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From its ancient Illyrian walls and the medieval ruins of the Balshaj, to the Towers of the Bushatllinj, Rozafa Castle is a monumental testament to the beauty of an everlasting fortress.
Built during Antiquity, enduring the Roman and Ottoman empires, and remaining intact up to the present day, Rozafa Castle has witnessed the dramatic changes of tide over the course Albania’s fascinating history. Needless to say then that this archaeological area is incredibly rich in historical tales. To understand the city of Shkodra, where the castle is located, and indeed the history of the country as a whole, a visit to Rozafa Castle is a must!
The legend of Rozafat
Thanks to its memorable legend, which allegorically reveals the history of Albania and its people through a woman’s sacrifice for her child, Rozafa Castle is one of the most symbolic structures of Albania. There are few tales that better describe a small nation’s struggle than this one!
Deriving from the Middle Ages, according to the legend of Rozafat, the construction of the Castle was cursed by the gods, who would demolish each day’s work over night. In order to let castle walls stand, the gods demanded a sacrifice from the family residing within it. Through the manipulative tactics of the oldest brothers, the sacrifice to be made was innocent Rozafa, the youngest bride of the household. Before she was to be buried alive inside the castle walls, Rozafa demonstrated her magnanimity by requesting that half of her body remain exposed so that she could continue nourishing her baby. (For more about the myth, follow the link here). Inside the castle, you can see a beautiful sculpture of Rozafa’s figure carved inside her wall at the main entrance.
Inside Rozafa Castle
The castle comprises of three main courtyards, making it easily navigable. Once you enter the fortified 15th-century main entrance, you come to a first courtyard, where the 4th-century tract of the Illyrian wall, the oldest structure in the castle grounds, is found. Along the first courtyard, you’ll also find medieval ruins of cisterns, the towers of the Balshaj, and the former Venetian residences.
In the second courtyard are the ruins of the Church of St. Stephen, which is now a mosque, and is certainly deserving some special attention. Originally the church was built in the romantic style commonly found between the 13th and 15th centuries, and was later transformed into the Sultan Mehmet Fatih Mosque during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, between the 16th and 19th centuries. During this time, the Catholic population abandoned the castle, as the space came to be used as a military base.
Today, the ruins of this church-mosque, which was ultimately abandoned in 1865, symbolize the passage of history that ran through Albania. The third and final courtyard of the castle holds a three-story Venetian building, known as the “Capitol”, which served as the residence of the Venetian ruler. Inside this building, the Castle of Shkodra Museum tells of the 4000-year-old castle, including the most renowned medieval families of the city. Information about the castle is provided in Albanian and English, as well as Braille.
The views from high up at the castle offer some breathtaking panoramas of the beautiful Lake of Shkodra, as well as the city’s rivers and expansive mountain ranges. To the south west of the castle, in the third courtyard, you can make out where the three rivers of Drin, Kir, and Buna join, a truly spectacular view that will give your camera’s battery a run for its money!