Shkodër (definite Albanian form: Shkodra) is a city in northwestern Albania and the municipal seat of the county with the same name. It is one of the oldest and most historic places in Albania, as well as an important cultural and economic centre.
During many different epochs it has retained its status as a major city in the Western Balkans, due to its geostrategic positioning close to the Adriatic and the Italian ports, but also with land-routes to other important cities and towns in neighbouring regions.
Its importance is heightened by the Lake of Shkodër to the west of the city—the largest in the Western Balkans—that straddles Albania and neighbouring Montenegro. The population of Shkodër municipality at the 2011 census was 77,075, while Shkodër County had a population of 215,347.
The town was known as Scodra  (Latin: Scodra) during antiquity, and was the capital of the first kingdom of the Illyrian tribe of the Ardiaei, since the middle of the 3rd century BC. The town, was first mentioned during classical times as the site of the Illyrian Labeates, as well as the capital of the kingdom of King Gentius– in which he minted coins – and that of Queen Teuta. In the year 168 BC, the city was captured by the Romans and it became an important trade and military route. The Romans colonized the town. Scodra remained in the province of Illyricum, and later Dalmatia. By it 395 AD, it was part of the Diocese of Dacia, within Praevalitana.
The dawn of the Middle Ages saw waves of Slavs arriving. De Administrando Imperio describes how Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) gave the Serbs a territory in the Western Balkans during the first half of the 7th century. The southernmost, maritime polity of the Serbian Principality, at Duklja, included the Shkodër region. After the death of Prince Časlav (r. 927-960), the state disintegrated, with Duklja retaining most of it. Khan Samuel had by 997 conquered all of Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, and most of modern Albania. In the early 11th century, Jovan Vladimir ruled Duklja amidst the war between Basil II and Samuel. Vladimir allegedly retreated into Koplik when Samuel I invaded Duklja, and was subsequently forced to accept Bulgarian vassalage. Vladimir was later slewn by the Bulgars, and received a cult; Shingjon (the feast of St. Jovan Vladimir), which is celebrated by the Albanian Orthodox Christians.
In the 1030s, Stefan Vojislav from Travunia expelled the last strategos, and successfully defeated the Byzantines by 1042. Stefan Vojislav set up Shkodër as his capital. Constantine Bodin accepted the crusaders of the Crusade of 1101 in Shkodër. After the dynastic struggles in the 12th century, Shkodër became part of the Nemanyid Zeta province. In 1330 Stephen Dečanski appointed his son Stephen Dušan as the governor of Zeta and its seat Shkodër (Serbian: Скадар). In the same year Dušan and his father entered the conflict which resulted with campaign of Dečanski who destroyed Dušans court on Drimac river near Shkodër in January 1331. In April they made a truce, but in August 1331 Dušan went from Shkodër to Nerodimlje and overthrow his father. During the fall of the Serbian Empire (14th century), Shkodër was taken by the Balšić family who surrendered the city to Venice, in order to form protection zone from the Ottoman Empire. During Venetian rule the city adopted the Statutes of Scutari, a civic law written in Venetian, which also contained Albanian elements such as Besa and Gjakmarrja.
In the Ottoman Empire
With two sieges (1474 and 1478-9) it became secure as an Ottoman territory. It became the centre of the sanjak and by 1485 there were 27 Muslim and 70 Christian hearths, although by the end of the next century there were more than 200 Muslim ones compared to the 27 Christian ones, respectively.
Military manoeuvres in 1478 by the Ottomans meant that the city was again entirely surrounded by Ottoman forces. Mehmed the Conqueror personally laid the siege. About ten heavy cannons were cast on site. Balls heavy as much as 380 kg (838 lb) were fired on the citadel (such balls are still on display on the castle museum). Nevertheless the city resisted. Mehmet left the field and had his commanders continue the siege. By the winter the Ottomans had captured one after the other all adjacent castles: Lezhë, Drisht, and Žabljak Crnojevića. This, together with famine and constant bombardment lowered the morale of defenders. On the other hand the Ottomans were already frustrated by the stubborn resistance. The castle is situated on a naturally protected hill and every attempted assault resulted in considerable casualties for the attackers. A truce became an option for both parties. On January 25 an agreement between the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire ended the siege, permitting the citizens to leave unharmed, and the Ottomans to take over the deserted city.
Shkodër was a major city under Ottoman rule in Southeast Europe. It retained its importance up until the end of the empire’s rule in the Balkans in the early 20th century. This is due to its geo-strategic position that connects it directly with the Adriatic and with the Italian ports, but also with land-routes to the other important Ottoman centre, namely Prizren. The city was an important meeting place of diverse cultures from other parts of the Empire, as well as influences coming westwards, by Italian merchants. It was a centre of Islam in the region, producing many ulema, poets and administrators, particularly from the Bushati family.
In the 18th century Shkodër became the center of the (pashaluk) of Shkodër, under the rule of the Bushati family, which ruled from 1757 to 1831. Shkodër’s importance as a trade center in the second half of the 19th century was owed to the fact that it was the center of the vilayet of Shkodër, and an important trading center for the entire Balkan peninsula. It had over 3,500 shops, and clothing, leather, tobacco, and gunpowder were some of the major products of Shkodër. A special administration was established to handle trade, a trade court, and a directorate of postage services with other countries. Other countries had opened consulates in Shkodër ever since 1718. Obot and Ulcinj served as ports for Shkodër, and later on Shëngjin (San Giovanni di Medua). The Jesuit seminar and the Franciscan committee were opened in the 19th century. It was also the main spot for transporting ‘illegal’ things through Montenegro and throughout eastern Europe.
Before 1867 Shkodër (İşkodra) was a sanjak of Rumelia Eyalet in Ottoman Empire. In 1867, Shkodër sanjak merged with Skopje (Üsküp) sanjak and became Shkodër vilayet. Shkodër vilayet was split into Shkodër, Prizren and Dibra sanjaks. In 1877, Prizren passed to Kosovo vilayet and Debar passed to Monastir vilayet, while Durrës township became a sanjak. In 1878 Bar and Podgorica townships belonged to Montenegro. In 1900, Shkodër vilayet was split into Shkodër and Durrës sanjaks.
After Ottoman domination was secure, large number of the population fled. Around the 17th century, the city began to prosper and it became the center of the Sanjak of Scutari (sanjak was an Ottoman administrative unit smaller than a vilayet). It became the economic center of northern Albania, its craftsmen producing fabric, silk, arms, and silver artifacts. Construction included two-story stone houses, the bazaar, and the Central or Middle Bridge (Ura e Mesit) over the Kir river, built during the second half of the 18th century, over 100 meters long, with 13 arcs of stone, the largest one being 22 meters wide and 12 meters tall.
Era of Nationalism
Shkodër played an important role during the League of Prizren, the Albanian liberation movement. The people of Shkodër participated in battles to protect Albanian land. The branch of the League of Prizren for Shkodër, which had its own armed unit, fought for the protection of Plav, Gusinje, Hoti, and Gruda, and the war for the protection of Ulcinj. The Bushati Library, built during the 1840s, served as a center for the League of Prizren’s branch for Shkodër. Many books were collected in libraries of Catholic missionaries working in Shkodër. Literary, cultural, and sports associations were formed, such as Bashkimi (“The Union”) and Agimi (“The Dawn”). The first Albanian newspapers and publications printed in Albania came out of the printing press of Shkodër. The Marubi family of photographers began working in Shkodër, which left behind over 150,000 negatives from the period of the Albanian liberation movement, the rise of the Albanian flag in Vlorë, and life in Albanian towns during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
During the Balkan Wars, Shkodër went from one occupation to another, when the Ottomans were defeated by the Kingdom of Montenegro. The Ottoman forces led by Hasan Riza Pasha and Esad Pasha had resisted for seven months the surrounding of the town by Montenegrin forces and their Serbian allies. Esad (Hasan had previously been mysteriously killed in an ambush inside the town) finally surrendered to Montenegro in April 1913, after Montenegro suffered a high death toll with more than 10,000 casualties. Miss Edith Durham also notes the cruelties suffered at the hand of Montenegrins in the wake of October 1913: “Thousands of refugees arriving from Djakovo and neighbourhood. Victims of Montenegro. My position was indescribably painful, for I had no funds left, and women came to me crying: ‘If you will not feed my child, throw it in the river. I cannot see it starve.'” Montenegro was compelled to leave the city to the new country of Albania in May 1913, in accordance with the London Conference of Ambassadors.
During World War I, Montenegrin forces again occupied Shkodër on June 27, 1915. In January 1916, Shkodër was taken over by Austria-Hungary and was the center of the zone of their occupation. After World War I, the international military administration of Albania was temporarily located in Shkodër, and in March 1920, Shkodër was put under the administration of the national government of Tirana. In the second half of 1920, Shkodër resisted another threat, the military intervention of the forces of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
Shkodër was the center of democratic movements of the years 1921–1924. The democratic opposition won the majority of votes for the Constitutional Assembly, and on May 31, 1924, the democratic forces took over the town and from Shkodër headed to Tirana. From 1924 to 1939, Shkodër had a slow industrial development, small factories that produced food, textile, and cement were opened. From 43 of such in 1924, the number rose to 70 in 1938. In 1924, Shkodër had 20,000 inhabitants, the number grew to 29,000 in 1938.
Shkodër was the seat of a Catholic archbishopric and had a number of religious schools. The first laic school was opened here in 1913, and the State Gymnasium was opened in 1922. It was the center of many cultural associations. In sports Shkodër was the first city in Albania to constitute a sports association, the “Vllaznia” (brotherhood). Vllaznia is the oldest sport club in Albania.
During the early 1990s, Shkodër was once again a major center, this time of the democratic movement that finally brought to an end the communist regime established by Enver Hoxha. In the later 2000s (decade), the city experiences a rebirth as main streets are being paved, buildings painted and streets renamed. In December 2010, Shkodër and the surrounding region was hit by probably the worst flooding in the last 100 years. In 2011, a new swing bridge over the Buna River was constructed, thus replacing the old bridge nearby.
Shkodër has a Mediterranean climate (Csa) that is almost wet enough in July to be a humid subtropical climate (Cfa); the average yearly temperature in the city varies from 14.5 °C (58.1 °F) to 16.8 °C (62.2 °F). The temperature in January ranges from 1.7 °C (35.1 °F) to 9 °C (48.2 °F); in July, from 20 °C (68.0 °F) to 32 °C (89.6 °F). The average yearly rainfall is about 2,000 millimetres (78.7 in), which makes the area one of the wettest in Europe.Culture
City tunes differ from the rural music of the land, but both enjoy popularity in Shkodra. Northern music is a refined combination of romantic and sophisticated undertones with oriental-sounding scales and a constant interplay of major and minor. It bears a significant affinity with the sevdalinke of Bosnia, but differs from them in their extreme forms while maintaining a typically Albanian quality through the exceptional fluidity of rhythm and tempo. Early descriptions of such music groups, which date from the end of the 19th century, suggest use of the violin, clarinet, saze, defi, and sometimes Indian-style harmonium and percussion (provided by rattling a stick between two bottles). Today, the accordion and guitar have replaced the more exotic instruments. Among the most important players are Bik Ndoja, Luçije Miloti, Xhevdet Hafizi and Bujar Qamili.
The city and the surrounding area are blessed with a large variety of natural and cultural elements. The most attractive quarters of the city are commonly thought to be Pjaca, identifiable as the main city centre between statues of Mother Teresa and Luigj Gurakuqi, and Gjuhadol, the neighborhood around one of the most scenic streets connecting the Cathedral on the east side of town with the middle of the city. The most recognizable memorial is the legendary castle of Rozafa known also as Rozafati.
Lake of Shkodër is the biggest lake of the Balkans peninsula. It is a major summer attraction for tourists and inhabitants.
Another interesting historical site is the ruins of Shurdhah (Sarda), a medieval town situated only 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Shkodër. To go out there you must take a motor-boat from the dam of Vau i Dejës out to the island where Shurdhah is located (about 10 miles, or 16 km). Shurdhah was built atop a hill on the island, roughly 5 ha in area, surrounded by the waters of the Drini river (which has been rerouted now to form an artificial lake). At one time it was the summer retreat of the famous Dukagjini Family.
About 5 km (3 mi) east of Shkodër lies the medieval citadel of Drisht.
Many visitors feel that Shkodër is the soul of Albania. The very characteristic appearance of the city is formed by the juxtaposition of ancient houses and narrow streets joined with stone walls and modern buildings. After World War II, some of Shkodër was rebuilt with wider streets to accommodate automotive traffic, and new residential buildings are being constructed all the time.