Category Archives: History

This section contains articles on Albanian history

Lord Byron’s Unsent Letter to Ali Pasha

On June 25th, 1815 Lord Byron sent a letter to Ali Pasha Tepelena together with a special pistol – as a present – requested earlier by Ali.

These precious items were to be delivered by George TIcknor, a wealthy Bostonian and Harvard University Professor.  However, TIcknor changed his mind and decided not to travel to Albania at the time. He duly returned the pistol to Lord Byron, but not the letter, which is now preserved at at the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College.

A story on Lord Byron’s unsent letter to Ali Pasha is here:


Scanderbeg Event at Worcester Public Library – January 26th, 2013

Portrait of Skanderbeg in the Uffizi, Florence

Portrait of Skanderbeg in the Uffizi, Florence


Contact: ARTUR VREKAJ 508-304-0848
KOMBI and Albanian American League’s Historic Event
Location: Saxe Room – Main Library

For more information:


From Berat to Gjirokaster – one visitor’s impression

Thanks to Agron Alibali for calling my attention to this article from the guardian!

My question:

Did the writer/traveler enjoy his visit to Albania or not?

Go figure…

Letter from Albania: lost crossroads

Uncertain destination ... a road traverses hills in Shkoder, northern Albania. Photograph: David Levene

Uncertain destination … a road traverses hills in Shkoder, northern Albania. Photograph: David Levene

Berat, city of a thousand windows, lurches up a hillside to an ancient walled castle settlement, still inhabited. Cobbled alleys as wide as a donkey clamber in twists and turns, and the windows of the packed Ottoman houses flash in the sunlight.

The modern town stretches away up the valley, but leads to nowhere. To go further south in Albania you have to retrace your steps to the main north-south highway, red on the map, or take the old road, yellow on the map, which is the main route for several hamlets and villages along the way. It fetches up at the crossroads town of Kelcyre, where you can turn off for Gjirocastër, another ancient city.

We take the yellow road. The distance is vague, maybe 50km. The tarmac runs out a few kilometres from Berat. We climb through a patchwork of fruit trees and olives, closely planted and meticulously cared for, and catch up with a bus grinding its way from rock to rock across the ravaged road. Bumpy hours later and in much wilder countryside we come to smooth tarmac, and place bets as to whether we’ve arrived at the Kelcyre junction, because none of the tiny settlements we have passed through has had a sign with a name. We stop for a coffee at a tiny shop, where they are miffed that their village, Buz Ketu, doesn’t appear on our map. They show us roughly where we are – we haven’t yet covered a third of the way. Their tarmac ends just past the houses and an hour later we give up and camp in the wilds. As darkness falls, tiny lights sprinkle the hillsides and the sound of sheep bells is
accompanied by voices and barks. The landscape is nowhere near as empty as it seems.

Next day our most frequent fellow travellers are the tortoises. We stop regularly to lift them to safety. A washed-out bridge over a gulley adds to the excitement, but eventually we drop down into Bellaban village where tarmac of sorts starts again. We can put on a little turn of speed. The last stage to Gjirocastër on the red road down the Drina gorge seems positively racing.

Gjirocastër, city of a thousand steps, has wide cobbled streets that wind up a hill to a gloomy castle. As befits the town’s position on the red road, young men career their cars up and down for show. We walk up through the lanes with their gentler Ottoman heritage, and leave the truck to rest awhile.

Every week Guardian Weekly publishes a Letter from one of its readers from around the world. We welcome submissions – they should focus on giving a clear sense of a place and its people. Please send them to

Scanderbeg’s helmet and sword returning to Albania?

According to a recent meeting between Albania’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edmond Haxhinasto, and his Austrian counterpart, Michael Spindelegger, there is a good possibility that the  actual helmet and sword of Albania’s 15th century folkhero, Gjergj Kastrioti surnamed Scanderbeg, will be returned to Tirana on November 28, 2012, as part of its historic commemoration of Albania’s Flag Day – Dita e Flamurit – which marked Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire on that date in 1912.

Scanderbeg’s helmet and sword have been on longtime  exhibit at the Kunthistorisches Museum in Vienna where Jane and I had the good fortune to view them in person.  And it was with thanks to the Museum’s director Dr. Matthais Pfaffenbichter, who provided me with official photographs of Scanderbeg’s sword and helmet and the most interesting history of how they eventually ended up in the Vienna museum.

Additional Appearance by Holocaust Survivor Johanna Neumann

Besa: The Promise

Monday, June 11, 2012 at 7:00pm (Reception at 6:00pm)

Boston University Photonics Center (8 St. Mary’s Street, Room 206, Boston, MA)

The USHMM and The Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University invite you to a preview screening of Besa: The Promise, a new documentary about the unique history of Muslim Albanians who welcomed and protected Jewish refugees during World War II.Following the film, Holocaust survivor and Museum employee Johanna Neumann will discuss her own rescue by an Albanian family with Museum Historian Edna Friedberg.  Years after her rescue, Johanna went to great lengths to have her rescuers honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

The program is free but reservations are required.  RSVP to the USHMM New England Regional Office at or (202)-488-6585.

Longfellow describes Scanderbeg in a famous Poem

Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The following poem about Scanderbeg can be found in Longfellow’s poem “Tales of a Wayside Inn”


The battle is fought and won
By King Ladislaus the Hun,
In fire of hell and death’s frost,
On the day of Pentecost.
And in rout before his path
From the field of battle red
Flee all that are not dead
Of the army of Amurath.

In the darkness of the night
Iskander, the pride and boast
Of that mighty Othman host,
With his routed Turks, takes flight
>From the battle fought and lost
On the day of Pentecost;
Leaving behind him dead
The army of Amurath,
The vanguard as it led,
The rearguard as it fled,
Mown down in the bloody swath
Of the battle’s aftermath.

But he cared not for Hospodars,
Nor for Baron or Voivode,
As on through the night he rode
And gazed at the fateful stars,
That were shining overhead
But smote his steed with his staff,
And smiled to himself, and said;
“This is the time to laugh.”

In the middle of the night,
In a halt of the hurrying flight,
There came a Scribe of the King
Wearing his signet ring,
And said in a voice severe:
“This is the first dark blot
On thy name, George Castriot!
Alas why art thou here,
And the army of Amurath slain,
And left on the battle plain?”

And Iskander answered and said:
“They lie on the bloody sod
By the hoofs of horses trod;
But this was the decree
Of the watchers overhead;
For the war belongeth to God,
And in battle who are we,
Who are we, that shall withstand
The wind of his lifted hand?”

Then he bade them bind with chains
This man of books and brains;
And the Scribe said: “What misdeed
Have I done, that, without need,
Thou doest to me this thing?”
And Iskander answering
Said unto him: “Not one
Misdeed to me hast thou done;
But for fear that thou shouldst run
And hide thyself from me,
Have I done this unto thee.

“Now write me a writing, O Scribe,
And a blessing be on thy tribe!
A writing sealed with thy ring,
To King Amurath’s Pasha
In the city of Croia,
The city moated and walled,
That he surrender the same
In the name of my master, the King;
For what is writ in his name
Can never be recalled.”

And the Scribe bowed low in dread,
And unto Iskander said:
“Allah is great and just,
But we are as ashes and dust;
How shall I do this thing,
When I know that my guilty head
Will be forfeit to the King?”

Then swift as a shooting star
The curved and shining blade
Of Iskander’s scimetar
>From its sheath, with jewels bright,
Shot, as he thundered: “Write!”
And the trembling Scribe obeyed,
And wrote in the fitful glare
Of the bivouac fire apart,
With the chill of the midnight air
On his forehead white and bare,
And the chill of death in his heart.

Then again Iskander cried:
“Now follow whither I ride,
For here thou must not stay.
Thou shalt be as my dearest friend,
And honors without end
Shall surround thee on every side,
And attend thee night and day.”
But the sullen Scribe replied
“Our pathways here divide;
Mine leadeth not thy way.”

And even as he spoke
Fell a sudden scimetar-stroke,
When no one else was near;
And the Scribe sank to the ground,
As a stone, pushed from the brink
Of a black pool, might sink
With a sob and disappear;
And no one saw the deed;
And in the stillness around
No sound was heard but the sound
Of the hoofs of Iskander’s steed,
As forward he sprang with a bound.

Then onward he rode and afar,
With scarce three hundred men,
Through river and forest and fen,
O’er the mountains of Argentar;
And his heart was merry within,
When he crossed the river Drin,
And saw in the gleam of the morn
The White Castle Ak-Hissar,
The city Croia called,
The city moated and walled,
The city where he was born,–
And above it the morning star.

Then his trumpeters in the van
On their silver bugles blew,
And in crowds about him ran
Albanian and Turkoman,
That the sound together drew.
And he feasted with his friends,
And when they were warm with wine,
He said: “O friends of mine,
Behold what fortune sends,
And what the fates design!
King Amurath commands
That my father’s wide domain,
This city and all its lands,
Shall be given to me again.”

Then to the Castle White
He rode in regal state,
And entered in at the gate
In all his arms bedight,
And gave to the Pasha
Who ruled in Croia
The writing of the King,
Sealed with his signet ring.
And the Pasha bowed his head,
And after a silence said:
“Allah is just and great!
I yield to the will divine,
The city and lands are thine;
Who shall contend with fate?”

Anon from the castle walls
The crescent banner falls,
And the crowd beholds instead,
Like a portent in the sky,
Iskander’s banner fly,
The Black Eagle with double head;
And a shout ascends on high,
For men’s souls are tired of the Turks,
And their wicked ways and works,
That have made of Ak-Hissar
A city of the plague;
And the loud, exultant cry
That echoes wide and far
Is: “Long live Scanderbeg!”

It was thus Iskander came
Once more unto his own;
And the tidings, like the flame
Of a conflagration blown
By the winds of summer, ran,
Till the land was in a blaze,
And the cities far and near,
Sayeth Ben Joshua Ben Meir,
In his Book of the Words of the Days,
“Were taken as a man
Would take the tip of his ear.”

 (Also visit The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts)


The earliest evidence of the existence of Albanian-language literature is a written statement by the French Dominican Father Brocardus, then Archbishop of Tivar. In a written report in Latin in 1332 he said, “Although the Arbërs (Albanians) have a language different from Latin, still they have Albanian letters in daily use, as well as in all their books.” From this it becomes evident that the Albanian language was in common use and written with the Latin alphabet at least as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Marin Barleti, the famous historian and biographer of Skanderbeg, wrote in his Latin work of 1504 entitled The Siege of Shkodra,  “I have recently gotten hold of certain annals — fragments rather than annals — which, based on the legend, speak about the reconstruction rather than the construction of this city. In them we read in the native language that a certain ‘Roza and his sister were the founders of the city of Shkodra’ “.   This famous legend of the Rozafat fortress written “in the native language” would have been written not in Latin, but in Albanian. Unfortunately, “all their books” have been lost, either because of the contemporary Stephen Dushan’s determination to eradicate heretical Roman Catholicism from his Orthodox realm, or because of the Ottoman determination to eradicate all evidence of Albanian culture from their domain.

While most written documents in the Albanian language were lost forever, a few did survive outside the country in various archives and libraries. Thus, in 1915 the Romanian scholar Nicola Jorga discovered in the Laurentian Library of Florence a circular letter written in 1462 by Pal Engjëll (1416-1470), the Catholic Archbishop of Durrës. Engjëll enjoyed the trust and respect of all Albanians, was a close collaborator of Skanderbeg and frequently traveled abroad as Skanderbeg’s envoy to secure the aid of allies against the Ottomans.

While Engjëll’s text was in Latin, it contained a one-sentence formula in the Albanian language, which Albanian parents could pronounce in baptizing their dying children.  The early text reads, “Un te paghesont pr’ emenit Atit e t’birit e t’ spertit senit.” This is quite similar to the present official Albanian which would be written, “Une të pagezoj për emrin e Atit e të Birit e të Shpirtit të Shenjtë” (I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

This brief sentence is the earliest text written in Albanian which has yet come to light. It was written in Mat, northern Albania, during the heroic resistance of the Albanian people against the onslaughts of the Ottoman armies.     PP 277-278, “THE ALBANIANS: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present” by Edwin E. Jacques, McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, 1995

The Truth about the Battle of Kosova (1389)

Upon reading/hearing news in the national-international press and elsewhere about the current conflict between Kosova and Serbia, it is frequently stated by the Serbs that the eventful battle on the plain of Kosova in 1389 took place only between Serbs and the Ottoman invaders. For that reason, the plain of Kosova is deemed to be “sacred” to Serbia who persists in holding title to that historic site and to the entire Albanian-populated (over 90%) region.

In point of fact, several other nationalities including both indigenous Albanians and Albanians from Albania proper such as the feudal rulers, Gjergj Kastrioti (the grandfather of his namesake, Gjergj Kastrioti/Skanderbeg) of Mati, Theodore II Muzaka of Berat who was killed during the battle (as were many Albanians!), and others, all fought in a major alliance of 6 nationalities in that last desperate armed conflict where the Turks subsequently defeated the opposing forces. This tragic loss marked the eventual collapse of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania which all came under Turkish rule:

A. “An anti-Ottoman coalition of Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles, Serbs, and Albanians headed by the Serbian Prince Lazar fought a Turkish army twice its size on the plain of Kosova nearPrishtina on 15 June 1389. Troops of Gjergj II Balsha of Shkodra and of Theodore Korona Muzaka of Berat participated. Even though an Albanian named Milosh Kopiliq penetrated the Sultan’s tent and assassinated Amurat I, the Turks succeeded in breaking the Balkan coalition. This bloody defeat opened the way for yet deeper penetration of Albanian territory under Sultan Bayazet, surnamed ‘Thunderbolt.’ He overran Albania from 1394 to 1396 and occupied it from Gjirokastra in the south to Shkodra in the north, and from its eastern border to Durres on the coast.”    Page 171 THE ALBANIANS: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present, Edwin E. Jacques, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 1995

B. “Prince Lazar’s men fought valiantly against impossible odds. Early in the day they appeared to have gained a tactical advantage until, inexplicably and tragically, one wing of their army under Vuk Brancovic, retired from the field.”    PP. 171-172, SALONICA TERMINUS, Fred A. Reed, Talonbooks, Barnaby, British Columbia, Canada, 1996

C. “Let’s clear up the historical facts about The Battle of Kosova. Namely, following existing historical sources about the Kosova battle, the truth is as follows. In reality, the Serbian leaders V. Brankovic and K. Marko accepted negotiations with the Ottomans and reached an agreement under very humble conditions, and both leaders took sides with the Ottoman army. Only Albanians did not accept negotiations and fought to the end.”
Page 115, DISTORTIONISM IN HISTORIOGRAPHY, Muharem Cerabregu, Institute of Albanian Studies, New York, NY 1996