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Shkodra (Shkodër)


A Shkodra street

Shkodra, known as Scutari in Italian, also known as Skadar in Serbian and as Iskenderie in Turkish, is the regional capital of northern Albania, and a very interesting city with a long and often turbulent history, arising from its strategic position on the Adriatic coast and the military importance of its great citadel, Rozafat Castle. It is the Albanian city which has always had the closest links with Italy, both in terms of trade and culture. It is predominantly Roman Catholic in religion, but with a substantial Muslim minority. but although this has given Shkodra a Western oriention, and made it in the past and present a centre of progressive thought and new institutional development, the hinterland is the remote, barren and primitive northern highlands, called the 'Land of the Living Past' by Edith Durham, the English traveller of the Edwardian period.

There have been many traces of prehistoric occupation found in the region. In Illyrian times the city was founded by the Labeates at the beginning of the last millennium BC, then take over by the Ardiaean tribe in the 3 century BC. In the 3rd century BC the area was the seat of a powerful Illyrian kingdom with a bad reputation for piracy, founded by King Agron, and stretching from Lake Shkodra to the Gulf of Kotor - which led to prolonged conflict with the Romans. Genthius, the last king of the Ardiaeans, and of Illyria, was drawn into conflict with Rome by Perseus. The city was then assigned to the area of the Labeates. The Roman town that was established passed to the Byzantines, followed by a period of Slav occupation from 1040 to 1355. It was taken by the Venetians in 1396, who built the stronghold at Rozafa, on the foundation of earlier fortications. In 1473 Rozafa was attacked by Suleiman Pasha and his Turkish troops.

A Turkish bridge near Shkodra,
similar to the famous one which was destroyed at Mostar.

Shkodra became the centre of one of the largest Sanjaks (Turkish provinces) in the Balkans and its rulers began to show marked independence from Constantinople. The first printing press in Albania was set up in Scutari in the 16 century. The feudal lord Mehmet Bey Bushati became Pasha in 1757, achieved great regional power and influence. The Bushati family became 'Hereditary Pasha'. Their rule extended into Kosova in the north-west and to Berati in the south.

The first Albanian newspaper to be printed in Albanian and Turkish was published in the city in 1879. The city also became an important commercial centre, and was the largest city in Albania. The Jesuits and Franciscans opened schools at this time, under Vatican patronage.

The North Albanian Alps above Shkodra

Shkodra was the birthplace of the poet Migjeni (1911-1938) - the founder of modern Albanian lyric poetry. Migjeni was the pseudonym of Millosh Nikolla, a member of the Serbian minority in the town.

A communist cell was founded in Shkodra in 1934. The city suffered badly under communism and played a prominent part in the democratic movement leading to the end of the one-party state in 1990-1991.

A Shkodra café

Shkodra weather can be very pleasant in Spring or Autumn, Summer visits are recommended but the town (like Venice) should be avoided by tourists in winter. It can be very cold with thick fogs sweeping off the lake or freezing cold north winds blowing off the Montenegrin mountains



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