization over the next 400 years and remained a center of Islam in Albania even after the Ottoman occupation. The Ottoman invaders built a military camp there, followed by urban reconstruction. Remains of once monumental Elbasan Kala Castle are by far the city’s best known landmark and attraction. The Royal Mosque in Elbasan is one of the earliest shrines Albania, dating to 1492. This sanctuary complies with all other royal mosques designated by Sultan II Bajazit in the late 15th century. The Royal mosque in Elbasan was closed during the communist dictatorship in 1967 and reopened after 1990. Inside the walls of the Elbasan Kala Fortress there are numerous traditional homes and authentic structures, as well as the 16th century built Turkish bath, known as the Women Hammam /bath/. Elbasan’s old town is surrounded by high Medieval Ottoman walls was built upon the Byzantine and Roman foundations. It was spared the indiscriminate urban renewal ordered by Albanian leader Enver Hoxha for the simple reason that his bulldozers could not fit through the four narrow gates of the old part of the town.

The Communist regime set out to transform the Albanian people from peasants into proletarians, when the great friendship with China imported industrialization. In the 60s and 70s, the Metalurgjiku was built – the Albanians’ pride and joy, which processed the heavy metals that supplied the whole Albanian industry. Then came a large cement factory at the end of the ’60s, nickel in 1981, and ferro-chrome in 1988. The communist legacy became heavy and toxic – not only in the city of Elbasan, but also in the surrounding area. An iron and nickel company operated in Librazhd (a town of 10,000 inhabitants in the region of Elbasan), a mineral one in nearby Prrenjas, and a battery storage in Gramsh.

On the Pazhok plain, 25 km to the south-west of Elbasan, a large tumulus – necropolis has been discovered comprising evidences of the Bronze age and the beginning of the Iron age. The holy relics of the Serbian Prince Saint Jovan Vladimir, the ruler of Doclea from around 1000 til the 1016, who is considered the first ruler-martyr of the Serbian Medieval history, are kept and highly venerated in the Orthodox Monastery of Shen Joan – the Saint John Vladimir Monastery, near Elbasan, some 7 km from the center.

Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park is a protected national park located in the north-eastern part of the Librazhd District, Elbasan County in central Albania. The Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park covers an area of 33,927.7 hectares and shares a border with the Republic of Macedonia. Elevations in the Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park vary from 300 meters to over 2200 meters at the peak of Shebenik Mountain, which, along with Jablanica Mountain give name to the park. The Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park is one of Albania’s newest, created in 2008. Within the Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park region dwell a number of different species that are fast becoming rare in Albania, including the brown bear, grey wolf and the endangered Balkan Lynx. Further, the park is home to a number of endemic and rare plants. The nearest towns to the Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park are Librazhd and Prrenjas. On 21 April 2011, the PPNEA (Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania) research team got the first photo of an alive Balkan lynx living within the boundaries of the Shebenik – Jabllanice National Park.

 

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