Shkodra (Albanian: Shkodër; Italian: Scutari; Latin: Scodra) is the most important city in northern Albania, bordering to the north with Montenegro . The cultural heritage is outstanding, home to many artists, musicians, painters, photographers, poets and writers born in Shkoder.
For this reason it is often referred to as the “Cultural Capital of Albania”, and a city of religious tolerance. The majority of its population is Muslim, but it is also the centre of Albanian Catholicism, as well as having a community of Orthodox Christians.
Besides the castle , the centre of Shkodër is perfect for a stroll along the lively Kole Idromeno Street (name of photographer, architect, , better known to its inhabitants as Pjaca , with its Mediterranean flair dotted with pastel-coloured houses, mosques, and Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Shkodra Lake is an invitation for cycling, swimming, fishing or eating some of the best dishes of Albanian cuisine.
HISTORY OF SHKÖDER
The lake, a source of water and food resources, was probably the reason why the Illyrian tribes of the Ardiaei and Labeates settled here around the 4th century BC. The river communications of the three rivers: Kir, Drin which connects to Prizren in southern Kosovo, and the Bojana river which flows into the Adriatic, made Shkodra a strategic commercial enclave over the centuries. If we add to this the fact that it is located in the south of the lake of the same name (Skadar Lake for the Montenegrins), it is easy to understand its importance.
Titus Livy already mentions Scodra as an Illyrian settlement of strong opposition to Romanisation. Despite strong opposition in 168 BC, they did not resist the advance of the Roman roller and one of their main kings, Gentius, was defeated and taken prisoner to Rome. Integrated into the Roman province of Illyricum, and later Dalmatia, in the 3rd century AD, Shkodër became the capital of Praevalitana after the administrative reform of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. With the spread of Christianity in the 4th century, the Archdiocese of Scodra was founded in 535 during the Byzantine period. Later, Bulgarians, Serbs (11th century), Venetians in 1396 after it was sold by the Serbian Balshaj dynasty who controlled it as a feudal principality, ruled Shkodër.
The 15th century was particularly warlike with the Ottomans seizing Shkodër in 1479, after it had been one of the territories revolted by the leader Skanderbeg (a former Ottoman mercenary). It was an independent municipal centre during the rule of Bushatllinj Pashallëk from 1757 to 1831 and later again controlled by the Ottomans. Throughout the 17th century, the town began to prosper as the centre of the Scutari Sanjak (sanjak was an administrative unit). It became the economic pole of northern Albania, and its craftsmen specialised in textile, silk, arms and silver work. Classical from this period are the two-storey stone houses, the bazaar and the Central or Middle Bridge (Ura e Mesit) over the Kir River, built during the second half of the 18th century, over 100 metres (330 ft) long, with 13 stone arches. It remained important until the end of the Ottoman Empire’s rule in the Balkans in the early 20th century, producing clothing, leather, tobacco and gunpowder.
After being occupied by the Austrians in 1916-18 during World War I, it was taken over by the Allied Powers until independence was achieved in 1921.Before World War II, Shkodër was Albania’s main Catholic centre, with a cathedral, a pontifical college, Franciscan and Jesuit convents, libraries and publishing houses. It was occupied by Mussolini’s fascist state before World War II, and after the war it lived under the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.
WHAT TO SEE IN SHKÖDER
The area on which the social life of Shkodër gravitates is the pedestrian street of ” Pjaca “, recognisable by the sculptures of Teresa de Calcula, Luigj Gurakuqi and Gjuhadol.
The fortress on top of the town is Shkodër’s most famous monument, and one of the most important castles in Albania. Located on the southern outskirts of the present-day town centre (about 3.5 km), it rises on the hill between the confluence of the Kir, Drin and Bojana rivers. From the bastions of Rozafa Castle (Kalaja e Shkodrës in Albanian), one can see the skyline, on one side the town of Shkodër and the lake, with the mountains of the Valbona Valley National Park as a backdrop.
It was the Illyrians who took advantage of this panoramic balcony to control the area and defend themselves from attack. With the Roman expansion into the Balkans, its defensive use continued. The Venetians later laid the foundations of the fortress after the sieges of the Ottoman raids in 1478. During the centuries of Ottoman control, reinforcements of the wall belt were carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in modern times under the rule of the Bushatllinj family of nobles. In the 20th century, the castle experienced another confrontation when the Ottomans resisted the attack of Serbs and Montenegrins in 1912.
Inside the castle you can see three courtyards, the remains of buildings and the Church of St. Stephen from 1319. There is also a small museum with Neolithic artefacts, Illyrian coins, Ottoman-era weapons and mosaics.
Rozafa Castle at Shkodër
The legend surrounding the castle comes from the maiden Rozafa , the betrothed of the youngest of three brothers who built the castle. Despite the efforts of the three of them to build the castle walls, their work collapsed at night. The devil (in other versions he is a wise man who gives them advice) tempted the brothers by saying that he would see to it that the castle would not collapse if they buried the wife of one of them. The brothers made a pact not to alert their wives to this danger, and the first one to bring her husband food the next day would be the one sacrificed. However, the older brothers broke their word, and it was the young Rozafa who came with the food. The pact with the devil was consummated but they managed to leave her breast, one arm and one of her legs in the air, thus allowing her to suckle her newborn and rock the cradle. According to legend, the chalky water flowing at the entrance of the castle is the milk flowing from one of her breasts.
Xhamia e Plumbit
Behind the castle is the “lead mosque” (Xhamia e Plumbit) with multiple domes. It is so called because the rocks used for the construction of its walls were bound together with molten lead.
Ebu Bekr Mosque
In the modern city centre is the Ebu Bekr Mosque , known as the Great Mosque . It is a beautiful 18th century building renovated with donations from Saudi Arabia and Egypt in 1995.
Shkodra History Museum
The Shkodra History Museum opened in 1947, and was initially known as the “Folk Museum”. It is located in the city centre, in a monumental 19th century building.In 1996, the Museum was transferred to an old traditional house in Shkodran – owned by a Venetian merchant – where you can visit the ethnographic collection, the archaeological section, and the part dedicated to the visual arts.
Museum of Memory
The museum is located in a former Franciscan seminary used during the dictatorship as the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior and a centre for interrogation, torture and imprisonment of political detainees. The museum is dedicated to remembering the horrors that took place here, through photos of some of the victims who died here, testimonies of survivors, and a tour of the original cells and interrogation rooms.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the main Catholic churches in Albania. It takes its name from the original church whose remains are still visible in the castle of Rozafa. The church is reminiscent of the churches of north-central Italy. Built between 1858 and 1867, its interior is spacious, with a main nave seating 6,000 people. Between the proclamation of atheism in Albania, it was closed for worship from 1967 to 1990 and used as a sports centre. The wooden ceiling and the canvases of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the “martyrs” of the dictatorship are of particular interest.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Shkodra
National Museum of Photography Marubi
The work of the Marubi family of photographers has made their photo collection of over 150,000 negatives a heritage of late 19th and 20th century Albanian history and society. The museum, which houses the permanent photography exhibition, is a unique treasure of its kind, allowing the visitor to retrace such important periods as Pjetër Marubi’s first snapshots in 1858, moments of the Albanian liberation and independence movement, or the rise and fall of communism. Pjetër, actually Pietro Marubi, was an Italian photographer who fled to Shkodra in the mid-19th century for political reasons, supporting Garibaldi. After his death, his legacy was preserved by the Kodheli brothers, who continued the collection until Kel Khodeli’s death in 1940.
Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The Nativity of Christ Cathedral is the Orthodox church in Shkoder, located on the street parallel to Pjaca. It was built in the 19th century with the support of the Russian Embassy in Albania. Throughout its history it was destroyed several times, first during the communist period and later during the Balkan conflict. In 2000 it was rebuilt.
The largest lake in the Balkans forms a natural boundary between Albania and Montenegro. From Shkodar it is possible to cycle along its shore, or take a bus to the western end of town and complete the remaining five kilometres on foot.Not far from the Montenegrin border is the Shkodra Resort where it is possible to rent kayaks, paddle surfboards or take boat trips on the lake.
HOW TO GET TO SHKÖDER
As the largest city in northern Albania, Shkodër is the road connection between the Albanian capital Tirana and the Montenegrin capital Podgorica. The SH1 road leads to the Albanian-Montenegrin border at the Han i Hotit border crossing.
The communications to get to Shkodër by car are quite good, especially if we arrive from Tirana or Durrës , following the E762 and E762.
Arriving by plane
There are two options to get to Shkodër by plane, either via Tirana airport , which is an hour and a half drive away, or from Podgorica airport , the capital of Montenegro, which is just over an hour away and also has flights to Spain (Tirana currently has no direct flights to Spain). From Podgorica airport, Shkodra can be reached via the road at the Hani i Hotit border crossing in the north of the lake.
Arriving by bus
Buses between Tirana and Shkodra depart approximately every hour. The journey takes about 2 hours leaving from ZOGU I ZI stopping near the Pallati i Sportit football stadium. From Ulcinj and Podgorica in Montenegro there are also buses.
From Tirana or Dürres there are minivans that leave when full to Shkoder.
Transfers and transfers
The private transfers are the fastest way to get around in Albania and are affordable, especially if you are travelling in a group.
The tourist office of Shkoder is located on Rruga Teuta Street
HOTELS AND ACCOMMODATION IN SHKÖDER
TOURS AND GUIDED TOURS IN SHKÖDER
WHERE TO EAT IN SHKÖDER – RESTAURANTS
The Italian influence in Shkoder is very noticeable, so there are good restaurants with pizzas and Italian food. Sofra on the main pedestrian street of Rruga Kolë Idromeno has affordable prices. At the end of the same street, the San Francisco restaurant is another good recommendation, as is Vila Bekteshi. In addition to good food, Il Piacere is one of the best cafés in Shkoder. For vegetarians, Albanian cuisine offers delicious options on every restaurant’s menu.
EVENTS & PARTIES
Throughout the year there are various events and festivals such as the Carnival celebration, Children’s Festival, Lake Day, Beer Festival and Shkodra Jazz Festival.
EXCURSIONS FROM SHKÖDER
Shkoder is usually the city of choice for overnight stays when travelling in northern Albania. From here it is possible to take excursions to some of the most interesting places in the area, such as the Albanian Alps or to Lake Komani , as well as trekking to Theth in the Valbona National Park. Another recommended excursion is to the medieval ruins of Sarda, on (today’s) Shurdhah Island in the Drin River. Only 5 kilometres from the town is the Mes bridge over the river Kir, one of the oldest existing Ottoman bridges. It is 108 metres long. If we are interested in history we can add a visit to the medieval citadel of Drisht and the Shirgj Monastery.