Set strikingly on the side of a tall mountain is Krujë, the scene of Albania’s national moment of glory. It was here that the legend of Albanian hero Gjergj Kastrioti, aka Skënderbej, was born. Given to the Ottomans as a boy, Skënderbej converted to Islam, led a revolt against the Ottomans in 1443, converted back to Christianity, and later held off Ottoman sieges for 25 years from Krujë Castle. The standoff kept the powerful Ottoman army from launching a full-scale attack on Europe, and Krujë wasn’t recaptured by the Ottomans until after Skënderbej’s death. That’s a lot for a small town to live up to, but it does so proudly.
Unfortunately for me, my entry into the town began with the bus breaking down halfway up the mountain near the football stadium. This meant a lot of uphill hiking. They told me these sorts of things don’t happen in Albania anymore. They were wrong. Good thing I only paid 100 lek for the ride from Tiranë, and I was able to catch a few minutes of the game from the “obstructed view” section.
Once I entered the center of town, I was greeted by the Skënderbej monument, a statue of the hero on his horse next to an Albanian flag with the mountain as the backdrop.
From there, I walked down the heart of Krujë and through the old bazaar. There were some great views of the castle that draws visitors to the town.
After paying a small fee to enter Krujë Castle, which still has an inhabited Medieval village inside, I walked through a corridor and was confronted by several vendors. One of them happened to speak Turkish and told me a few stories about the castle. He was also the author of a book on the history of the region. His name is Baki Dollma and he was very friendly and funny. I paid 500 lek for a signed copy of the book, which has a small section in English in the back.
Immediately upon entering the castle, there are several structures of importance. First is the minaret of the ruined Fethiye Mosque, which was built in 1479 over the remains of the Church of St. Maria. The minaret was added in 1837 and the mosque was destroyed by the communists in 1948.
Further up the hill was the actual castle, laying in ruin. The large tower was the bell tower built in 1462, belonging to the Church of St. George. It was turned into a clock tower by the Ottomans, functioning until 1944.
At that point I was approached by a small village boy who offered to give me a small tour of the ruins. We started with the Church of St. George. The church itself has only the foundation left from the original structure, but there is a small icon on the side that remains. The walls of the castle stand near the church.
After that, he took me through a small opening in the wall to show me some fantastic views of the town.
Next, just down the hill was Teqja e Baba Maksurit, a small cave used as a mosque for nearly 600 years.
The boy informed me that the tour was over, so I gave him a small tip of 150 lek and went on my way to explore the rest of the village.
I made a quick stop at the Ethnographic Museum, set in an traditional Ottoman home built in 1764 by Ismail Pasha Toptani. It was very well done and had some great displays. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos inside. The museum is set on the same “square” that has the ruins of the church/mosque and the museum, and admission is 300 lek.
Further into the village was a Turkish hamam dating back to the 15th century. I went inside but it probably wasn’t smart. It was full of garbage and smelled like someone was using it as a toilet.
The most interesting thing for me in the village was the Dollma Tekke. It was built in 1789 by the Dollma family (ancestors of Baki Dollma, the author). The tomb holds the remains of Sarı Saltuk, a Turkish dervish of the Bektashi sect. The inside is beautifully decorated, but the caretaker told me the communists had damaged a lot of the artwork.
On the grounds of the tekke is a small platform with more fantastic views of the town and countryside, all the way to the Adriatic Sea. There’s also a modern prayer room.
Walking back into town, I stopped at a small pizza place right before re-entering the bazaar and ate some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. The delicious pie was cooked in a wood-burning oven. Unfortunately, it set the bar way too high for pizza in Albania. All future pizzas I had in the country were terrible.
Finally, I walked to the bus/furgon stop to find a ride back to Tiranë. I was a little confused and thought one of the drivers wanted me to ride in his personal car alone as a taxi, so I walked away. When I came back, he explained to me that it was shared and it would only cost 200 lek. I was expecting a minivan or small bus, but hey, when in Albania…