Kalaja e Krujës
Krujë is the hometown of the Albanian nobleman and military commander, Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu. His striking equestrian statue in the main square is only one of the many evidences regarding the great deal of pride the town feels for its most illustrious son. The national hero here is portrayed wielding his mighty sword with one hand.
Kalaja e Krujës
Perched on a hill above the present modern town a fortress was built in the 5th or 6th century. The fort was enlarged over time and now it is known as Kalaja e Krujës [Krujë Castle].
In ancient times, the region of Krujë was inhabited by the Illyrian tribe of the Albani, whose first historical account appears in a work of a Greco-Roman scientist, Ptolemy. In 1190, Krujë became the capital of the first autonomous Albanian state in the middle ages, the Principality of Arbër. Later the principality was dissolved and incorporated in the newly founded Kingdom of Albania. In the 14th century, the region was contested between the Byzantine, Serbian and Albanian dominions. Finally, in the early 15th century Krujë was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.
In 1443, Skënderbeu gained control over Krujë by deceiving its subaşi [governor] with a forged letter from the sultan and made the castle into his headquarters. He was also able to unite the Albanian princedoms that had been divided for six centuries into a military alliance against the Ottoman Empire known as the ‘League of Lezhë’. Under Skënderbeu‘s command, the elliptical citadel, defended by a small army usually no larger than 3,000 men, fought off three successive sieges from the Turks (1450, 1466, 1467). The Ottoman troops amounted to about 100,000-150,000 men. The Albanian stronghold finally fell in the fourth siege in 1478, ten years after the ‘dragon’s’ death, and was taken over by the Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed II.
“What we were given to witness on the eve of the attack was more horrible than any battle, worse than any carnage. When we heard their drums roll at dusk, we first thought that, contrary to all known principles of modern war, they were perhaps about to launch a night raid. But we soon saw that what they were trying to do, once they had got their equipment ready for the assault, was to raise their soldiers’ morale. At the first beats of their drums, the sight that greeted our eyes was unbearable. Such madness we had never imagined – neither in the orgies of ancient times, whose memory has come down to us through the generations, nor in the wildest carnival nights in our own villages. Shouting, screaming, praying and dancing, men offered themselves up for sacrifice, made exhibitions of themselves in which, as we were to learn later on, severed heads carried on talking as if still in delirium; soldiers wailed as if they were night owls and banged their drums dementedly. All those noises wafted up to our castle like stinking vapors.”
Ismail Kadare: Siege (1970)
The castle now contains a museum dedicated to this legendary Albanian leader, Muzeu Historik Kombëtar Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu [National History Museum Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu]. The museum is something of a secular shrine, with impressive statues and dramatic murals depicting scenes from his life (most of the corresponding information panels are displayed in Albanian). The exhibits have been arranged in a way that chronicles Skënderbeu’s life and military achievements, one of the proudest periods of Albanian history. An important display is the replica of the Arms of Skënderbeu: his famous goat head-topped helmet and sword.
Unfortunately, the collection in Krujë does not contain any original artifacts that belonged to Skënderbeu himself. Of all of his belongings, but four objects remain: two swords, his famous helmet, and a prayer book. Currently, the swords and the helmet are on display in the Collection of Arms and Armour at the Neue Burg (affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna. The prayer book is archived at the Shelley Publishing House in Chelsea, London.
In front of the museum are the remains of an Ottoman-era mosque and its minaret, Xhamia e Fatih Sulltan Mehmetit [Sultan Mehmed Fatih Mosque]. It was named after Sultan Mehmed II, commonly known as Mehmed the Conqueror, who after unsuccessful sieges finally was able to conquer the castle.
A traditional Ottoman home in the environs of the castle, houses the Muzeu Etnografik [Ethnographic Museum]. The museum is located in an original 19th century house that belonged to a wealthy Toptani family. It shows the level of self-sufficiency the household maintained by producing its own food, drink and household artifacts. The home’s luxury is well presented with the walls lined with frescoes, intricately carved woodwork, colorfully painted furniture and the house’s own mini hammam [Turkish bath]. All the objects in the museum are original and still in good working order.
At the bottom of the castle complex is a small Bektashi place of worship, Teqja e Dollmës [Tekke of Dollmë]. The teqe has been maintained by successive generations of the Dollma family since 1789. Allegedly, the knobby olive tree in front of the building among the graves was planted by Skënderbeu himself.
On the cobblestone street leading up to the castle stands a section of a 450-year-old bazaar. Strolling through this neighborhood of the town feels like stepping back in time. The bazaar in its heyday saw more than 150 merchants selling their goods to the castle’s residents and visitors. Today, it sells traditional local crafts and antiques, such as embroidery, traditional clothing, silver filigree jewelry, copper household objects, woodcarvings and carpets. You can even get to see artisans crafting items in their shops.
Know Before You Go
Krujë is a city perched on a mountainside therefore it is suitable for drivers experienced in driving using handbrakes and on narrow serpentine roads.