There is something about castles; they let your mind run wild with imagination. You cannot help but wonder what would it be like to live in such a place? What are the myths and legends that surround them? If only the walls could talk!
Albania is a country steeped in history and culture. Their castles and fortresses reflect this. All across Albania, you will find them, some ruins and some still very much intact, so much so they look like new. We have selected some of our favourite ones that we think are well worth a visit.
1 – Lëkurësi Castle – Saranda
A ruined castle in Lëkurës, on a strategic hill point overlooking the town of Saranda, southeast of the town centre. From here one can control the whole city as well as the islands of Ksamil.
It was built in 1537 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent who had attacked Corfu and needed to control the harbour and the road that connected it with Butrint. The region traditionally belonged to the southern part of Himara.
The castle grounds used to hold the old Lëkurës village. It has a square shape with two round towers on its north-western and south-eastern corners. To climb up to the castle, visitors need to leave the main road on Qafë Gjashtë and go up the town hill from the other side of the town.
2 – Porto Palermo Castle – Himarë
Near to the town of Himarë, the castle is in the bay of Porto Palermo. Huffington Post ranked Porto Palermo first among 15 Undiscovered European Destinations for 2014.
The well-preserved castle is commonly said to have been built in the early 19th century by Ali Pasha of Tepelena. However, this cannot be confirmed. It was more likely to have been constructed by the Venetians as it is accessible by sea and it has the same triangular plan with round towers found in the Venetian fort at Butrint.
3- Castle of Krujë – Krujë
In the city of Krujë and the centre of Skanderbeg’s rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, the castle houses the Teqe of Dollme of the Bektashi (an Islamic Sufi sect), the National Skanderbeg Museum, the remains of the Fatih Sultan Mehmed mosque and its minaret, an ethnographic museum and a Turkish bath.
During the Albanian Revolt (1432-1436) Andrea Thopia, an Albanian nobleman, unsuccessfully revolted against the Ottoman rule. After Skanderbeg’s rebellion in 1443 the castle withstood three massive sieges from the Turks respectively in 1450, 1466 and 1467. Today it is a centre of tourism in Albania and a source of inspiration to Albanians.
The castle appears on the reverse of the Albanian 5000 lekë banknote issued since 1996.
4 – Gjirokastër Fortress – Gjirokastër
The castle dominates the town and overlooks the strategically important route along the river valley. The fortress has existed in various forms since before the 12th century. Ali Pasha of Tepelene made extensive renovations and additions during the 1800s whilst King Zog expanded the castle prison in 1932.
It is open to visitors and contains a military museum featuring captured artillery and memorabilia of the Communist resistance against German occupation. Outside of the museum, the surrounding chambers accommodate abandoned World War II tanks. An American fighter plane shot down during the war sits next to one of the towers.
5 – Rozafa Castle – Shkodër
Near the city of Shkodër, the castle rises imposingly on a rocky hill, 130 metres (430 ft) above sea level, surrounded by the Buna and Drin rivers. Shkodër is the seat of Shkodër County and is one of Albania’s oldest and most historic towns.
A famous widespread legend about sacrificing a female victim for the castle to be built is traditionally told by Albanians and connected with the construction of the Rozafa Castle.
The story tells about the initiative of three brothers who set out to build a castle. They worked all day, but the foundation walls fell every night. Disheartened and walking home, they met a wise man who seems to know the solution to the problem. Asking them if they were married. When the three brothers responded positively, the wise man said:
“If you want to finish the castle, you must swear never to tell your wives what I am going to tell you now. The wife who brings you your food tomorrow you must bury alive in the wall of the castle. Only then will the foundations stay put and last forever.”
One of the most famous versions of the legend is the Serbian epic poem called The Building of Skadar (Зидање Скадра, Zidanje Skadra) published by Vuk Karadžić.