TIRANA, February 12
On the right bank of Shkumbini River, at the point where it meets the ancient Via Egnatia, the travelers will find the city of Elbasan, known in ancient times as Skampis. The name of Elbasan changed often during the centuries. The first documentation of the city’s name, Scampius and later Skampi, dates back to the second century when it was under the administration of Dyrrah. Meanwhile, during the early Byzantine period, the name Valm was used.
Skampi was a fortress located on a highly strategic point where important roads met. Via Egnatia connected Rome and Constantinople. Moats filled with water by Zaranika torrent surrounded the fortress that had 26 fortified towers in different shapes and four entrances.
The urban area was developed outside the castle during the fifth century. A basilica and a cathedral were built at the time at Tepa hill. The castle was destroyed by the barbarian hordes during the sixth-seven centuries. Only the southern gate of the ancient castle survived till day.
The castle was reconstructed again and fell in Ottoman hands in 1466 during the second siege of Kruja. The castle was reconstructed under the name of Ilj-Basan.
The city became a sanjak during the 17-18th centuries. It emerged as a center of trade and guilds. By the mid-17th century, the city counted over 900 shops and 2,000 houses. Elbasan was known for its craft guilds such as leatherworkers, silk weavers, silver manufacturers, etc. The city was home to various religious sites like churches, monasteries, mosques, and shrines. Elbasan was also known for its public baths or Hamam.
What to visit in Elbasan?
The castle was built during the Diocletian’s Rule (284-305) based on Roman the opus mixtum construction technique. This was an irregular masonry technique. The outer face of the wall is regular, while stones in the inner face are placed without order. The three-meter wide walls of the castle are still preserved on the lower level of the castle.
All the roads lead to Rome
Via Egnatia was the continuation of Via Appia to the other side of the Adriatic Sea. “Appia longarum… regina viarum,” ‘the Appian Way the queen of the long roads’
Via Egnatia is an ancient road built by the Romans during the second century BC that connected Rome to the Eastern regions. In Albania, the trace of Via Egnatia begins in Durres and it is divided into two itineraries. One leads to the ancient site of Apollonia, in Fier area, and the other runs through Elbasan, to Qafe-Thane, Struga, Ohrid, Bitola, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, and beyond.
The section from Peqin to Elbasan had only one station known as Ad Quintum in Bradashesh.
Via Egnatia would be an excellent multi-day hiking trail for walkers that can walk the entire road or only some of its itineraries. If you’re looking for an outdoor trekking holiday through the Albanian landscape, Via Egnatia is a great option.
The King Mosque (Xhamia Mbret)
The King Mosque of Elbasan is among the earliest of its type in Albania. The mosque that dates back to 1492 was built by Sultan Bayezid II. According to traveler Evliya Celebi, the four walls of the prayer room were covered in verses and poetry by travelers from Persia and the Middle East. The mosque suffered changes and damage during the communist regime the minaret was destroyed.
Saint Mary Church
The church is located at the center of the Castle neighborhood and it was rebuilt by Dibra masonry master over the ruins of a Roman cathedral around 1833 following the fire of November 11th, 1819. The initial work for the construction of the church started in 1483. The frescos were painted by Onufri who used portraits of common people in his paintings. Onufri was the first icon painter that used ethnographic elements in his paintings. The St. Mary frescos were restored by David Selenica.
The Castle Hamam
The Hamam (Turkish Bath) inside the castle also known as the women hamam dates back to the 16th century. The bathhouse consisted of three main rooms, the dressing room, the isolation room, and the bathroom. During the 20th century, the Hamam was used as a food warehouse.
The Clock Tower
The first Clock Tower was built during the 17th century and ruined before 1854. The second tower was of wood, but it didn’t last much and finally, it was replaced with the existing tower in 1899. Based on an inscription on the entrance, the construction was made by Aqif Pashe Elbasani. The inscription says that when the clock tower rings it shows the exact time from all the four directions. The tower is a monument of culture of the first category.
Ad Quintum station
Archeologists searched for the Ad Quintum station on Via Egnatia in the area around Shijon village, but their calculations didn’t coincide either with six or five miles from Skampini, as the name of the station indicated. Hence, the expedition was moved to a more appropriate location in Bradashesh village. There, on the foot of Fikasi hill, one of the few areas along Egnatia Road with water springs, the archeologists located the Ad Quintum terms in 1968.
The terms cover an area of 130 square meters and it was built by the end of the second century AD. The station was a nice place where travelers could unwind before reaching Skampini.
St. Nicholas Church in Shelcan
Those who want to visit in person the sites painted by Onufri must visit the church of Saint Nicholas in Shelcan village. It is located 12 km away from Elbasan, thus it would make a nice spring cycling or even hiking tour. The church is famous because of Onufri paintings and Kostandin Shpataraku.
Other destinations include
The Ethnographic Museum
Pusi qe lahet vete
Koder Tepe Basilica
Baba Xhemali Teke
Read also: Best Places to Explore Along Shkumbini River
Photo Credit: I Love Elbasan, FB Page