Scodra / Bushat
Scodra (Shkodër) lies in northern Albania, near the border with Montenegro, in a small narrowing of a wide plain stretching along the Adriatic coast and Lake Skadar. The entire plain between the lake and the mountains is shaped by three interconnecting meandering rivers: Buna, Kiri, and from the east the large river Drin.
The remains of the ancient city are now known only to a very limited extent, among other reasons because their area was subject to flooding and accumulation of alluvial sediments.
The geography of Bushat, on the other hand, is peculiar. The site lies on the southern slopes of an elongated hill with three peaks, north of the modern Albanian village of the same name. It is a rare high point in an area otherwise composed of plains, shaped by the present and former bed of the Drin River.
Above the town, on a steep hill lying on a peninsula between the rivers Buna and Drin, is the ruin of the Rozafa fortress. Its origins date back to Illyrian times, the Bronze Age of the eastern Adriatic coast (Illyria). It was this very peak that determined that this place was predestined for the settlement that was to dominate the region: an isolated hill, protected on three sides by rivers, in the middle of a fertile plain lying on a lake rich in fish, which also opened the way inland.
The location of this Illyrian city (Scodra in Latin) was still described in antiquity by Livius in Ab urbe condita as munitissima (strongest) and difficilis aditu (difficult to reach). Today, most of the buildings of the fortress, which received its essential shape during the reign of the Venetian Republic, are destroyed, mainly due to earthquakes in the 19th century, and shelling during sieges of the fortress.
In the 3rd century BC, when the Illyrian kingdom reached its zenith under King Agron, Shkodra was its capital, while in 168 BC. Gentios, the last of the Illyrian kings, surrendered to Rome after the Battle of Shkodra. During the period of the Republic, Shkodra was an important trade and communication center, to be referred to as oppidum civium Romanorum already during the Empire.
During the Middle Ages, the fortress and the city were often the object of bargaining between the European powers and the Ottomans. From 1396, the Venetian Republic took control of the entire area. The Albania Veneta, a system of Venetian colonies on the eastern Adriatic coast, was then being established with the aim of establishing safe transit points on the sea route to the trading centers of the Levant. Shkodra was the most important stronghold of this system until 1478, when Soliman, vizier of Mohammed II attacked the city. The defenders held out for nine months until a peace treaty was signed between Venice and the Ottomans on January 26, 1479.
Since the fortress on the hill has been in the hands of Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, Venetians and Ottomans over the centuries, and almost each of these periods involved rebuilding the walls, it is difficult to see today the oldest traces, from Illyrian times. Only in a few places they can be seen, because the walls of the fortress were built over the Illyrian walls, especially in the walls of the barbican, one can see sequences of stones laid in the “Cyclopean” technique. Among the archaeological works carried out was the examination of a cistern from the time of the great expansion of the strategic fortifications of the Venetian Republic in 1397. A Roman inscription was built into one of the supporting pillars of this cistern. The inscription contains information about Roman military administration and staff functioning and lists Shkodra as a city of colonia rank.
Between 2011 and 2017, nearly 30 sounding pits were excavated in the fortress area, making a number of important observations and discovering, among other things, mass burials from the period of the siege in the 15th century. In addition, fieldwork was conducted on the triangular peninsula between the Drin and the Buna, where the Late Antique defensive wall of Shkodra ran.
Since 2018, on the other hand, a team of archaeologists from the UW has moved 15 km southeast of Shkodra. The first campaign there yielded unexpected and surprising results. As part of the research project related to the excavations in Shkodra, for the past three years research and exploration of ancient settlements and fortresses once lying in the so-called territory of ancient Shkodra, constituting its economic and military base, has also been carried out. A rather high hill for the area (130 m above sea level) lies within the Bushat municipality, which in Ottoman times was called, probably because of its shape, “The snake’s lip”.
It was in the open mouth of this “topographic snake” that a rather extensive excavation was established. The archaeological layers revealed Hellenistic coins and Hellenistic pottery – 4th – 1st century BC. Soon, ruins of stone constructions made of large well-fitted stone blocks, the so-called Cyclopean walls, also began to appear. It turned out to be a gate with two great bastions, which were reached by huge defensive walls over 3 meters wide.
Their outer walls were made of profiled stone blocks, the space between them being filled with small stones and earth. This type of construction, called emplekton, is characteristic for Hellenistic defensive buildings. It turned out that the belt of mighty defensive walls covers an area of about 20 ha, so it is almost three times larger than the fortress of Rozafa.
M. Lemke, S. Shpuza, B. Wojciechowski (2021). Bushat, not lost but found: A ‘new’ Illyrian settlement in northern Albania. Antiquity 95/380, 1-9.
P. Dyczek, Terra incognita: Results of Polish Excavations in Albania and Montenegro, Studia Europea Gnesnensia 16, 2017, 351-369.
P. Dyczek, S. Shpuza, Scodra. De la capitele du royaume Illyrien à la capitale de la province romaine. [in:] L’Illyrie Méridionale et L’Épire dans L’Antiquité VI, eds. J-L. Lamboley, L. Përzhita et A. Skënderaj, vol I, Paris 2018, 269 -278.
P. Dyczek, Shkodёr. Gёrmimet arkeologjike tё viteve 2013-2014, 2015 Iliria 38, 279-292.
M. Lemke, Fieldwork at Scodra 2013, “Światowit” XI (LII)/A (2013), 2014, 217-225
M. Lemke, Szkodra – Legenda wielu epok, Archeologia Żywa 58 (2011), 14-19