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Lezhë PDF Print Email


Originally the ancient city of Lissus, now Lezhë, consisted of two sections: the high fortified mountain Akrolissus, and the lower hill with the acropolis and main city to the west. Only this latter section forms part of the National Park and is easily accessible. The main town lies on the principal north-south road link along the coast and the fortified acropolis is easily reachable from the modern town centre.

The city was a major Illyrian tribal centre and is renowned for its set of grandiose walls with a number of major gateways that encircled the acropolis and stretched down to the banks of the river Drin, which runs past the city. In the 1st century BC Lezhë was the capital of King Genti, leader of a confederation of Illyrian tribes allied to Macedonia against Rome.

In the lower city by the river are the remains of buildings of the Roman period, including a small set of baths. The city clearly existed into late antiquity when some of the Roman structures were reused; indeed, the baths seem to have been converted into a church.

A second period of greatness for Lissus came during the 15th century when the town was one of the principal fortresses of the George Kastrioti Skanderbeg during his epic struggle against the Ottoman Turks.

The castle on the acropolis was rebuilt and the lower city was a thriving township. This is the place where the League of Lezhë, an alliance of Albanian and other princesses, was formed against the Ottoman Turks. Following Skanderbeg’s death he was buried in the cathedral church of St. Nicholas.

Under the Turkish occupation the cathedral was converted into a mosque but during work of the 500th anniversary of Skanderbeg’s death in 1967 the church was once again exposed and made the focus of a national memorial in the lower city, which was cleared of its other buildings. The church, under an enormous cover building, is now the most prominent structure in this area of the town.