Krujë CastleMay 9 in Albania ⋅ 🌧 10 °C
Gjergjj (or George,) Kastrioti was born in 1405, the son of an Albanian Prince based in the fortress city of Krujë . Unfortunately it was a vassel state of the Ottoman Empire, so he and 3 siblings were shipped off to Constantinople as hostages, meaning they had to join the Janissary Corps.
The Janissary philosophy was to take the boys from their vassal states, convert them to Islam, train them in military tactics and religious fanaticism, and then send them back to attack their former countrymen.
The Sultan renaged on the contracted 3 winter enlistment period when the old Prince died, so our George had to stay a slave-soldier nearly 20 years until he kicked over the traces.
He commanded a cavalry regiment, governed 9 provinces, and once personally thrassed a Mongol and two Persians in the Throne Room of the Ottoman Court after they were being disrespectful to the Sultan. Whilst he himself proved to be a strong and ruthless commander, and perhaps because of it, his three brothers were poisoned.
In his honour - or maybe ironically - the Sultan named him "Arnavuthu Iskender Bey", meaning "Lord Alexander the Albanian" in reference to Alexander the Great, but he himself preferred to be called the more Albanian sounding "Scenderbeu", (Skanderbeg in English for reasons unknown.)
One can surmise that having been circumcised forcibly at the age of 18 left an unpleasant feeling for, when he was 38, he chucked away the power that came from being a high-ranking Turkish official with all the wealth and women he could want. During a battle against John Hunyadi, a Hungarian Crusader, he absconded with 300 fellow Albanian Janissaries and returned to his birthplace at Kruje.
The castle was under Turkish control, so the canny Georgey forged an order appointing him Governor of the region in the name of the Sultan. As soon as the previous governer left, George raised his own double-eagle standard over the ramparts and rallied the Albanians to it, openly declaring rebellion and obviously re-converting back to Christianity again. He quickly secured his position by liberating surrounding cities and towns, giving the Turkish defenders the usual Christian offer: Baptism or Martyrdom.
Sultan Murad II was a bit miffed and came with 100,000 men to recover his assets.
Using a combination of guerilla warfare, scorched earth policies and hit-and-run attacks on supply columns, the Turks were repulsed several times over the next few years and never succeeded in dislodging the self-styled "Avenger of the Albanians." Surrounded by the Empire, George spent the rest of his life fighting battles in which he led from the front with his goat-head helmet and 2 handed sword. Thus was a legend born.
Pope Nicholas V called him the "Champion of Christendom" (sometimes translated as "The Athlete of Christendom"). Pope Pious II called him the "Christian Gideon", and Pope Calixtus III appointed him Captain-General of the Holy See.
After Sultan Murad died, his son, Mehmet the Conqueror, had another 2 goes at capturing the fort, which Skanderberg repulsed in his traditional way, whilst finding time to negotiate deals with the Hungarians, Serbians and Venetians. Oh! And repressing a rebellion started by his own nephew.
Once, taking a vacation from his Balkan odyssey, he nipped across to Italy with 800 cavalry to break the Siege of Naples and pick up a Dukedom, ( which his son and heirs enjoyed for a few hundred years.)
Eventually he was defeated - by a mosquito and he died of malaria in 1468. During his career he is credited with 3,000 kills and has become the Hero for the Albanian people: his battle standard is the present-day Albanian Flag and school children are required to memorise a song about his feats.
Ten years later, Kruje fell to the Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed II. The Turks dug up the Dragon of Albania and made bracelets out of his bones; either as keepsakes to disperse any trace of his body or as a fetish to get some of his power.
Not much of old Kruje remains now within the castle walls. In front is the rebuilt Sultan Mehmed Fatih mosque, (named after the man who finally broke down the castle’s security,) and in use. Its about the size of a living room and still un use.
Visitors are channelled from the car park up a shopping street to the gate. For 450 years it was a bazaar with up to 150 shops: now it is reduced to selling tourist trophys. It reminded me of villages outside Hanoi.Read more