A Hero's Realm: Historic Kruja with Folklore Performance
Tour Participation Requirements
Special Medical Restriction
In the year 1190, the mountain stronghold of Kruja became the capital of the earliest autonomous Albanian state. But in a region where hostile takeovers were the norm, control changed hands repeatedly during the Middle Ages – and Kruja's importance rose and fell with each new landlord's fortunes.
Beginning in 1443, a go-getting Albanian named George Kastrioti Skanderbeg forged an alliance with local feudal lords and marched his 10,000-man army from victory to victory against the better-equipped Turkish Ottoman forces then occupying the kingdom.
Under Skanderbeg's red double-eagle flag, the fortress at Kruja held off no less than three sustained Ottoman sieges during his 25-year campaign – not only refusing the great Mehmed II (aka "The Conqueror") an Albanian victory, but preventing a deeper plunge west of the Balkans. Finally, in 1468, the mighty Skanderbeg was defeated – not by Turks or in battle, but by malaria.
This one man, larger than life in nearly every way (including the scale of the statues honoring him), is Albania's Caesar, George Washington, Frederick the Great, Duke of Wellington, and Napoleon, all rolled into one. And yet, by all accounts, he was devoid of ego.
After his death, he was universally acknowledged a heroic symbol of resistance in books and poems. Composers celebrated his exploits in operas. Monuments and squares honor him in Rome, Vienna, Geneva, Paris, Brussels, Durres, Skopje, Prishtina, even faraway Rochester Hills, Michigan.
But perhaps the greatest (albeit gruesome) tribute came from his fiercest foes. When the Ottomans discovered Skanderbeg's grave about 20 miles northwest of Kruja Castle, they dug it up and made amulets of his bones, confident of the courage they would bestow.
According to legend, Skanderbeg personally killed 3,000 Ottoman soldiers, and could slice two men in half with one stroke of his huge sword. (It's in the museum; judge the likelihood for yourself.) But he wasn't alone in the blood-soaked resistance to the Ottomans. His efforts, if not his sterling reputation, were matched in what is now Romania by Prince Vlad III; aka Vlad Dracula; aka Vlad the Impaler.
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