I. The castle of Kruja.
The castle of Kruja is located in central Albania on an impressive rocky peak 557 meters above sea level. Only 30 minutes away from the national airport, the castle is one of Albania’s most visited touristic sites. This medieval fortress is known for the remarkable resistance of the Albanians led by Scanderbeg against the Ottomans in the 15th century. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the castle of Kruja became the most important stronghold in the war of the West against Ottoman expansion. Under Scanderbeg’s leadership, the fortress endured three consecutive sieges from 1450 to 1469 until it fell under Ottoman control in 1478. Even nowadays, the city has retained its medieval flavor. An old bazaar with a walking street going through it directs the visitors inside the walls of the castle. Within the complex, visitors can observe not only the old ruins of the original castle but also walk along the corridors of the historical museum dedicated to the figure of Scanderbeg as well as enter inside the premises of ethnographic museum where 18th century housing traditions of the Albanians can be experienced.
Rozafa castle is one of the oldest landmarks of this type in Europe dating back to more than 2,000 years ago. It holds a dominant position over the city of Shkoder (Scutari) in northern Albania that can be easily noticed as soon as you enter the city. The view from the high ground inside the castle is astonishing. Two major rivers and the waters of the large lake of Scutari surround the castle turning it into an almost imaginary beautiful island. During medieval times, the castle was in the possession of the Venetian Republic thus turning the region into an important center of commerce and cultural exchange. The fortress and the entire region fell under Ottoman rule in 1479 after epic battles between Veneto-Albanian forces and Ottoman troops.
The name of the castle, it is attributed to the name of a woman who according to a very old legend was half stoned from her brothers into the walls of the building. This bizarre legendary ritual would make sure that the construction would hold and, at the same time, the woman would be able to take care of her infant child with her other half of the body left outside for this purpose. According to folkloric tradition, the visitors may still notice the tears of Rozafa falling from the stoned walls of the castle.
III. Butrint (Three Castles).
Butrint is a preserved archaeological site situated on the Albania’s most southern coastal area. It is undoable one of the most beautiful sites in Europe where archaeological treasures are combined with beautiful environmental landscapes. Human activity has been recorded in this area since the VIII century B.C.E. However, there are myths according to which Trojans who had escaped the fall of Troy where the first ones to create the settlement. The embryonic part of Burtint stands on a marshy land that resembles a subtropical island that is in fact a small peninsula part of a larger land strip. A narrow water canal separates the ancient city from the southern lands and at the same time connects the Ionian Sea with the inner lagoon. This whole area represents a collection of different types of cultural heritage sites that belong to different eras. Specifically, it was during the Venetian control from 1386 until 1797 when additional defensive projects were conducted. These include, among others a rectangular well-preserved medieval castle standing on what was once the ancient acropolis, as well as a triangular strategic castle built on the southern side of the canal during XV-XVI century. The former castle was apparently used mostly for commercial and social activity whereas the latest was clearly built to control both sides of the canal as part of the measures to deal with the Ottoman threat. A third castle, known as the castle of Ali Pasha (ruled the region during 1798-1822), can be noticed on a tiny island further west, where the canal joins the sea. This square shaped castle with a tower on each corner perfectly reflects the transition of Butrint from Venetian control into Ottoman rule.
IV. Castle of Berat.
When travelling across south-central Albania a visitor cannot help but notice a wonderful town with authentic white Ottoman houses built around a slope of a hill in top of which a huge castle stands. A wide river flows around the hill creating a natural border for the oldest part of the town and providing an easily accessible water resource for its inhabitants. This town called Berat represents a rare case in European civilization where the site was inhabited since the ancient times until nowadays without interruption. The houses standing one upon another with narrow stoned streets in between lead towards the 187 metres high peak where the entrance of castle is found. The outside walls of the castle cover an impressive area of about 10,000 square meters where 200 households still reside. The site, including the outside walls, is composed of three defensive wall circles as well as 24 towers and two gates. The oldest traces along the castle are thought to belong to the Illyrian civilization. However, it was during the VI century C.E. under the Byzantine rule when the castle took its shape and most prominent identity. Many astonishing artifacts have been found here such as the two famous manuscripts named “Purple Codex” of the VI century C.E. and the “Golden Codex” of the IX century C.E.
V. Castle of Scanderbeg at Cape of Rodon.
The Cape of Rodon is positioned on the Adriatic Sea, north of Durrës in Albania. The rocky cape offers a wonderful landscape filled with small beaches and surrounded by wild vegetation. The most interesting site along the cape is the Castle of Scanderbeg, Albania’s national hero that led the resistance of the Albanians against the Ottomans during 1443-1468. The cape and its castle offers a wonderful landscape filled with small beaches and surrounded by wild vegetation. Scanderbeg started to build this castle during 1451-1452. Later, in 1463 construction masters from the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) were brought in the castle to make other complementary works, strengthen its defense and thus finish its construction. According to local tales, Scanderbeg used this castle as his private marital residence in times between battling campaigns. The relatively small size of the structure supports this claim. He built it also to have his own access into the sea and be closer to the members of the Aragon family who ruled the southern Italy and were his allies. After Scanderbeg’s rule, the castle fell in 1500 under Venetian control. Soon after, the Ottomans invaded it but they abandoned it for centuries. Only recently has the structure seen a revival in public interest towards it as an architectural structure and cultural feature.
VI. Castle of Ali Pasha at Porto Palermo.
The castle at Porto Palermo is part of the coastal landmarks of the southern Albanian Riviera. It stands on a tiny peninsula that was once an island and that is now connected with the main land through a short ground path. The castle has a triangular shape with increased reinforcement in each of its three corners and with surrounding walls that are 20 meters high. The site is located on the road that connects some of the most beautiful southern beaches of Albania such as Himara on its north and Borsh on its south. Ali Pasha of Tepelena, an Albanian local leader who created and ruled over a semi-independent state including northern Greece and southern Albania within the Ottoman Empire during 1787-1822. It is said that Ali Pasha, one of the wealthiest and most exotic persons of his time, built this castle in honor of one of his favorite wives. The inner part of the building is as impressive as its outside landscape, filled with well-preserved chambers, corridors, and halls. A central staircase leads in a joint upper terrace where the fantastic view of all the area including the Ionian Sea, the bay where once a submarine base stood, and the inland hills can be perfectly enjoyed.
VII. Castle of Gjirokastra.
Situated on the hilltop of an old city made entirely of stones, the castle of Gjirokastra is the largest castle in Albania. The site that is found in the southern region of the country has recognized different stages of construction throughout history presumably dating as way back as the V century B.C.E. However, historical records first mentioned Gjirokastra as a city and a castle in 1336. It became part of the Despotate of Epirus until the Ottomans invaded it in 1417. During 1811-1812 when Ali Pasha of Tepelena conquered it another construction phase was carried out over its premises that expanded its inner surface. Other construction works were carried out in the following years until the castle reached its majestic and well-protected shape that it now reflects. The castle has served as a town for centuries as well as a military stronghold for the surrounding community made of numerous authentic stoned tower-houses. Inside its walls, there are countless of chambers, towers, corridors, secret rooms, warehouses, and open agoras. All these architectural elements take time but are definitely worth the visit culminating with a stunning view of the whole region below its walls.
VIII. Petrela Castle.
When you take the southeastern route from the capital towards the rural areas, the Petrela castle is located. It dominates from above the green villages below. Although it stands on a steep 400 meters high rock, the castle can be easily visited since a rural road takes the visitor just a few meters below its walls. Then, a short walk on a path uphill leads into the only entrance of the castle. This stronghold was built around V-VI century C.E. during the Byzantine rule for protecting this part of the Empire against Norman invasions. It later fell under the rule of a local Albanian feudal family, a member of which married Scanderbeg’s sister. After her husband was killed in combat, Scanderbeg’s sister practically inherited this fortress. At that time, the castle represented a precious possession since it controlled the trading routes through Central Albanian that connected Venetian merchants with the Ottoman market. Also, it was a comfort residence for the ones who stayed within its premises.
IX. The Castle of Elbasan.
The city of Elbasan is located in the very center of Albania just 40 km south of the capital. Its castle is one of the largest castles in Europe that is built entirely on a flat ground. At its zenith, the castle had 26 towers raised in an equal distance among each other all the way across the wall that reached an impressive height of 9 meters. When all its four straight walls surrounded the place once, they covered a massive area of 107,184 square meters. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (the Conqueror) established the site in its full form as an army garrison during the XV century. However, the origin of the site dates back the III century C.E. when the Romans constructed it as a legionary fortress that controlled the main route of this area. Nowadays, all the southern part of the wall is still in very good condition as is a part of the western wall. Only a few towers are now still visible with the one in the southwestern corner which is well preserved and where construction elements from the Roman and Byzantine times can be found.
X. Bashtova Castle.
Bashtova Castle is built in open field and a picturesque site in western plain of Albania. Its round shaped form represents a typical XIV Venetian castle placed amidst a green area. The Venetians used this stronghold as a defensive location part of the strategy of protecting Venetian seaports along the Adriatic. The castle is very well preserved and easily accessible.