You come into Kruja (pronounced: Kru-yah) past age-old olive trees and lime-kilns, with limestone outcrops offering the barest grazing to a few sheep and goats. Then shrubs and oaks replace the olives, and finally the conifers take over. "Kruj'" means "Spring" and of course there is no shortage of fresh water at these cool heights. The air invigorates you after the hot, humid plain of Tirana, and one can easily imagine why the old Ilyrrian settlement of Zg'rdhesh was abandoned in the forth century, and the refugees from the hotter, more exposed foothills chose to defend a mountain eyrie instead.
The ecclesiastical record of the ninth century mentioned Kruj' as a bishop's see. The byzantine held the city up to c.1190, when the first Albanian feudal state was declared at Kruj' under the archon Progon (1190-8). Arbania survived throughout the rule of Progon's son Gjin (1198-1206) and Dhimitrit (1206-16), but in 1216 it fell under the sway of Epiros, in 1230 under Bulgarians, and in 1240 again under Epiros. Foreign invaders continue to fight over the dying body of a torn and bleeding Albania until an Ottoman garrison was permanently stationed at Kruj' in 1415.

The youngest of Gjon Kastrioti's four sons, Gjergj, was sent with his three brothers as a hostage to the Sultan at Constantinople in 1415. He impressed his tutors at the military school he attended and they gave him the title "Skender-beg" for the valour on the field of battle. Then in 1443 he suddenly left the Ottoman army fighting Hunyadi, the Hungarian Hero and returned to Albania. As the Turks retreated near Nish on 3 November 1443, Gjergj withdrew his nephew Hamza and 300 Albanian horsemen and headed for Dib'r and then Kruj'. The citadel of Kruj' became the scene of one of Europe's most titanic struggles. In May 1450 the Ottoman Sultan Murad II set out from Constantinople with a hundred thousand men to crush once and for all the Albanian army which had been united since 1444 by Skenderbeg's personal recruiting campaign. He aimed to storm the citadel of Kruj' and to hold the Albanian countryside with Kruj' as a capital. Skenderbeg's personal magnetism ensured that those Albanians fit to take up arms were armed and ready for combat, a total of 17,500 at the most, who were thus outnumbered by five to one. Skenderbeg divided his troops into three bands. Fifteen hundred led by Count Uran were provisioned to withstand the siege within the citadel itself. The two major forces of 8 000 each were split up, the first under Skenderbeg to harry the near of the Ottoman army once it had encamped below Kruj', and the other forming small bands of guerrilleros to ambush, raid, and snipe at the Turkish caravan on its cumbersome trail from Macedonia. Since Murad II realised that his troops would mutiny if ordered to withstand the hostile winter encamped in a trap below Kruj', after four and a half months he retreated with loses estimated at more than twenty thousand - that is exceeding the strength of the whole Albanian army. Ragusa congratulated Skenderbeg, "Magnificus et Potens" on his stupendous victory.

The remains of the castle and its surroundings
Kruja under the direction of Skenderbeg defeated the turkish army lead by the Sultan Mehmet etc. for a quarter of a century. As the British military strategist Wolfe has said Skenderbeg surpassed "all the captains, both ancient and modern, in his ability to lead a small defensive army". After the death of Skenderbeg from natural causes in 1468, the citadel of Kruj' defeated the Turks for more then ten years under the direction of Lek' Dugagjin till at 16 june 1478 when it fell definitively to the Sultan Mehmet.

The remains of the tower and the new museum
After the Ottoman took their dearly-won castle of Kruj', they rebuild the walls on the northern side, with openings for firearms, to make Kruj' as impregnable against the Albanians as it had been impregnable against themselves. The earthquake of 1617 caused the cracking and collapse of many hill structures, including the citadel, but in 1832, on the Sultan's orders, the Albanian feudal castles were made useless for defence and a centralised bureaucratic government replaced - at least in intention - the former feudal semi-autonomy of the mountain regions as Kruj'. Half-hearted attempts were made by the Turks to rebuild sections of the castle, after they have tightened their grip on the countryside, for they realised that sudden Balkan uprisings could overwhelm their government, and a defenceless castle is a doubtful asset to a ruling class.

Points of Touristic Interest

The Skenderbeg Museum
  • The Restored Castle and Citadel
  • The Skenderbeg Museum erected in the middle of the Castle.
  • The Old restored Bazaar near the castle.
  • The jewel eighteen-century architecture Bektashi tekke "Dollma" (West of the castle), a shrine of the Bektashi movement, one of the fourth main religions of Albania after the Catholics, the Orthodox, and Muslims.