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Albania: Rozafa Castle

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Rozafa Castle | Albania | Europe

[Visited: August 2012]

After arriving in the northern city of Skhodër, we decided to wait out the warmest moments of the day, before heading south of the city. The obvious thing to do was to visit the castle of Rozafa; it is there that the history of the city started. Getting there was easy: we just followed the main road heading south, and the castle appeared before us, high on top of a hill, still seeming far away. The walk there allowed for a peek into daily life of Shkodër, which had a different vibe from the other cities we had seen before during our visit to Albania. It definitely appears to be dominated by Muslims; we soon felt at home here in this easy going, pleasant city. The hike up the castle was quite steep but therefore it was not too long before we entered the castle through a stone gate on a cobble stone street, bought the ticket, and went inside.

Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): The main courtyard of Rozafa Castle with the museum on the right

The history of the castle, and the city, goes back some 4000 years, when the first settlements were founded on this strategic spot above the confluence of two rivers and at the south of Lake Shkodër. Much later, when the Illyrians ruled here, they built a fortress on this same hill, and we could see the cleverly constructed Cyclopean walls after passing the main gate. It was in the late Middle Ages, the very beginning of the 16th century, that a real castle was built, and that was when the name of Rozafa was tied to it. According to the legend, three brothers were commissioned to construct a castle, but found their efforts undone after the night; after consulting an old wise man, they were told to sacrifice someone so the walls would hold. In the end, the wife of the youngest brother, Rozafa, came up the next day to bring lunch, as agreed, the brothers told her she had to stay inside, to never come out. She agreed, but only under the condition that there would be holes in the wall: one to be able to breastfeed her newborn son, one to caress him, and one to rock his cradle with her foot. Her wishes were granted, and some mothers still come here since milk is said to flow from one of the walls of the castle.

Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Ruins of Rozafa castle with minaret adjoining St Stephens Church just before sunset

Legendary stories often surround legendary buildings, especially castles perched on high hills and mountains, but where they mostly involve beautiful princesses, in this case it was the wife of a mason whose name and legend live on until today. Truth is, the castle was put to the test several times, was destroyed, rebuild, altered, by Venetians, Turks, and other powers who were interested in the spot. St Stephens church was converted to a mosque after the Turks conquered the castle, who then added a minaret to it, which is still visible. When you stand on the wall, and especially when you walk just under it, it seems hard to imagine how anyone could conquer this mighty castle: the high and thick walls rise steeply from the rocky surface of the hill and seem impossible to defeat. In any case, many secret passageways are built into the rocks, so that come the worst, those inside the castle still had a means to escape those besieging the castle. The sun was setting on the centuries-old walls and ruins while we just wandered around aimlessly, taking in the ruins, seeing a bride having her pictures taken on this romantic spot, that has seen so many cruel battles as well.

Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): The walls of Rozafa castle rise steep from the rocky hills
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Cobble stone street leading through the main gate of the castle of Rozafa
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Looking at the defensive walls of Rozafa castle from above
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Stone entrance gate inside the ruins of St Stephens church inside the castle
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Cobble stone street inside a building of Rozafa castle
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Silhouet of the ruins of the castle of Rozafa at sunset
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): View of the stone crenellated wall of Rozafa castle
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): The castle of Rozafa lies in ruins, but there are still many rooms to be found
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): The Venetian arsenal building on the top courtyard of Rozafa castle
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Ruins of St Stephens church, later turned into a mosque by the Turks
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Minaret and the ruins of St Stephens church before sunset
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): Looking along the wall of Rozafa castle with one of the bastions
Picture of Rozafa Castle (Albania): View of the river flowing east under the castle of Rozafa

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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