Shkoder

Shkoder or Shkodra is one of the oldest cities in present Albania, among numerous Balkan settlements of rich heritage and history. Town of Shkoder features numerous traces of several millennia of human life, and today is  important economic and cultural center of north Albania, with some 90,000 inhabitants. Skodra lies in the north-western part of Albania, on southern part of the plain of Mbishkodra, next to the Shkodra Lake which is divided between Albania and Montenegro, on the confluence of Drim, Kiri and Bojana – Buna Rivers, the mountain of Tarabosh, and the impressive Rozafa Castle. The Tarabosh is hill in northwestern Albania, whose smaller part is located in the maritime area of Montenegro, actually elongated southeastern ridge of the Rumija Mountain which parallely srpreds with the southern shore of the Skadar Lake, and whose southeastern ends arrive to the Bojana River and the urban part of the town of Shkoder. Skadar Lake – Skadarsko Jezero (Skadar Lake, Scutari Lake) is the largest lake at Balkan Peninsula and the largest freshwater lake in the Balkans. It is named after the city of Skadar (Shkodra) in northern Albania (Shkodër in Albanian, Scutari in Italian and Skadar in Serbian). Two thirds of Skadar Lake is in Montenegro and the rest third lies in Albania. The origin of the name comes from the Greek expression of “Skoutari”.

By the 7th century BC, the Illyrians (possible ancestors of the Albanian or the Serbian nation), with constant presence of indigenous population of the historical Serbian states. In 181 BC Shkodra, known as Scodrinon, becomes the capital of the Illyrian Empire. In 168 BC the Romans conquered the areas populated by the indigenous tribal population when they had established the “Scutari” protectorate of Illyricum where converged the trade routes from the Danube River and the Aegean Sea. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian Shkodra became seat of the Prevalitane province (Praevalis), while after the division into the East and West Roman Empire (395) it had come under the Byzantine rule, and the part of the Durres thema (thema Dyrrachion). After division of the Roman Empire in 395 and the territory of today’s Albania fall into the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire, when the present day Shkodra became important city of the Byzantine Empire.

Town of Skhoder was the Serbian historical capital from 490 til 1171. In the first half of the 10th century this area was under the Bulgarian Kingdom. The ruler Caslav Klonimir of the Vojislavljevic Dynasty liberated the Serb territories from the Byzantine and Bulgarian rule. Town of Shkoder became the capital of the Doclea state during the reign of the Holy Jovan Vladimir in the second half of the 10th century. Jovan Vladimir successfuly protected the town from attacks of the Arbanian tribes. The king Constantine Bodin of Doclea and Dalmatia received in Shkoder the crusaders in 1101. After a period of dynastic clashes, the town of Shkoder became part of the Zeta state,  under the rule of the Grand zhupan of Raska. The present town of Shkoder was the seat of the Serbian Medieval Zeta and Raska princes and kings : Mihailo, Bodin, Vladimir, Dobroslav, Gradina and Draginja, and the Medieval states ruled by the Prince Jovan Vladimir, king Milutin and tzar Dušan. The Serbs named their largest fortification Rozafa after the town of Risafe in Asia Minor /on the border with the Sassanide Empire in Persia, now a city in ruins in central Syria/ where the holy Orthodox warrior Saint Sergius was brutally killed at the beginning of the 4th century from where spread the cult of this martyr throughout the Roman Empire. In the centuries that followed, this territory was invaded by the Huns, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, while the Byzantine Empire re-conquers the region several times. In the vicinity of the town of Shkoder, some 10 km away, in the village of Shirq, on the plateau of the Bojana River, there was the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of SS Sergius and Bacchus. This church was part of the Benedictine Monastery reconstructed in the 11th century, probably on the site of the former shrine from the 6th century – period of the Emperor Justinian reign. The church was the mausoleum of 6 Zeta and Raska rulers and kings – Michail, Bodin, Vladimir, Dobroslav, Gradina and Draginja. During the Middle age here was a fortified town of Saint Sergius with the trading square and the customs point. The Serbian Queen Helen highly respected the significance of this church, and with her sons Dragutin and Milutin had erected the new church in 1290 on the foundations of the old shrine, that became the larget sacral object in the area of the Bar Archbishopric. The stone plaque with carved inscriptions testifying on donation of the SS Sergisu Monastery by the queen Helen and her sons in today kept in the National Museum of Shkoder.

During the 11th century, in 1043 Shkoder was seat of the Serbian lords from Zeta /today, Montenegro/, who developed the economy of the town and turned Shkodra into the center of the Medieval Zeta state, and in 1067 the Bishopric see. Since 1355 the town was ruled by the Balsic Family, feudal rulers of northern Albania and parts of Montenegro. Threatened by the Ottomans in 1393, the Balshic rulers sold the town to the Venetians in 1396 who renamed the town Scutari and reinforced the castle. The local Serb uprising in 1403 expelled the Venetians out from the town. The Ottomans invaded what is now Albania in 1385, finally capturing town of Shkodra in 1479. In the 16th century the Turks had destroyed the SS Sergius and Bacchus Monastery and today there are only ruins of this shrine.

There are two mountains around the town of Shkoder – the Brdanjola and Tarabos. On the Brdanjola hill in 1445 18000 Serbian solders were killed in fights with the Ottomans, while on the Tarabos hill during the First and Second Balkan wars 14000 Montenegrin and Serbian solders were killed. Ottoman rule over the Shkoder area lasted more than 500 years. As Ottoman power wanes, Albanian feudal rulers called beys arise and flourish. Their holdings are merged into two semi-autonomous Ottoman units called pashalik. Shkodra was the center of the Bushatllinje Pashalik, whose leader Mahmut Pasha establishes an independent Albanian principality, only to be suppressed by the Ottoman Empire. In the middle of the 18th century intellectuals begun promoting teaching in Albanian /which was prohibited during the Ottoman reign/. After Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire, the provisional government was proclaimed in 1881 but was soon crushed by the Ottomans.

During the Balkan Wars and World War I, fortified town of Shkodra was liberated by Montenegrin and Serbian armies from the Ottoman rule, with great loses during heavy and long fights. The Serbian army terminated its operations for Shkoder on 29 March, but King Nikola continued fights, willing to keep Montenegrin and personal and military dominance. Town of Skhoder surrendered to Montenegrin on the 10 April, but they were unable to retain it. Great powers intermediated on negotiations in Cetinje, so King Nikola was, after a week of talks, compelled to give over the town of Shkoder to them, and so Great powers soldiers enthralled the town on 18 April. The Serbian and Montenegrin armies were compelled to leave in May 1913, in accordance with the London Conference of Ambassadors, which allotted Shkodra to the new country of Albania. During World War I, Montenegrin forces once again entered Shkodra on June 27th, 1915. In January of 1916, Shkodra was captured 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 Shkodra, and in March, 1920, Shkodra was put under the administration of the national government of Tirana. During World War II, the Shkodrans fought against the Italian forces, and they were later resisted with demonstrations and strikes. The resistance movement was organized by the communists, which later formed Partisan fighting units. The town of Shkodra was liberated from the Germans on November 19th, 1944.

Shkodra now has 50,000 inhabitants and is a booming trade town, with six foreign consulates, a chamber of commerce and a bazaar with 2500 shops and 80 professions. The city of Skodra retains its characteristic appearance, with narrow streets with tall stone walls on both sides, and tall gates. The main street is characterized by two-store houses, the facade often in gentle colors, with the second floor often lovely ornamented (and different to the first floor). A large part of it has been transformed after World War II, with straight wide streets and tall residential and public buildings. The city expanded with several new quarters, and the industrial zone was built north of the city. Some of the landmarks and monuments of culture of Shkodra are the impressive Castle of Shkodra (Rozafa) built by the Serbian noble family of Mrnjavchevic – brothers Vukasin, Ugljesa and Gojko, the Turkish Bath (hamam), Mesi Bridge, the Mosque of Plumbi, and many old houses with an appearance characteristic to Shkodra.

The Rozafa fortress, dominating the town of Shkodra, is one of the most famous monuments in Albania. Built on a hill dominating the confluence of the rivers Buna/Bojana and Kiri, Rozafa Fortress features an oval shape, and a perimeter of 600 meters and an area of 6 ha. The Rozafa fortress and its seven towers date from the Middle Ages and the rule of the Serbs, and had been successively rebuilt by the Venitians and the Ottomans on the foundations of an early Illyrian-Serbian fortress. The building of the fortress is related by Rozafa’s legend. The three Mrnjavchevic brothers in charge of the building noticed that their daily work was always destroyed during the next night; they were advised 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 wives and Rozafa, the wife of the junior son, was sacrificed. She accepted it but asked for a small interstice to be 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).

The remains of the Serbian Orthodox church of Saint Stephen in Shkoder are located in today’s Albania, a state created by the great powers in 1912. Despite the counterfeiting of Serbian history, the official documents, some of which are kept in the Venetian archives, testify that Shkoder – Skadar  was the capital of Serbian medieval state in the early Middle Ages, and that this area was ruled by Serbian dynasties of Vojislavljević, Nemanjić, Balšić, Lazarević, Branković, Crnojević, etc. until the fall of the Serbian Medieval state under the Ottoman occupation. This can easily be proved thanks to remains of systematically demolished churches, cemeteries, ancient towers and Serbian settlements, as well as many objects that are kept in a museum in Shkoder.

The city of Shkodra lies next to the lake and the residents use the beach of Shiroka for recreation.

Few kilometers north of Shkodra there is the stone viaduct-bridge at Mes /village called Ura e Mesit/, where the Drin River divides the fields from the hillside of Drishti and the Cukali’s highland. Mesi Bridge is over 100 meters long and was built about 1770 along the ancient trading road connecting Shkodra and Constantinople. The Mesi Bridge was constructed by Mehmet Pasha Bushatlliu, who governed his province wisely by ensuring that this important port region was able to develop extensive trade with the West. The Mesi Bridge made it possible to transport carriages and agricultural products from the farmers living in the highland areas to the Adriatic coast.The Mesi bridge is 3.4 meters wide and its track has the form of a staircase. The Mesi Bridge is Monument of culture monument and one of the biggest of its kind in Albania.

 

 

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