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Kruja is a small highland town surrounded by mountains and pine forests, a destination famed for its castle - probably Albania’s most important historical and national landmark, and a place that features heavily in Albanian history, identity, and legend.
Situated some 20 km north of Tirana, between Mount Kruja and the Ishem river, Kruja was a Byzantine settlement until the 9th century when it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Albania. In the 15th century, it became a hot-bed of anti-Ottoman activity and for more than two decades, resisted and repelled the empire. Astonishingly, Kruja’s castle withstood three major sieges, falling on the fourth.
Kruja’s success at resisting the immensely powerful Ottoman Empire was largely thanks to the leadership and military of skill of George Skanderbeg, now immortalised as a model of Christian resistance. It is said that Skanderbeg – who had only a few thousand men at his disposal – kept Sultan Murad’s army of 100,000 at bay for over four months, until winter forced their retreat.
Today, the semi-ruined Kruja castle overlooks the Adriatic Sea and the dusty plains below, its vast citadel complimented by fine museums. The Skanderbeg museum includes the replica arms of Skanderbeg (the originals are in Austria), whilst the national ethnographic museum, founded in 1989 inside an old Ottoman-era villa, contains a wide-range of antique artisans, some as old as 500 years, including colourful collections of folk dresses, copper implements, and clay vessels.
Crafts continue to be made in and around Kruja, a selection represented in the alleyways of the town’s bazaar, where you’ll find rugs, slippers, bags, and jewellery. Finally, those with an interest in mysticism should see the Dollma Bektashi Tekke – a Bektashi Sufi temple.