North of Tirana is the eponymous city and county of Krujë (also called Kruja) . A tourist attraction due to its medieval Ottoman appearance, Krujë is one of Albania’s iconic sites. The architectural heritage with a medieval look, the city’s museums and its bazaar make Kruja a must on your tour of Albania.
City of Krujë
The road from Tirana zig-zags its way up into the mountains. The forests become denser and denser, and amidst the nature shines the beautiful city of Krujë, with the castle greeting you as the most prominent monument.
HISTORY OF KRUJË
Krujë is known as the city of Skanderbeg , the “national hero” on whom 19th century Albanian nationalism built its national identity. Gjergj Kastrioti , better known as Skanderbeg was born in Kruja and after serving the Ottomans as a cunning warrior, he rebelled against them, managing to unite other leaders to lead the resistance. But the castle he used to command his troops was already present at least as early as the 5th or 6th century AD
WHAT TO SEE IN KRUJË
The ensemble of Krujë is a representation of Albanian culture, history and traditions. In addition to Skanderberg Castle and the Skanderberg Museum, there is also an anthropological museum, a bazaar and a tekke house.
The hilltop Krujë Castle is protected by the natural defence of the mountain slopes, and by the belt of ramparts and nine towers that enclose its perimeter. In the Middle Ages, Skanderbeg used its location and defensive consistency to direct warfare aimed at fighting for the domination of present-day Albania.
Kruja Castle (in Albanian, Kalaja e Krujës) is the symbol of Albanian resistance against the Ottomans. During the Albanian revolt of 1432-1436 Krujës was besieged, but the castle withstood three assaults by the Turks with a Turkish army and not even Mehmed II “The Conqueror” himself was able to break the castle’s iron defence.
Years later, it was here that Skanderbeg flew the Albanian flag for the first time on 28 November 1443 and where he, together with his army, successfully resisted the Ottoman forces for more than 25 years. It was the first time Albania was not ruled by other peoples.
Tower at Kruje Castle
Today its interior is open to visitors, including the Dollme Teqe of the Bektashi (an Islamic Sufi sect), the remains of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Mosque and its minaret, a Skanderbeg museum, a Turkish bath and the national ethnographic museum. The views of the mountains at sunset are perfect if you choose to stay more than a day in Kruja.
George Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum
The George Kastrioti museum opened its doors in 1982. It was designed by the daughter of the dictator Enver Hoxha and her husband, trying to combine a medieval style. The tour of the museum tells the key story of his role in the resistance against Ottoman rule, focusing on his origins as a soldier in the employ of the sultans, and his uprising against his former masters. It also deals with the support he received from Catholic countries such as the King of Aragon, Sicily and Sardinia, Alfonso VI.
George Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum in Kruja
Its spacious seven-level interior displays replicas of armour and paintings depicting Skanderbeg’s fight against the Ottomans. Most of the information panels are in Albanian.
Museum opening hours
9 am-14pm and 16-19pm Mon-Sat, 9 am-15 pm Sun in May-September. From October to April open 9am-13pm and 15-18pm Tue-Sun.
National Ethnographic Museum
Another important building in Krujë is the National Ethnographic Museum. This traditional Ottoman house in the castle complex below the Skanderbeg Museum houses one of the best ethnographic museums in the country. Housed in an original 19th century Ottoman house that belonged to the wealthy Toptani family, the museum shows the lifestyle of a wealthy family, complete with mini hammam (Turkish bath), leather-making utensils, and water mill.The walls are covered with original frescoes from 1764. In its garden, by the way, grows an olive tree that local legend has it was planted by Skanderbeg himself.
Just below the castle complex are the remains of a small hammam (Turkish bath) as well as a functioning tekke. The tekke was a small place of worship for the faithful practising the Bektashi branch of Islam. Beautifully decorated, it has been maintained since 1789 by successive generations of the Dollma family. In the summer, at least, it is usually open and you can visit the interior where there is a chapel decorated with carpets, embroidery and photographs.
The narrow streets of the city centre below the castle are home to the historic Ottoman bazaar. Restored in 2015 it is a good place to shop for traditional goods and souvenirs, from beautifully embroidered tablecloths to coffee pots and copper plates. A good place to start exploring is Pazari Vjeter Street (Rruga), near the town hall. The cobblestone streets criss-cross each other like a small labyrinth. There’s something of a 15th-century bazaar in the air, although the goods on sale are nowadays more tourist-oriented.
The minaret of the mosque, known as the Murad Bey Mosque, stands out in the streets of the bazaar. During the years of Albania’s secular nationhood, the mosque was closed and its minaret was destroyed. In 1991 it was rehabilitated and is a National Monument of Krujë.
TOURS AND EXCURSIONS TO KRUJË
HOTELS AND ACCOMMODATION IN KRUJË
EXCURSIONS FROM KRUJË
In addition to Krujë there are several recommended excursions such as the village of Zgerdhesh to the south, and the ruins of the ancient Illyrian city of Albanopolis , inhabited by the “Alban” tribe that gave the name to the country Albania. At the site you can pass through the remains of walls and fortifications. From Kruja a winding road leads to the Qafë Shtama National Park, which covers an area of 2,000 hectares. It is made up of pine forests, ideal for hiking. In Qafë Shtama Park you can also find the Burimi i Nënës Mbretëreshë (Queen Mother’s Spring), from which clear water, known for its health-giving properties, flows.
Finally, a very popular place for the Bektashi community in Albania is the Sarisalltik mountain just 20 minutes drive from Krujë. It is common to see pilgrims flocking to “the holy mountain”, while the rest come to enjoy the views that include the Adriatic Sea and the surrounding mountains.
HOW TO GET TO KRUJË
The village of Krujë is 32 km northwest of Tirana, which is about three quarters of an hour’s drive. From Rinas International Airport it is only 18 km, 25-30 minutes.
The bus route is the best public transport option, with buses departing from the market next to the train station.
WHERE TO EAT IN KRUJË
Three good places to eat are the restaurants Bardhi, Rooms Emiliano and Piceri Alba, where you can choose from traditional Albanian dishes. All three are located near the castle. In the lower part of town, between the Murad Bey Mosque and the town hall, the restaurant at the Panorama Hotel is a good choice.
Kruja is known for its deep-rooted coffee tradition, so it will be quite easy to find traditional cafés where you can enjoy your morning coffee. At Bar (Hotel) Panorama , one of the best coffees in town is served, with beautiful views of the whole city.