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Kruja Castle was historically one of the most important defensive strongholds in the country, fending off legions of foreign invaders throughout the centuries. Today, it stands as a proud reminder of Albanian perseverance and strength.
Krujë Castle has proudly stood on top of a rocky cliff, high above its city, for the last fifteen centuries. It has witnessed the long turbulent history of this place, which was once the centre of Arbëria (Albania’s ancient name). At a time when the Ottoman Empire ruled over a large swathe of Europe, including Constantinople and the Balkans, this castle remained undefeated for thirty-five years, thanks to Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg, the legendary Albanian hero who defended its walls until his death.
Following Skanderbeg’s revolt against the Ottomans in 1443, this castle weathered many persistent attacks from the Ottoman army. For a long time, it seemed that these attacks made the castle’s walls and Skanderbeg’s army of three-thousand men only more impenetrable. However, in 1478, ten years after Skanderbeg’s death, the castle fell to Sultan Mehmed II. Erected as early as the 5th century, this castle had clearly weathered many storms prior to these events, but it is this particular part of history that imbues it with a certain kind of majesty. Albanians identify with this castle’s story, finding there the perseverance of a small but mighty force.
Among the ruins within the castle walls stands the Old Clock Tower, with the same bell that once rung to announce the death of Skanderbeg. This clock, crafted by artisans of the Old Bazaar of Krujë, once coordinated the city’s time: such as the opening and closing hours of the shops, as well as the times of prayer. Near the clock tower stands the National Museum “Gjergj Kastriot Skënderbeu”, designed by Pirro Vaso and Pranvera Hoxha, part of the architectural team who designed the Pyramid of Tirana. Built in the early 1980s, crowning the castle walls, this recognisable museum structure has become an icon of this city’s skyline. Inside, the exhibits reveal insights into Skanderbeg’s life, his historical victories and achievements, as well as copies of Skanderbeg’s weapons: his recognisable helmet crowned with a goat’s head, and his sword.
Facing the museum, there are the beautiful ruins of a former church, transformed into Sultan Mehmed Fatih’s mosque following the Ottoman occupation. South of the castle, the Ethnographic Museum, housed in a typical 19th-century house, reveals the sustainable methods of food, drink, tools, and furniture production in a typical household, as well as the customs of life in the castle. The Masjid of Dollma is yet another beautiful monument, the pulpit of Muslim faith during the 18th century. Right next to it, the castle’s Turkish bath (hammam) reveals its gorgeous 15th century roof. The 450-year-old Grand Bazaar of Krujë is located on the road heading towards the castle. In its heyday, this bazaar had more than 150 merchants who supplied the castle’s inhabitants. Now, the bazaar sells traditional handmade objects and souvenirs, keeping the legacy of fine craftsmanship alive. The sights are endless in this small yet significant city, symbols of a country’s bravery and persistence throughout the centuries.