Albania: history of Shkodra

Shkodra is a city in North Western Albania. It is located on the coast of Lake Shkodra, the biggest lake of the Balkans and surrounded by three rivers, the Buna, the Drin, and the Kiri. Its population is around 120 thousand people, making it the largest city of northern Albania. Outside the city proper, it has three suburbs: Bahcalleku to the South, as well as Shirokaj and Zogaj to the East. To the south and East it is also bordered by the hills of Renci and Tepes. This is where the fortress of Rozafat, famous for the Ottoman sieges of the late 1400s is located. Rozafa is the site of the earliest pre-historic settlements in the area.

Rozafa is a woman’s name. In legend, she was the wife of the youngest of three brothers who built the castle. Though they labored tirelessly, their construction crumbled each night. A wise man told them that in order for the walls to hold up, one of their brides must be sacrificed. The brothers agreed to make a secret pact not to tell their wifes and to sacrifice the bride who next day brought their lunch meal. The two elder brothers broke their pact and alerted their wives. When Rozafa of the youngest brother came, she was to be entombed within. She cried for baby and husband and requested to be entombed with one breast out to feed the baby, one foot out to rock him, and one arm out to hold him. And so the castle got its name.


Shkodra is blessed to be near the Adriatic coast, where the beach of Velipoja is situated. At the same time it is also blessed with an impressive mountain range. To the north, past the lowlands of Fush Shkodra, begin the Alps of Albania, the most dramatic range in a country known for mountains. This dichotomy makes one wonder is Shkodra a mediterrenain paradise? Or is it a rugged highland town? Perhaps it is a bit of both. When sunny, its skies are bright. It has a warm climate down in the plain. However, just outside the city, in the mountainous winter, the climate is harsh. So harsh and life so hard, that perhaps this is why the locals have named them the cursed mountains.

Shkodra is one Albania’s oldest cities, and has been inhabited since the Illyrian Era in the 4th century BC by the Labeats tribe, capable sailors and traders, who laid the foundation for it. Here the likes of King Gent and Queen Teuta ruled until the Roman conquest of 168 BC. It remained in Roman hands for over four centuries. In the fourth century Shkodra was the seat of a bishopric. Then it fell to the East Roman Empire. In 1043, it was captured by Montenegrin Slavs. In 1180, Shkodra was captured by Stefan Nemanja of Serbia. Then it was ruled by the local Balsha family until in 1396, the Venetians moved in and used it for their own mercantile purposes. Italy has historically exerted more influence in the north. The Christian population here is Catholic, unlike the south where Christians are Orthodox. Likewise, after Communism, many Albanians from here have immigrated to Italy as opposed to Greece.

In 1470’s the Ottomans launched two long sieges against the Rozafat Castle. These events were captured by eye witness and Albanian historian Marin Barleti (1450-1512) in his book, the Siege of Shkodra (1504), an international bestseller in the 16th century:

Now it came to pass that the Ottoman, realizing that Shkodra was the most eminent city and epicenter of the region of Epirus…the shield of Italy and all the Christians-began to nurture a great hope that he could subdue it…therefore he decided to dispatch an amazingly large army to invade it…It would be too lengthy to describe here how many thouands of Turks lost their lives there in humiliation and how the Shkodrans fought so corageously, defending themselves, their fatheirland, their women, and their children…The Turk was repulsed by the besieged-and what a loss it was!


Sultan Mehmet II was only 21 when he captured Constantinople, a feat that earned him the name “the Conqueror.” Having reached such heights so fast, his eyes were set on Rome. After decades of conquering the Balkans, he reached Shkodra, the final Balkan frontier. He personally led both sieges of the Rozafat fortress but here his dreams of reaching Rome were cut short. Venice, which was in power, eventually signed the city over to him but his army was too weakened and he died two years later.


When the Ottomans captured it in 1479 they caused further disruption to life and self determination. People fled in mass to southern Italy creating an Albanian-Italian minority that exists today. The Ottomans suppressed native ways and brought in their own culture and religion. Yet, whether in native hands, or under the foreign yoke, in each epoch Shkodra has persevered and remained an important city, both economically and culturally, producing much Albanian talent in the way of art, music, painting and writing.

Shkodra has a cute quarter of old fashioned eclectic architecture. Here the main streets are lined with buildings that date to the 1920s, an era of monarchy in Albania. Today, Shkodra also has the new modern apartment buildings of lean, clean, and light aspect, with bright and colorful paint like pink, orange, and yellow. Although a bit “lego like,” for those unaccustomed to this type, these buildings may please the eye. Besides, athough not famous landmarks, residences do matter; they are what a city is most comprised of. These apartments are the new wave, as if a reaction to the deliberately drab, no-nonsense apartment buildings of Communism. The new apartment complexes can be highly stylish, and have a modern flair unique to the Balkans.

Sources:
“Karakteristikat gjeografike.” Bashkia Shkoder. Sept. 13, 2021.
http://www.bashkiashkoder.gov.al/web/Historia_889_1.php

Dhora, Romina. “The Social and Cultural Impacts of Tourism, A Case of Shkodra.” University of Shkodra Luigj Gurakuqi: 131-135

“Shkodra.” Albania. Sept. 12, 2021.
https://albania.al/destinations/shkodra/


Barleti, Marin. Hosaflook, David, translator. The Siege of Shkodra. Tirana, Albania: Onufri, 2012.

Gjergj Fishta. Elsie, Robert, translator. The Highland Lute. London: IB Taurus, 2005.

Motivational Quotes 9/3/21

It is easy to like those who are like you; the key is to also like those who are different from you

We make the world a better place by leaving behind children who are better than ourselves

Allow chance to take its course and it always arrives at fate

Oftentimes normal is best and what’s best is not normal

The imperfections make art. Exactness makes science

Everyone has a burden to bear

There are ten broken hearts for every light on Broadway -popular

Forget normal; be special!

Paths cross when two people have something to say

Work is happiness. Sloth is depression

Scanderbeg: King of Albania

I really don’t know if I can do this man justice. He is the most renowned national hero to us, the Albanian people. However, if we go back in time into antiquity, we may find more renowned, more famous figures, such as emperors Constantine, Diocletian, or Justinian of the Roman Empire. In fact, for that matter, there were nineteen Roman Emperors believed to be of Illyrian origin, an astonishingly high number if you ask me. However, these leaders furthered the Roman cause and not the Albanian cause and for that reason we Albanians do not revere them. Also, over 1500 years separate us, the moderns, from them, the ancients. Thus, we really trace our roots, the founding of our modern nation to Scanderbeg. We view him as our national hero and founding father. Just as America has George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the like, we have Scanderbeg. His figure combines fact and fiction, struggle and glory, myth, and truth. Although members of other noble families in his time such as the Dukagjini Family, or the Arianiti family were important, Scanderbeg we may call the king of Albania.

Let me give you a few facts. Scanderbeg was born in 1405 as Gjergj (George) Kastrioti. His father lost his fortress to the invaders, the Ottoman Turks, and his sons, Gjergj and his two brothers, were taken hostage, a cruel yet not uncommon practice, in the Ottoman Empire. While in Adrianople, Gjergj as a youth proved himself capable at war games, just what the Turks were looking for. In his first battle as leader, he did so well that the Sultan, gave him the nick name Iskender Bey, or Lord Alexander, a reference to Alexander the Great. He was known as a great warrior right from the start. He would remain in Ottoman service for twenty years, both as a general and as a governor of several provinces. When the Albanians, who longed for freedom and independence from their new Turkish masters, heard of one of their own, ever so strong, and capable, they dreamed of him to come and rescue them.

Scanderbeg was a symbol of pride and hope for Albania. Although he had his plan in mind, he was wise, patient, and strategic. He was not going rush it and loose his opportunity by attacking the Turks at the wrong time. He waited a lifetime for the right moment to realize his youthful dream. When Scanderbeg was an Ottoman general, several rebellions against the Ottomans broke out, the most notable one being in Hungary, led by Hunyadi. Scanderbeg was called to crush the Hungarians. But since he himself wanted to join the rebellion, and knowing the Hungarians were stronger, he led his troops into a battle that he knew they were destined to lose. Thereupon, he switched allegiance to Albania and forced the Ottoman secretary to write a decree issuing the fortress of Kruja over to him. With this in hand, he rode to back to his father’s fortress and took possession of it. He received a hero’s welcome and made a reclamation of his family’s old feudal territory which the Ottomans had taken. But Scanderbeg’s ultimate mission was to unite the whole of Albania into one country, Christian, and free from the Islamic Turks.

We often think of the Ottoman Turks as Scanderbeg’s only enemy, but there was another major power that had prodded all the way down to Albania, Venice. The Venetian republic held political sway in several cities in northern Albania. Venice was opportunistic, underhanded, and scheming playing both sides, Turkey and Albania. At first it was pro Scanderbeg. Then when it perceived his power, it turned into an enemy of Scanderbeg. It proved to be a major hindrance to his plans for liberty.  To Venice, a mercantile power, Albanian liberty was bad for business because if Albania threw off Turkey, then Venice would be next. So, they conspired with the Ottomans against Albania. Venice openly set out to assassinate Scanderbeg. Scanderbeg’s went to war with Venice. He defeated them in two battles. In the end, a peace treaty was signed. However, when Hunyadi mounted another campaign against the Ottomans, Venetian machinations delayed Scanderbeg from joining him, resulting in a loss that gave much ground to the Ottomans. Scanderbeg’s biggest ally was Naples, under King Alfonso, whose rival was also Venice.

Scanderbeg’s army was always undermanned. While the Ottomans had 20 – 25 thousand soldiers, he usually had about 10 – 15 thousand. These battles he regularly won. Historians only count one defeat, that of Berat where he went against him own intuition by listening to others. In the most astonishing battle, Scanderbeg fought his personal enemy, Sultan Murad II, the man who had favored Gjergj in his youth, and had nick named him Lord Alexander. Murad viewed him as a terrible traitor, and he really wanted to get his revenge on him. Thus, he came with an army of 100,000 soldiers against Scanderbeg’s army of merely 8000. Though one would assume a certain defeat, Scanderbeg successfully resisted the Ottomans. His army didn’t meet them “down in the field.” In that case, the Turks would have crushed a small army of 8000. He strategically hid his archers in the mountains, and they struck the Turks from the upper vantage points. Skanderbeg’s men harassed the Turks to the point of frustration and defeat. The Ottomans retreated and Scanderbeg would go on to have similar victories where his army was very tiny, and Turkey was very large. For this fact alone, Scanderbeg baffles reason. But owing to tactics of guerilla warfare with traps and pouncing, the Albanians did the impossible.

Scanderbeg was physically gifted, big, and strong; these were the days when battles were fought with swords, bows, and spears. Though it is true guns and cannons were a recent invention, and in limited use.  He himself was in frontline combat. He was also gifted at war strategy, brave or even reckless. He was a great leader on and off the battlefield. He was seriously injured only once. Scanderbeg really embraced the cause of the Albanian people: the love of liberty, self-rule, and Christianity. Albania was on the geographic frontline in the battle of Christian Europe against the Islamic East. Scanderbeg lived in a time only 200 years removed from the crusades, when the Christians of Europe went to war to capture Holy Land. Scanderbeg too viewed himself as a defender of the faith. For this reason, the Pope was his biggest supporter and called him a champion of Christ. European leaders often used the word Crusade against the Ottomans, implying a holy war. They united on the basis of faith in order to prevent conversion.

Scanderbeg’s myth spread during and after his time as a warrior who was invincible to human weapons. Certainly, the myth of Scanderbeg has been exaggerated; that’s what myths are, exaggerations. But I dare say there is a kernel of truth here. We’re talking about a leader who had far fewer resources, far fewer men, and he defended his nation against invasion from an army that outnumbered his ten to one or more. Scanderbeg’s story is really the story of David versus Goliath, the extreme underdog versus the giant. If war be a talent, Scanderbeg had it. Now, I’m not sure war is a good thing; in fact, war is good for nothing, if you ask me, but it’s the nature of life, I suppose. We sometimes need war even though we’re all against it. We all want peace. But if there must be war, we need Scanderbeg on our side.

It is interesting to know that today, we Albanians consider the birth of our modern nation with Scanderbeg’s principality even though after his death, in 1468, followed over 450 years of Ottoman occupation. We overlook half a millennium of foreign domination! This fact alone says something about the strength of our national identity and about the nature of nationhood in general. It cannot easily be crushed even when bigger and more powerful neighbors are aiming to assimilate you and take your land.

Sources:
Zavalani, Tajar. History of Albania. London, 1963. Reprint, Robert Elsie and Bejtullah Destani, 2015.

“Skanderbeg.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 18, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skanderbeg

“Illyrian Emperors.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illyrian_emperors

Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.

Motivational Quotes 8/13/21

God made man hunger for food, so he would not get lazy. Then he plagued him with disease, so he would have the need for God.

Each person comes not only with a face but also with a fate.

Heaven is hard to earn; the price for heaven is life

When you add up all of life’s joys and all of its sorrows, the end result is nothing short of magnificent.

Why does the past seem beautiful? Even events that were painful to live through from afar assume a wonderful aura.

Every talent is a burden. It carries the burden of expression, the burden of hard work and the burden of frustration.

We admire kids for all the good qualities we have lost.

Happiness can never be pursued directly. It is in the pursuit of a goal that we find happiness.

The only thing worse than failing is failing to try.

Albania: The Readjustment Period

Hello friends, here I sit in my room all these years later. It is now a long time since my trip to Albania in 2014. And yet, believe it or not I have found an old journal with some of my thoughts fresh after that trip that reveal what frame of mind I was in after I got back.

5 3 2014

Back in America. You know there’s no place like home; not America, just your life, your apartment, your bed, your TV, your coffee shops, your room, your car. The life of a guest is no match for your own home.

I was happy to be back and enjoyed many advantages, or creature comforts, as this entry shows.

If you will recall I ended series one by saying, my boring old life in America no longer felt bleak, for now I knew this: America was home. It had a happy ending for every good story must end happily. But that is not the full story. Now that we continue, I can reveal to you although readjusting to the States was easier than after my visit to Albania in 2012, it was still hard. Let me share with you another old journal entry.

5/7/14

What a horrible day. Motivation zero. Exhausted. Miss Albania. Depressed. Why did I come back here? I don’t know what to do with my life. The only happiness I had was going to Albania. Now I’ve lost that, I’ve got nothing to shoot for. I have no purpose, nor any goals, no luck. I am stuck!

As this entry shows readjusting back home was no easy feat. We could argue life is not easy anywhere, but this readjustment period was especially hard.

Moreover, I did suffer some lingering aftereffects of the trip. I was, how to put it, culturally confused. One symptom I felt was a rude coldness. This negative feeling, I know I picked up in Albania, for it was not the normal me. I do remember a few instances where it came to play. Once I went to the gym and I gave this unfriendly vibe to this one girl, with whom I had previously been on warms terms with. We worked out near each other. We knew each other. Well, when she saw me, that I no longer cared for our warm neighborly relations, I read on her face, she was put off by it. I admit I had a bad attitude and I did not even want to improve it. We cannot easily alter our behavior even when we see it go bad. This also happened once or twice in public places where I gave off the same cold vibe. And I must blame Albania! I’m sorry to say, but I felt that the culture there, particularly in the big city, was cold and unfriendly. So, Albania gave me affected me negatively, but I overcame this influence gradually.

Another strange idea I picked up there was walking. I always walked around Tirana, and rode the bus too. So I thought I’ll bring that culture here. One day I decided to walk to my local coffee shop. It took me 30 minutes! Gimme a break! Nobody walks in the suburbs. Distances are way too long. What was I thinking! I was the only one on the sidewalk. Another time I deliberately parked my car far away, not in the lot but in a neighborhood alley, and walked 15 minutes to Starbucks. Again, what was I thinking? Was I trying to reinvent the wheel? Then when my wits returned, I realized something that I probably had known all along, that walking in the US is futile, and gave it up altogether. It is true what they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Likewise, when in the US, never walk!

I did go back to my local coffee shop here where the elegant brunette worked. But no, I never asked her out. I was resigned to my fate as a luckless loner. She always avoided my glance, even though she knew I liked her. There was no breaking through to this girl. Unless she was working the cash register, she would never look at you. But she was cute.

It was not an easy time to be alive. But eventually I did readjust to America. Most of all I felt that whatever problems I had were not caused by living in America. They were just caused by my particular life, the unique challenges that I faced at that time.

Albania: Series II introduction

Friends, here I am. It is now Summer 2021, I have recently completed series I of my blog Curiosities from Albania. What a fun time I had. I did not realize it would be so much fun. I was hesitant to begin but once I got going I got thirsty to learn more and more about my country, to write more and more about it, and to share my experience there on my last trip. Recalling those memories connected me to my roots, to my relatives, and it was a very worthy affair. It gave meaning to my days.


But now I would like to begin a new series; on Albania, of course. However I have a problem. I don’t have any additional trips to Albania that I can write about. My final trip there was in 2014. Typically I visit every four years. My next trip ought to have come in 2018. However owing to poor health I have been unable to travel. I’ve been struck down in my prime! Chronic fatigue syndrome. Not only does it prevent me from visiting Albania, if affects me in my daily life. Yet despite aches, pains, and debilitating fatigue, my spirit soars when I think of Albania! Just like eagles of Scanderbeg which mark the center of my world!

I wish I was half as strong as Scanderbeg. He was known for prodigious physical strength and a great military mind. I don’t know when or if I will improve enough for travel. I may never set foot in Albania again for as long as I live. It doesn’t bother me. I have come to terms with it. But this means this new series will be primarily historical and memorial, since I have no fresh experiences to write about.


Although I have not been able to visit my dear country, Albania, I find nevertheless that in writing about it I get closer to it. I think people have an innate desire to learn about their home; they are fundamentally attracted to their roots, some of us more than others. I am one of those people who is indeed very drawn to home, to the place of his birth. I have an older brother who doesn’t much care about Albania. He is the opposite of me. He is happy here in the US, doing his job, raising his family, and never thinks of his roots. But I am one of those people who roots deeply, as they say. So with that being said, I look forward to a new blog series on Albania. I look forward to learning more and more about my homeland, and to sharing it with you here.

Motivational Quotes 6/11/21

The devil can never make you do it. Whatever dark influence there is, the decision, whether to be good or bad, is always your own.

God is the world’s greatest poet. He has written a magnificent life story for each person who has ever lived.

Others want to see you doing well, but not better than them. -popular

Make it hard to do bad; make it easy to do good -Gretchen Rubin

To live is to fight and to fight is to live.

There is a certain beauty to our lives; that of coincidences, poetic justice, and full circle moments.

Many are the ones willing to have fun with you. Few are the ones willing to suffer alongside you.

A friend in need is a friend in deed. -Ennius (Roman)

You wish to have your neighbor’s life; he wishes to have yours! -Joel Osteen

The present is always the best time to be alive!

I tried out for AGT!

George Shetuni

My favorite TV show of the summer is America’s Got Talent. Tonight it starts up again, and you bet I’m going to watch. I love AGT; in fact, I love it so much that once upon a time I tried out for it…

It was the 23rd of January 2015, and the day of my big trip had finally arrived. I had been looking forward to it all winter long, my chance at the big time. Yes, I knew I would be a star! Or at least, so Nick Cannon assured me, as he does all of America each summer, that we are all stars! All we have to do is try out for the show, and who knows, we just might end up on TV, being lavished with ego boosting praise from the beautiful Heidi Klum, the spicy Mel B, creepy Howard Stern, and last but not least the…

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Motivational Quotes 5/7/21

Time does break the ties that bond, but the memories remain special.

Don’t mind the mistakes. Mistakes make you human. Only machines are perfect.

Setting is everything; so is timing

Though the challenges of today are lighter than those of yesterday, in their own right, they are just as heavy

Be modest

Being good is hard in the short run. Being bad is hard in the long run, and much more costly.

Happiness is in the here and now.

To each his equal, as matched by place

If you send good out, expect good in. If you send bad out, expect bad in.

You have already made it to the promised land. You are here!

Motivational Quotes 4/3/20

George Shetuni

Setbacks check poor foundations; strong foundations check setbacks

Fight to get where you think you belong

One is gifted at what one values

When we feel well we can overcome our faults; when we feel ill, they get the better of us

A good word, even if small, goes a long way

Happiness is to live in the present; to live in the future is to never get there

You will achieve as much as you were meant to achieve, no more no less

A little difference makes a lot of difference

Happiness is the fuel of life

Patience is the best medicine

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