Shkodër. As with many other Albanian place names, this town has second version of its name: Shkodra. The "ë" is only weakly pronounced. The old Italian name of Shkodra is Scutari (alternatively: Skutari). On Yugoslavian maps or Serbian/Montenegrin maps respectively, another spelling is used as well: Skadar. During the Ottoman occupation, Shkodra was also refered to as Iskenderiye (not to be confused with a Turkish town with a similar name). Shkodra (and the various spellings) is not only the name of the town but also of the large lake nearby north of Shkodra.
|Location of Shkoder|
Shkodra lies around 100 km north of →Tirana in a fertile plain near the Southeast shore of →Liqeni e Shkodrës (Lake Skutari). Two larger and important rivers, river Drin and river Buna, converge near Shkoder (what they didn't until 1858) before they empty into the Adriatic Sea. The border to →Montenegro in the West is only around 20 km away. Not far from the town, to the East, lies the impressive Tarabosh Mountain Range.
About 90,000 - and the population is growing rapidly. The district with the same name, Rrethi i Shkodrës, which covers the entire Northwest of Albania, has a quarter million inhabitants.
Shkodra recently developed into a rather chaotic town, which is due to the uncontrolled growth during the last years. Wherever I looked - I couldn't get my hands on a city map, so I don't know the place names. The central square offers a monument, a recently restaurated mosque, a very ugly hotel, an opera and some green around it. The square is very easy to find. To cut a long story short - the most interesting part of town with many buildings reflecting the good old times of Shkodra can be found right North of the square behind the mosque.
The main road starts at the central square and runs straight to the Southwest for around 2 km right to the →Rozafa Fortress. Countless cafés and shops and more line up along the main road. Lake Scutari (aka Lake Shkodra) is only a few kilometres away from the centre of town. Most buses and microbuses leave from the main square or at least stop there.
|Central Square with Mosque and clock tower|
Shkoder was probably founded by the Illyrians and named Scodra. The place even was declared capital of the Illyrian Kingdom. However, same as the rest of the area along the Adriatic Sea, Shkoder was occupied by the Roman Empire during the 2nd century B.C. Thanks to its strategically important location, Shkoder developed quickly and became a major regional centre. During the 11th century, the town was first occupied by the Serbs before it was taken by Venetia in 1396. During the 15th century, after several unsuccessful attempts, the Ottoman empire finally managed to take the town - and destroyed it completely. Shkoder had its revival in the 17th century, when it became the capital of a large Ottoman province - at that time, the town was referred to as Iskenderiye. It was so important, that some countries even established consulates during the 18th century. At the same time, Shkodra emerged as an important base of Albanian culture and resistance. Severe earthquakes during the 19th century forced the citizens to move the town to its present position.
In 1913, the Montenegrin army conquered the town and destroyed the bazaar and other vital parts of the town. They were soon to be followed by the Habsburgs. In 1920, Shkodra eventually became part of Albania. Industrialisation started soon after. The town remained an important cultural, economic and political centre even after the capital function was shifted to →Tiranë. Additionally, Shkodra became the seat of the Archbishop.
Industrialisation was heavily pressed ahead during the reign of Enver Hoxha. In 1990 and 1991, Shkodra saw bloody clashes between demonstrants and the police. Albania transformed into a democratic country, but things didn't get much better in Shkodra - the economy collapsed almost completely, and it's very obvious that the town has a serious problem with poverty now. Development - if existent - is chaotic, and despite the desolate economic situation, more and more Albanians from the North decide to move to Shkoder. The fact that the town lies close to the comparetively rich northern neighbour Montenegro doesn't really seem to have a positive influence, but some new hotels, cafés etc show that there is at least a little progress.
Getting there / transportation
Shkoder is comparetively easy to reach by public transport. The train station is a little bit away from the centre of town - and offers two train departures a day, both of them leaving for →Tiranë (at 06:15 and 09:56) - however, those trains need an amazing 6 hours for the 110 km. There is also a railroad connection to Montenegro, but that line is used for cargo only.
There are numerous buses, many of them microbuses, to →Tiranë - they need less then 2 hours and cost 300 Leke (€ 2.5). Furthermore, there are occassional buses to →Kukës in the east and further to →Prizren in Kosovo.
Two options are available for those who want to head for →Montenegro: One is the microbus (two departures a day from the bus stop next to Hotel Rozafa, buses leave at 3 pm and 5 pm, the fare is € 5) via the Muriqan crossing to →Ulcinj. The second option is the microbus to Montenegro's capital Podgorica via the large crossing Han i Hotit. I had no choice but to take a taxi because I needed to be in Montenegro at noon - after some haggling, a taxi took me from Shkoder to Ulcinj for € 20, which is not too bad and a good option if you can fill the taxi.
Shkodra as a city appears to be very different to the Albanian capital - and also to other Albanian towns. That is for various reasons. One difference is the sad fact that there's a high level of poverty and much dirt. But here and there, traces of the much more glorious past can be seen. A past that is different to many other Albanian towns. This can be best experienced along a street called Dugajet e reja, which starts right at the main square opposite Hotel Rozafa, passes a large mosque on the left and runs northwest. The street is characterized by two-storey houses, the facade often in gentle colours, with the second floor often lovely ornamented (and different to the first floor). On the left, there's also a small church at the end of a short lane. The church seemed to be restaurated very recently - in contradiction to all the other buildings in the area.
|There's still something left from the glorious past|
However, the further the street moves away from the centre of town, the more dilapidated the buildings are. The residential areas north of the same route look are just mouldered - there's no sign of progress at all. There aren't many areas in Europe that look worse or almost the same - there's absolutely no difference to a Third World suburb.
|It's obvious that this is a very poor city|
Shkodra is the spiritual centre of Albanian Christians, but the centre of town is definitely dominated by the obviously very recently restaurated (erected?) mosque Xhamia e re (I'm not sure if the name is correct) right at the central square. Next to the mosque stands a very old clock tower, known as Sahati i Inglizit, but at some time the tower got rid of its clock. Additionally, there's the Migjeni Theatre facing the very same square. Furthermore, Shkodra has some smaller museums, a Jesuit college and some other sights to discover as well.
|Shkoder: Restaurated mosque at down|
Shkodra is definitely worth a visit - not just because of the nearby fortress Rozafa (see below), but also the town itself. I only hope that Shkodra finds a way out of the economic misery it is in right now (as of 2005).
A real highlight of a visit to Albania is the Kalaja e Rozafës (Fortress Rozafa) towering on a rocky hill around 2 kilometres southwest of the centre of Shkodra. The fortress is a landmark and can be seen from everywhere in the town. The construction probably started around the 3rd century B.C. - started by the Illyrians. Later on, the town with its famous bazaar developed around the fortress. For more then 2,000 years, the fortress and the town played a very important role in the wider area. It was only in 1913 that the fortress, always used as a military base, was abandoned by the Ottomans - fleeing from the advancing Montenegrins. Unfortunately, large parts of the fortress were razed afterwards.
Several tales are connected with the fortress - among them one that is telling about a woman who was immured in one of the buildings - alive. She did so unsolicitedly, but she asked that her breasts would stick out so that her suckling could still be nursed on them. A plastic inside the fortress is depicting the legend. Entrance at the well preserved main gate costs 200 Leke. The outer walls are well preserved as well, but most buildings inside are in ruins - in many cases, only the foundation is left. Every somehow remaining structure seems to be used as a toilet by every second visitor - the stench inside the ruins is simply breathtaking. One of the few remaining buildings is now home to a small exhibition about the history (entrance fee 50 Leke) and next to it a small café.
The large fortress offers a stunning view over the wider area - the network of rivers, as there are the Drin, Buna and Kir, the meadows, Lake Shkodra (aka Lake Scutari), mountains in the north and the west and the entire town itself make a formidable panorama. This place is definitely a must when visiting Shkoder.
|View over the town from the marvellous Rozafa fortress|
The most peculiar and at the same time ugliest hotel in Shkodra stands right at the central square. The attribute "ugly" is enough to describe the structure and make sure no one misses it. Hotel Rozafa is very large, but some of the floors are sealed off. Rooms look better then expected once inside. Ask for a room in one of the higher floors - the view from there is great and they have balconies. A regular single (bathroom and toilet shared, same floor, but there's a washbasin in each room) costs 700 Leke only (€ 6) only. Staff at the reception speaks some English. The hotel has its own café and a restaurant - the latter closes very early.
Not far from the hotel are two beer gardens or open-air restaurants respectively, both of them rather upmarket compared with other Albanian eateries. Note that the entire town seems to be completely deserted after 10 pm - even on Saturdays, everything closes early.
- www.shkoder.net: Quite useful website from Shkodra about Shkodra in Albanian as well as in English.
- www.shkodra.gov.al: Official and well done website of Shkodra - unfortunately in Albanian only.
- www.albanian.com/main/countries/albania/shkodra: Some helpful facts about the town in English.
Do you have or do you know a good website about Shkodër? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.