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Shkodra (Town, Albania)


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Flag of Shkodra - Image by Ivan Sache & Jaume Ollé, 12 April 2006

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Presentation of Shkodra

The town of Shkodra (or Shkodër; in Italian, Scutari; in Turkish, Uskudar; in Montenegrin, Skadar; 86,200 inhabitants in 2008) is the economical capital of northern Albania and the fourth biggest town in the country. It is the capital of the district (rrethet) of Shkodra (253,225 inhabitants in 1991; 2,528 sq. km).
Shkodra is located on the south-easternmost point of Lake Shkodra (liqeni i Shkodrës), the largest lake in the Balkan, shared with Montenegro (169 sq. km in Albania; 199 sq. km in Montenegro). The area is also watered by the rivers Drini, Buna, Shala, Kiri and Gemi and is surrounded by mountains (Jezerca, 2,694 m a.s.l.).

Shkodra is one of the oldest towns in Albania; in the 3rd century BC, it was the capital of the Illyrian tribe of Ardeans, whose last king, Genthius, minted his own coins. Genthius set up an alliance with the Macedonian king Perseus (179-168 BC) and was defeated in 168 BC during the third Illyrian War by General Paul Emil (228-160 BC). The historian Titus-Livy reports that Genthius' capital was protected by walls, towers and donjons. However, it was seized and sacked by the Romans. Shkodra was later rebuilt and became the center of the province of Praevalitania.
By the share of the Roman Empire in 395, Shkodra was allocated to the Eastern Empire (Byzantine Empire). In the 11th century, it was transferred to Serbian lords from Zeta (today, Montenegro), who developed the economy of the town. Shkodra was then transferred to the Albanian family of Balshaj, rulers of the whole northern Albania and parts of Montenegro. Threatened by the Ottomans, the Balshaj sold the town to the Venitians in 1396; Shkodra became an advanced post of Christendom. The town was seized in 1474 and 1478 by the Ottomans, who could not keep it. They eventually seized and sacked it in 1479 after a one-year siege depicted on a famous painting by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). The fall of Shkodra caused the exile of several of its inhabitants to Italy, where they formed the Arbëresh / Arbaresh communities in Calabria, Sicily and elsewhere.
Under the Ottoman rule, Shkodra reemerged in the 17th-18th centuries; at that time (1767-1773) was built the Lead Mosque (xhamia e plombit), covered with lead leaves. In 1756, Mehmed Pasha Plaku founded in Shkodra the Bushati dynasty, which set up his own rule and established diplomatic relationships with the other European states. Under Kara Mamoud Pasha Bushati, Shkodra had 70,000 inhabitants and was renowned for its craftsmen. In 1831, the Sultan set up a military expedition to get rid of the Bushati rule.
During the Albanian national rebirth (Rilindja), insurrections against the Ottomans broke out in Shkodra in 1876, 1880, 1910, 1911 and 1912. The Serbs and the Montenegrians besieged the town during the Balkan Wars, to no avail. During the First World War, Shkodra was placed under an international administration, then occupied by the Austrians, then by the French (1918-1920), and eventually incorporated to the new Albanian state.
In 1990, Shkodra was one of the main and earliest centers of the revolt that caused the fall of the Communist regime in Albania.

The fortress of Rozafa, dominating the town of Shkodra, is one of the most famous monuments in Albania. Built on a hill dominating the confluency of the rivers Buna and Kiri, it has an oval shape, a perimeter of 600 m and an area of 6 ha. The fortress and its seven towers were successively rebuilt by the Venitians and the Ottomans on the foundations of an early Illyrian fortress. The building of the fortress is related by Rozafa's legend. The three brothers in charge of the building noticed that their daily work was always destroyed during the next night; they were advized by an old man to wall up someone alive in order to calm down the demons that trashed their work. The brothers decided to sacrifice the first of their wives who would come the next day to bring their lunch. The two oldest brothers warned their wife and Rozafa, the wife of the junior son, was sacrificed. She accepted it but asked that a small interstice was made in the wall so that she could breast-feed her young son. Rozafa's fountain, indeed a seepage of calcareous water, can still be seen in the wall of the entrance gate of the fortress. It is a place of pilgrimage for pregnant women. This kind of legend is widespread in the Balkans and was illustrated by famous writers such as Ismail Kadare (The three-arched bridges) and Ivo Andrić (The bridge over the Drina).

Due to its geographical location and contact with the foreign countries, Shkodra has always been a main center of the Albanian culture, especially before the foundation of the Albanian state. The historian Marin Barleti (d. 1512) lived in Shkodra during the three sieges by the Ottomans; after the defeat, he moved to Italy where he published in Latin De obsidione Scodrensis (The siege of Shkodra, Venice, 1504) and Historia de vita et gestis Skanderbegi (History of the life and acts of Skanderbeg, Rome, 1508). The latter book was translated and spread all over Europe and significantly contributed to the fame of Skanderbeg.
Gjon Buzuk, another writer from northern Albania with a nearly totally unknown biography, published in 1555 in Venice the Meshar (The Missal), a series of preaches made after the Gospels. This 188-page book is the oldest known book published in Albanian language.
The novelist Ernst Qoliki (1903-1975), born in Shkodra, studied in Italy and went back to Albania after the set up of the Regency government in 1920. After Zogu's coup in 1924, Qoliki exiled to Yugoslavia with the leaders of the Albanian mountain tribes. He came back to Albania in 1930 but exiled again to Italy in 1933. Qoliki contributed to the popularization of Albanian culture and literature in Italy and was appointed Professor of Albanian at the University of Roma. He accepted the Mussolinian expansionist views and was appointed Minister of Education of Albania during the Italian occupation (1939-1941). In 1943, he presided the Fascist Grand Council in Tirana. After the victory of the Communists, he fled to Italy where he spent the rest of his life.
The most famous writer from Shkodra is the poet and novelist Migjeni (Milosh Gjegj Nikolla, 1911-1938). Born in an Orthodox family, he studied in Bar (Montenegro) and Bitola (Macedonia). Back to Shkodra in 1932, he became a school teacher. He died from tuberculosis in an Italian sanatorium on 26 August 1938. Migjeni's only volume of verse, Vargjet e lira (Free Verses), was composed over a three-year period from 1933 to 1935. A first edition of this slender and yet revolutionary collection, a total of thirty-five poems, was printed by the Gutemberg Press in Tirana in 1936 but was immediately banned by the authorities and never circulated. The second edition was released only in 1944. The main theme of the Free Verses and of Migjeni's prose, is misery and suffering. Though he did not publish a single book during his lifetime, Migjeni's works, which circulated privately and in the press of the period, were an immediate success. Migjeni paved the way for a modern literature in Albania. His series of short stories entitled Tregimet nga qyteti i Veriut (Chronicles of a Northern City) gives a vivid description of Shkodra under Zogu's feudal regime, insisting on prostitution, something which was then completely taboo in Albania.


Ivan Sache, 12 April 2006

Flag of Shkodra

A picture of the town (or district) hall of Shkodra, published on the Shkodraonline website, shows two flags flown from the balcony, the Albanian national flag and the flag of Shkodra. The flags flank the municipal coat of arms, placed on the guardrail of the balcony.
The flag is horizontally divided blue-red with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.

Ivan Sache, 12 April 2006