Albanian legendary hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg

The Albanian legendary hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg is widely known as Skanderbeg, who was a 15th century Albanian lord who defended his land against the Ottoman Empire for more than two decades. Skanderbeg’s military skills and strength of resistance presented a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion and delayed their attack on Italy, and he was considered by many in Western Europe to be a model of Christian resistance against the Ottoman Muslims. Skanderbeg is Albania’s greatest hero, a core figure of Albanian identity and the inspiration for the revival of Albanian statehood which occurred in 1912 with the Albanian Declaration of Independence. Skanderbeg was born in 1405 to the noble Kastrioti family in a small village in the Diber region, and Sultan Murad II took him hostage during his youth. While a local ruler, he fought for the Ottoman Empire as a general. In 1443, he deserted the Ottomans during the Battle of NiA? and, through a ruse, became the ruler of Kruja. In March 1444, he organized local leaders into the League of Lezha, a federation aimed at uniting their forces for war against the Ottomans. Skanderbeg’s first victory against the Ottomans, at the Battle of Torvioll in June 1444, marked the beginning of more than 20 years of war between him and the Ottomans. Skanderbeg’s forces achieved more than 20 victories in the field and withstood three sieges of his capital, Kruja.

His success thrust Skanderbeg into the spotlight of contemporary international politics. In 1448, he tried to participate in the Second Battle of Kosovo, while helping Alfonso V of Aragon put down a rebellion, and in 1451 he recognized himself as a vassal of the Kingdom of Naples through the Treaty of Gaeta, to ensure a major protective alliance. In 1460-1461, he personally participated in Italy’s civil wars in support of Ferdinand I of Naples. In November 1463, he became the chief commander of the crusading forces of Pope Pius II, but the Pope died while the armies were still gathering. Left alone to fight the Ottomans, Skanderbeg did so until his death in January 1468. Marin Barleti’s biography of Skanderbeg, written in elegant Latin and in a renaissance and panegyric style, was translated into all the major languages of Western Europe in the 16th through the 18th centuries. Such translations also inspired a fairly substantial extensive literary coverage and other artistic creations by eminent writers and poets such as playwrights William Havard, and George Lillo, French poet Ronsard, English poet Byron, and American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Skanderbeg’s life and deeds also inspired an opera by Vivaldi, and an award winning Soviet-Albanian 1950s movie.

Skanderbeg gained an almost mythical reputation in literature and was often cited by future generals and leaders as the perfect example of defensive warfare against a superior foe, his record was certainly impressive with 25 battles of which he was victorious in 24. It was said that he personally killed over 3,000 Turks in combat and helped give the Papal States time to prepare for the Ottoman attacks, heralded as a Christian hero against the Muslim hordes.

Skanderbeg’s memory has been engraved in many museums, such as the Skanderbeg Museum next to Kruja Castle. Many monuments are dedicated to his memory in the Albanian cities of Tirana (in the Skanderbeg Square by Odhise Paskali), Kruja, and Peshkopi. A palace in Rome in which Skanderbeg resided during his 1466a-67 visits to the Vatican is still called Palazzo Skanderbeg and currently houses the Italian museum of pasta: the palace is located between the Fontana di Trevi and the Quirinal Palace. Also in Rome, a statue is dedicated to the Albanian hero in Piazza Albania. Monuments or statues of Skanderbeg have also been erected in the cities of Skopje and Debar, in the Republic of Macedonia; Pristina, in Kosovo; Geneva, in Switzerland; Brussels, in Belgium; and other settlements in southern Italy where there is an Arberesh community. In 2006, a statue of Skanderbeg was unveiled on the grounds of St. Paul’s Albanian Catholic Community in Rochester Hills, Michigan, the first Skanderbeg statue in the United States.

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