On our last full day in Albania, we visited Lezhe and Shkodra. Lezhe is about 77km north of Tirana. On the way there, we met up with a friend of Igli's for coffee. Then we went to see Skanderbeg's tomb.
Lezhe is important to Albania due in part to the League of Lezhe. In 1444, Skanderbeg brought the Albanian princes and mountain tribes together in Lezhe. They agreed to join forces to fight the Ottomans. Skanderbeg was elected commander of the joint forces. For the next 25 years or so Skanderbeg, and the Albanian forces under his command, managed to hold off the Ottoman empire essentially giving Europe time to prepare for the onslaught. Many historians credit Skanderbeg with saving Europe and Christianity from the Ottoman Empire.
After Skanderbeg's death in 1468, he was buried in St Nicholas Cathedral in Lezhe, where he had brought the tribes together for the League of Lezhe. When the Ottoman forces eventually occupied Lezhe, 12 years or so after Skanderbeg's death, they dug up Skanderbeg's bones and used them as talismans or good luck charms. In the early 1980s, what remained of the church was incorporated into a monument to Skanderbeg. The walls of the church remain, as well as one "painting" from the original church. The tomb of Skanderbeg is marked by a marble slab and replicas of his helmet and sword. There is also a bust of Skanderbeg with a large Albanian flag mosaic behind it. The symbol on the Albanian flag, the double eagle, was taken from Skanderbeg's family crest.
As mentioned in a previous post, I found it very interesting that the communists would make the effort to help preserve the memory of someone whose main goal in life was to create, and protect, a unified Albania. Yet, they seemed to realize that Skanderbeg was so important to Albanians that it would be better to help create monuments to remember him rather than to try to erase him from their memories. The latter would more likely have made him an even larger icon.