Sightseeing in and around Shkodra, Albania

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Things to do


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September, 2019

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Our sight-seeing in Shkodra, northern Albania, took in the main sights of “Rozafa Castle”:, “Site of Witness and Memory”:, and “Marubi National Museum of Photography”: However, on our full day tour, we also made a number of other visits.

First, was the Catholic Cathedral, constructed in 1858 with permission from the Ottoman authorities. It had an empty starkness to it, probably no surprise as during the communist ban on religion from 1967, it was turned into a basketball hall. The painted wooden ceiling, with its pattern of squares, was original, and the cathedral had been reconsecrated in 1991 at a ceremony attended by Mother Teresa. The bust of the Pope had a shiny nose where everyone had touched it. A wedding had just taken place and paper rose petal confetti was being swept up and the flowers removed. At the rear, were two large stone fonts (one was original) and a statue of St Michael slaying the devil.

At the Franciscan church and monastery, built between 1902 and 1905, a wedding group was just leaving with another waiting in the wings. Although we watched the seven bridesmaids being escorted into church by their partners followed by flower girls strewing petals, it meant the church was off limits but we could see the lovely vaulted ceiling. In January 1947 the Sigurimi (Albanian Secret Police) stored a cache of arms and ammunition in the church. When the Franciscan priests discovered this, they protested and were arrested. Twenty years later, the church was transformed into a cinema which our guide recalled visiting with his father as a child.

To complete the religious picture, we visited the main mosque which was impossible to miss due to its size and location in the town centre. The original mosque on the site had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1905 and rebuilt five years later. However, it too suffered during the communist era and was razed to the ground and olive trees planted on the site. The existing mosque was rebuilt in 1995 with private funding.

Walking around the old town allowed us to see the neo classical Venetian houses with shops underneath and wooden shutters on top and in contrast, simpler Ottoman buildings.

In the afternoon, we left town and drove to what was to be our first sight of an Ottoman bridge in Albania. The Mesi Bridge, as with others, was made from stone, with arches which were higher in the centre. This bridge, over a very dried-up River Buna, had 13 arches and at 108m, is the longest in the country. We walked from one side of the magnificent structure to the other, pleased there were so few people around.

We continued to Lake Shkodra, shared with Montenegro, noting a road sign proclaiming, ‘Berlin 1906 km’. We followed what became an increasingly narrow road, right to the final Albanian village, Zogaj, on the border with Montenegro. Having parked up, we wandered down onto a small jetty, surrounded by simple yellow fishing boats and hens scratching in the reeds. A couple of boats came in, but they didn’t appear to have been fishing. The main catch is carp, sold to the various lake side restaurants we’d passed on the way. We learned that during the communist era, travel to the village was restricted as it was so near the border. If you wanted to visit a friend in the village you would be stopped and only allowed to proceed once the police had confirmed things.

We really enjoyed our two days in Shkodra, it’s a shame the “Hotel Carmen”: Hotel Carmen failed to deliver.

Helen Jackson

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