Kruja – Kruje

The first Albanian feudal state was declared in Krujë – Kroja in 1190 by the Archont Progon. Progon’s older son, Gjin Progonović was Lord of Krujë and Elbasan from 1200 to 1208. The independent state of Albania founded by Progon lasted until the middle of the 13th century, after which the country relapsed into disunity.

Kruja is the birthplace of the 15th century hero of the Serbian origin George Kastrioti Skanderbeg /Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu/, the famous Albania’s national hero who gave the invading Turks a serious beating. The grand-grand father of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg was Jovan Branilovic KastriotBrailo a Serb from Zeta and the founder of the Kastrioti family – prominent Serbian landlord of Kanina in 1368 /Janina in Epirus/during the reign of Tzar Uros – the last Nemanjic king /+1371/. Mother of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg was princess Vоisаvа /Vојislаvа Brankovic Тribаldа/, daughter of the Serb nobleman from Donji Polog in the last decades of the 14th century in present Macedonia. Konstantin Branilovic – son of Brailo /or Branilo/ later also ruled the Polog area, today the northwest of the Republic of Macedonia which was then part of the Medieval Serbia. After being expelled from Janjina /Ianina/, Branilo settled in the north of the present Albanian territory. The next Kastriot mentioned in historical sources is the son of Branil – Pavle Kastriot who was the administrator of cities of Sinj and Donji Grad, near Debar. Branil had three sons: Constantine, Alex and Jovan /Ivan/. Alex controlled a minor territories from several villages in northern Albania, and Constantine was the head of Serina near Durres. Of all the Kastriot brothers, Jovan – Ivan /Albanian Gjon/ is certainly the most famous, for he had controlled/ruled the areas of Mat, Kruja, Mirdita and Debar. According to some sources, he participated in the Battle of Ploce on the side of Prince Lazar against the Turks, but the same year he and other nobles in Albania fell under the Turkish vassal rule. He was ally of Despot Stefan Lazarevic and vassal of Sultan Bayezid.

Ivan, son of Konstantin became ruler of the whole Mace area in Arbania, where he and his wife Vojislava Tribalda from the noble Serb Family of Brankovic got around 1403 son Djuradj /George – Gjergj/. Young Djuradj – George named himself Kastriotich Skanderbeg. All of them were of Orthodox faith. Djuradj – Gjergj Kastrioti converted to Islam soon after arriving in Adrianople in 1423, adopting the name Iskender known as “Skanderbeg” along the Turkish expression for Alexander. Skanderbey served the Ottoman Sultan and became a high ranking military commander. After death of Skanderbey’s father, Sultan Murad II ordered Hasan beg the Ottoman Governor of Krujë to take control of all the Kastriot properties. Skanderbeg revolted in 1443, deserting the Ottoman army which opposed the western Crusaders when they recaptured Niš commanded by Janos Hunyadi, a revered general known as the White Knight. Kastrioti-Skanderbeg entered the Turkish fortifications of Krujë and massacred the Turkish pasha and the Muslim contingent stationed there. The following morning the Kastrioti family’s standard – a red flag emblazoned with a black, double-headed eagle that has since been adopted as Albania’s national flag – fluttered in the breeze over the city’s castle. Here Kastrioti-Skanderbeg reportedly made his historic pronouncement: “I have not brought you liberty, I found it here, among you.” Skanderbeg obtained possession of Krujë by tricking Hasan beg with a forged instruction from the sultan, and announced his re-conversion to Christianity. Skanderbeg allied himself with the Araniti family, when marrying daughter of Gjergj Araniti, the Medieval ruler of the areas between the Skhumba and the Aos-Vojusha rivers. Skanderbeg called a congress at Alessio inviting all the local chiefs, and was appointed commander of the Albanian armies which defeated the Ottomans in June 1444 and again at Danj in September 1448. Skanderbeg defeated a further Ottoman attack in 1456, although in 1457 a large Ottoman army occupied the plains of Albania up to the borders of Venice’s Alassio. With some assistance from the Vatican, as well as from the powerful lords of Naples and Venice, Kastrioti-Skanderbeg continued to repulse successive efforts by the Turks to invade Albania over the next 25 years, including at Debar /Dibër/ and at Ochrid in 1462. Skanderbey’s major supporter, King Alfonso of Naples /1416-1458/ made the Albanian general his vassal in 1451. Alfonso supplied the Albanian army with needed funds, military equipment, and additional troops, and also acted as a protector by extending sanctuary to Kastrioti-Skanderbeg and his family. After the Venetians were drawn into the war in 1463, Sultan Mohammed II agreed a peace treaty signed in April 1463, although the armistice soon collapsed. After unsuccessfully besieging Krujë in 1467, the Sultan returned the following year only to be defeated once more by Skanderbeg. Skanderbeg died on 7 January 1468 from natural causes. The legend has it that, on hearing of Skanderbeg’s death, Sultan Mehmed II exclaimed: “At last Europe and Asia belong to me! Poor Christendom. It has lost both its sword and shield!”. Skenderbeg died undefeated in 1468 in Lezhe in northwest Albania and his name became legendary and was respected and often mentioned in the Balkan countries, but also in the Pope’s administration and in Europe. Petar Petrovic Njegos writes at the beginning of the Gorski vijenac /The Mountain Wreath/ : „Skеndеrbеg is of the Obilic heart“.

Look at the Kruje Fortress dominating from the 611 meters hill Skanderbey was defending and you can understand how it is possible that the Albanians were able to resist for so long against a much stronger opponent. Kruja citadel with the ruins of the Fatiha mosque was the stronghold of the Skanderbeg (George Kastrioti) between 1443 and 1468 in his struggle against the Ottoman Empire.

Kruja is town 32 km north of Tirana, easy to reach on local transport, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Albania. Kruja has commanding views of dramatically snow capped mountains and green valleys below. Inside the Skanderbeg Citadel in Kruja, on the slope of Sari Salltiku mountain, there is a stunning wall painting of the Battle led by King Skanderbeg, with his notable goat-helmet. Cobbled streets take you to the famous Kruja Old Baazar selling lots of traditional souvenirs and constantly visited with number of tourists throughout a year. The National Ethnographic Museum of Kruja is housed in the 18th century ‘urban’ building. There are around sixteen rooms in the Kruja Ethnographic Museum which exhibit several artifacts of the region from times bygone. Some of the exhibits of the National Ethnographic Museum in Kruja tell you about how people lived in ancient times. Adequate care has been taken to ensure that original items are displayed in the museum. Some of the items displayed in the National Ethnographic Museum in Kruja date back to 500 years ago. The samples of embroidery on cotton, silk and woolen clothes are exquisite to behold. Other items like pottery and metal objects are also interesting to explore. Kruja is one of the most frequented tourist sites in Albania.

Covering an area of 2,000 hectares, the Shtama Park is 25 km to the northeast of Kruja. The water sources “Queen Mother” is one of the most attractive spots in the Shtama Park with clean, cold and curative waters. The Park is frequented by a large number of visitors.