Albanopolis ( Zgërdhesh)
Albanopolis lies on the right hand side of the road that leads from Fushë Kruja to Kruja, near the village of Halil. In 1871, the renowned Austrian Albanologist, Hahn, visited the Illyrian Castle at Zgërdhesh and was the first to launch the idea that this was the ancient ALBANOPOLIS, the major settlement of the Alban tribe which gave its name to the whole country.
The ancient town built on top of a hill occupied an area of 10 hectares. Powerful walls, 1,400 meters long, protected the town on all sides. Today only a 90 meter long fragment of the wall remains. The acropolis occupied a third of the area. Among the terracotta archaeological finds retrieved in Zgërdhesh, worthy of mention is a small marble statuette of the Goddess Artemis. The ancient town flourished for three or four centuries, until it was abandoned in the 2nd century A.D.
The Illyrian city of Zgerdhesh is not mentioned in ancient literary or historical documents, as such, although many scholars believe that it was the city of ALBANOPOLIS mentioned by Pliny. Archeological investigations have shown that settlements on the site at the base of the Kruje end of the mountain range began in the 7C or 6C BC, when an acropolis covering about 1.3 hectares was enclosed with walls. In a second construction phase, in the 4C or 3C BC, a much larger area was enclosed, covering over 8 hectares, with the walls totalling 1350m in length. A series of defensive towers was built around the perimeter at this stage.
The city seems to have flourished for 300 or 400 years before being largely abandoned in the 2C BC, and the inhabitants moved to Dyrrachium or Lissus. Some evidence of settlement has been found going up to the 6C, when Kruje came to dominate completely the surrounding district.
A visit to Ancient Zgerdhesh is rewarding for the magnificent views across the coastal lowlands towards the Adriatic as well as for the impressive remains of Illyrian walls and fortifications. On a clear day there is a good view of the sea.
Approaching from the lower part of the hill, you first see the massive foundations and walls of three rectangular Illyrian watchtowers, which are thought to have been built in the 4C BC. A protective earth bank appears to have been thrown up outside them, to assist the perimeter defenders of the fort. Follow the path up the hill on the right-hand bank of the small stream, past a military camp and conscript training center. On the path about 500m past the closed entrance track, at the base of the fort, there is an outstanding fossil bed, where in blue Lias (a type of limestone) many good quality fossils can be seen and collected. Ancient mussels are particularily common.
Behind the watchtowers are two defensive walls, with earth packed in between them. These outer defenses run around the acropolis, at the lower end about 300m from the summit. Climbing the slope, you pass across what was the lower part of the town, with the foundations of various buildings of unknown use being visible, then up the slope towards the inner protective wall of the acropolis itself. On the left is a strong round tower and the inner wall, with an entrance through what would have been an inner gatehouse. This wall is about 150m long and has three defensive towers on the exterior at 50m intervals.
Just inside the entrance are the foundations of an early Christian chapel, a very small building indicating the continued occupation of the site in later antiquity, but also its greatly diminished importance.
The original city was built on the acropolis but there is little to see in the way of visible remains except a section of the eastern defensive wall, with a tower on the northeast corner. But, it is a beautiful place, with many birds and butterflies and wild flowers to be found, and somewhere suitable to reflect on the world of the ancient Illyrians and what many visitors to Albania find is the essential mystery surrounding the original inhabitants of the territory.
DIRECTIONS FOR GETTING TO ANCIENT ZGERDHESH: Take the road directly east from Fushe Kruje, past houses and a small industrial district. Follow this road about 4km into the countryside, until a small track leading to the right of this road is met. It is possible to drive about 1km along this track before it is essential to walk towards the site. It is possible to walk back to Kruje, which takes about an hour and a half, along sheep tracks.