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September, 2019

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On the drive between Kruja and Shkodra we stopped at Lezha, where Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg rallied the country’s resistance to the Ottomans and where he is buried.

Having hit traffic, the last kilometre into the town centre was slow, but we could see our first destination, the castle, perched high on a hill 186m above the city. We drove up a narrow roadway, part tarmac and part cobbles, glad of a sunny day, as our Bradt guide to Albania suggested the road was impassable in bad weather without a 4WD. Having parked in the virtually empty car park, it was a 15-minute walk along a wooden walkway and paved path upwards to the entrance. Tickets were a modest 100 Lek/75p each and this included a leaflet with map. As with “Kruja Castle”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/attraction/200217-review-kruja-castle, it was built on a hill as beacons running down the length of Albania, were the main method of communication.

The medieval castle was partly built, between the 8th and 9th centuries, over the ruins of the acropolis of the ancient city of Lissus. Stretches of the fortified walls, surrounding an area of 2 hectares, were well preserved, and originally there’d been three entrances and six defensive towers with look out windows and portholes for canons and rifles. After an earthquake in 1729, the castle began to be abandoned with the final inhabitants, a garrison of soldiers, leaving in 1913.

As we were alone, we used the map to orientate beginning with a walk along a short stretch of the walls with superb views of the town on one side with Drini river running through it, and the Adriatic coast on the other. Within the castle walls, the grass was brown following a long hot summer, but we could just make out pathways which we followed to view the ruins of the church, mosque, dungeon and palace area where the ruling family would have lived. Some parts required a degree of imagination. Back at the entrance we were reunited with our driver, who led us on a short walk on the external side of the walls. Here we came across a courting couple who were the only other people around, so they were probably miffed we’d spoilt their solitude.

Back in the car we headed for the town centre. It was here on 2 March 1444, Skanderbeg created the “League of Lezha”, an alliance uniting the northern Albanian clans against the Ottomans. An obelisk, erected in 1968, was designed to mark this important day in the country’s history.

In the central square we encountered a white marble sculpture with two arches with a bell underneath. On the side of a nearby column were two engravings which Google translate says ‘pay is the real treasure’ and ‘pay is the emblem of eternity in the tune of life’. We left none the wiser and moved on to two statues.

The first, was a 3m bronze of Gjergj Fishta, a Franciscan friar, regarded as Albania’s national poet until the communists took power in 1944. The second, was Atlas, which according to the inscription ‘was the symbolic pillar of the poetic muse of the verses of Fishta’s poem, The Lute of the Highlands’.

Behind the statues was the library with a large portrait of Mother Theresa adorning the walls. The Albanians like to claim MT as their own, but she was actually born in Skopje in what is now North Macedonia.

The Skanderbeg Memorial is protected by a pillared structure, built in 1981, which surrounds and roofs the ruined Cathedral of St Nicholas. At the rear, on a large red mosaic background, was the black, double headed falcon, the national flag. A young woman was stood outside the locked wooden doors and at first, we thought she was waiting to go in, but we discovered she was the ‘door man’. The entrance fee was 200 Lek each but as she had no change, we gave it a miss and continued on our journey.

Helen Jackson

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