BY MELISSA RENAY
Amidst stone ruins there often exists lurid tales of times long past. The Lëkurësi Castle in Albania is just one of those ruins. Also known as Kalaja e Lëkurësit in Albanian, this historical castle has an interesting history.
Located on a steep hill that strategically overlooks the town of Saranda, the castle was built in 1537 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman was a powerful Sultan who, under his administration, ruled over at least 25 million people. During his monarchy, he led Ottoman armies in their attempts to conquer Christian strongholds throughout Europe. The building of the castle of Lëkurës on such a steep hill certainly would have been a strategic decision.
Since the Sultan had attacked Corfu, he needed to control the harbor of Saranda and the road that connected it to the ancient Greek city of Butrint. The region where the castle was built belonged to the southern part of the region of Himara. This region is predominantly populated by ethnic Greeks.
The area of Himara, in antiquity, was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The Chaonians belonged to the three Greek-speaking tribes of Epirus, along with the Molossians and the Thresprotians. It’s believed that the original name of the town was Chimaira.
Chimaira was part of the ancient Aeacid Dynasty, which included King Pyrrhus of Epirus. However, in the second century BC, the area was conquered by the Roman Republic and many of the original settlements were destroyed by the Roman General Aemillius Paulus.
The Middle Ages
After the fall of Rome, Himara passed into the hands of the Byzantine Empire. The region became a frequent target of various attackers during the tumultuous time period. During the Middle Ages, the control over the region passed through many hands, including the Angevins and the Serbian Empire. The Serbian Empire managed to maintain possession of the region until 1417 and then the Ottoman Empire gained control.
Although the Ottoman Empire took control of Epirus, they had difficulty bringing Himara under their submission. The Himariotes continuously put up resistance to the Ottomans, which managed to destabilize Ottoman control but never was able to fully liberate their ancient territory from the invading army.
The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman mounted an expedition in 1537 against Himara that destroyed or captured many villages; however, he was not able to fully subdue the area. Thus, he had to compromise with the Himariotes by giving them privileges such as local self-government, the right to bear arms, exemption from taxes, the right to sail under their own flag into Ottoman ports.
Over the years, the Himariotes continued to revolt, but Ottoman reprisals ultimately depopulated the region and led to the forced Islamizations in the town of Himari and the surrounding area.
Today the castle is nothing more than a stone memory of time. It remains perched in ruins atop the hill and is a popular tourist spot. How often we forget the many footsteps and lives once impacted as we visit such places with our cameras, unattached to the historical relevance of their existence.