Under the Ottoman Empire

    The Byzantine period transitioned to a feudal system. In 1388 the Ottoman Turks invaded Albania and completed its occupation about 1430. The Turkish conquest not only isolated Albania from the benefits of the Renaissance period, but also brought vast destruction and suffering. Nearly 25% of Albania's population fled to other countries such as Italy. Those that stayed did not completely submit to Turkish authorities. The highlands were particularly hard to dominate, and they refused to pay taxes, surrender their weapons, or serve in the army. Soon after the occupation, there arose a military leader who remains Albania's most honored hero. Gjergj Kastrioti was the son of an Albanian vassal who was, in Turkish custom, taken hostage by the Sultan to ensure submission of the parents. Gjergj studied in the Turkish military schools and eventually rose to rank of General due to his ability. He was given the title Iskander Bey (meaning "Lord Alexander), but is known more commonly as Skanderbeg. In 1443 Skanderbeg returned to his father's castle in Kruja and raised his banner against the Turks. This red flag, sporting a black double-headed eagle, is the basis of the modern Albanian flag. With his famous declaration, "I have not brought you liberty, I found it here, among you". he rallied the other Albanian princes. Skanderbeg drove out the Turks in 1449 and kept them out until his death. For 25 years he ruled from his mountain castle of Kruja, frustrating the Turkish use of Albania as a base of invasion of western Europe. The Ottoman's tried 24 times to take Kruja, but failed each time. Skanderbeg efforts were appreciated by Italy and Europe and he received financial and military aid from them.
      Skanderbeg strengthened his defenses by building a string of castles that communicated to each other via smoke signals. Skanderbeg's sister occupied this castle that is just outside of Tirane.
    A view of modern-day Kruja from the site of Skanderbeg's castle.
    Unfortunately, Albania's resistance was based on Skanderbeg's military genius. With his death, the fight against the Turks gradually lost strength. After twelve years the resistance collapsed and when Albania was reoccupied in 1506 many Albanians fled to Italy. The many rebellions led the Ottoman Empire to instigate an Islamic conversion on the populace. By the 17th century two thirds of the nation had converted in order to escape violence or a crushing tax levied on Christians. The Turks exploited this religious fragmentation throughout the Middle Ages to erode Albanian nationalism.