Ancient States & Regions
Petrela Castle

Petrela: A Fascinating Castle in Tirana County

Petrela Castle is one of the most valuable attractions in Tirana county. It’s an original but small Medieval fortress that rises over a smooth hill range. 

Location

The castle of Petrela is located southeast of Tirana, over a rocky hill some 400 meters (1,312 feet) above sea level. The road into the castle is straightforward; after traveling from Tirana center southeast for 12.5 kilometers (7.7 miles) one should turn right and cover a small uphill distance of 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles). The road is in good condition for any car, bringing tourists easily into Petrela village, right at the foot of the castle.

The surface of Petrela’s fortress resembles an irregular triangle with a perimeter no longer than 100 meters (328 feet). It has two towers on two of its edges with the third edge counting on the natural defense of the rocky hill. It thus classifies as a small castle of a mountainous nature where the locals could however count on during the turbulent times of the Dark Ages. The fertile terrain right below the valley provided for maintaining a small but noble community. 

View from the stairs leading up to the castle of Petrela; credit: Albanopedia.
View from the stairs leading up to the castle of Petrela; credit: Albanopedia.

History

At least since the VI century C.E., when it was first established, it controlled the intersection of important roads, especially those coming from the north (Shkodra, Kruja, plain of Tirana) and east (Durrës). Procopius of Caesarea hints on a foundation of Petrela during the reign of Justinian (527-565). As such, the fortress had an important part in Justinian’s protective construction projects across Epirus Nova. 

The initial function of the fortress was to curb barbarian invasions pressing from the north. Later, it took a key strategic role in the wars between Byzantium and the Normans (1081). The contemporary accounts of Anna Comnene describing such battles mention the fortress with the name “Petrula”. As Byzantium’s hold on the region declined, the local noble family of the Topiaj established control over it. It’s members carried out an important reconstruction of the castle, turning it largely into its current shape. 

According to Barleti/Barletius, Gjergj Kastriot Skënderbeu (Anglicanized name: Scanderbeg) took Petrela soon after taking Kruja, when he raised his flag of rebellion against the Ottomans (1443). The hero’s swift possession of Petrela at the outset of his epic resistance is no accident. As Barleti/Barletius himself admits, Petrela controlled the main and only south-north route the Ottomans used to march into central and north Albania. Hence, Scanderbeg’s concern for controlling it. Also according to the same author, Scanderbeg’s sister Mamica Kastrioti used the castle as her residing place after marrying Muzakë Topia. 

After Scanderbeg, the castle fell under the Ottoman rule. During the early phase of Ottoman rule, the castle served as a base for further Ottoman incursions. As Ottomans advanced north and drove the Venetians out of coastal Albania, the castle lost its strategic value. It kept, however, its residential and symbolic value with the Ottomans conducting reconstruction works on the castle during the XVI century. The latest works took place during the XVII-XIX century. 

View from inside the castle and its east side tower; credit: Albanopedia.
View from inside the Petrela castle and its east side tower; credit: Albanopedia.

Presently

Currently, the site of Petrela castle is the ideal and most convenient escape from the city of Tirana. For visitors who want to learn more about the history of the region but have a limited time, Petrela castle is a must-visit attraction. From the abode of the castle, one understands easily why this castle controlled the communication of the below valley. The interior, where visitors can find small traditional items here and there, seems like a little museum. 

For more information on how to get to Petrela Castle, click here.

Bibliography

Bakiu, G. A. (2019). Tirana e Vjetër, Një histori e ilustruar. Botimi i tretë, Shtëpia botuese mediaprint. 

Barleti, M. (1508-1510). Historia e jetës dhe veprave të Skënderbeut/Historia de Vita et Gestis Scanderbegi Epirotarum Principis. Romë. Translation into Albanian from Prifti, S. I. (2005). INFBOTUES. Tiranë.

Meksi, A. (1989). Të dhëna për historinë e hershme mesjetare të Shqipërisë (fundi i shek. VI – fillimi i shek. XI). Iliria, Nr. 1.

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