In ancient times, the Greek founded a colony in Lezhë called Lissos as a way to safeguard the trade routes along the Adriatic coast. Later, the town was the subject of dispute between the Illyrians and the Macedonians, who eventually formed an alliance against the Romans. However, this alliance was not enough to prevent the Roman general Marcus Antonius from taking over the town. During the Middle Ages, Lezhë was under the domination of various rulers until it was conquered by Venetians in 1386.
Lezhë’s status as a neutral town under Venetian control made it the ideal location to convene a meeting between Albanian, Serbian, Dalmatian, and other regional lords to unite their forces and resist the Ottoman expansion into the Balkans. This historic event took place in Kalaja e Lezhë [Castle of Lezhë] and the driving force behind the formation of the alliance was Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, a prominent Albanian nobleman and military commander who is considered a national hero. The resulting military alliance of 1444, with Skënderbeu as its supreme leader, became known as the ‘League of Lezhë’. As a former Ottoman military officer, Skënderbeu had an intimate understanding of Ottoman tactics and weaknesses, which made him an effective military leader in the resistance against the Ottomans for over two decades.
Most visitors today go to Lezhë primarily to see Vendvarrimi i Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu [Tomb of Gjergj Kastriot Skënderbeu]. Although the tomb does not contain the remains of their greatest hero, it holds high significance for Albanians as a symbol of their national identity and pride.
Vendvarrimi i Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu
Vendvarrimi i Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu [Tomb of Gjergj Kastriot Skënderbeu] is a memorial dedicated to the Albanian national hero. According to legend, he was buried in the Cathedral of Lezhë, Shën Kolli [Church of St Nicholas] once stood at the site, in 1468. The cathedral was later converted into the Xhamia e Selimiye [Selimie Mosque].
It is said that when the Ottomans discovered Skënderbeu’s grave, they opened it and created amulets from his bones, believing that wearing them would grant the wearer invincibility. This legend is a testament to Skënderbeu’s status as a formidable military leader who successfully defended Albania against the Ottoman Empire for over two decades.
In 1981, during the Communist era, a structure was built over the ruins of the cathedral. Visitors to the mausoleum can admire Skënderbeu’s striking bust, which dominates the space. In addition, on display is a replica of Skënderbeu’s Arms, including his famous goat head-topped helmet and sword. The brick walls of the mausoleum are decorated with 25 metal shields, each one symbolizing a significant battle led by Skënderbeu.
Gibbon, Edward (1789) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 6