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Biblioteka Lezhë Bibliotekat Publike - panoramio.jpg
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Lezhë photomontage
Official logo of Lezhë
Lezhë is located in Albania
Coordinates: 41°47′N 19°38′E / 41.783°N 19.633°E / 41.783; 19.633
Country Albania
Settled4th century BC
 • MayorPjerin Ndreu (PS)
 • Municipality514.97 km2 (198.83 sq mi)
10 m (30 ft)
 • Municipality
 • Municipality density130/km2 (330/sq mi)
 • Municipal unit
Time zoneUTC+1 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+2 (CEST)
Postal Code
Area Code(0)215
Vehicle registrationAL
WebsiteOfficial Website

Lezhë (Albanian: Lezha or Lezhë, Albanian pronunciation: [ˈlɛʒə]) is a town and municipality in northwest Albania, in the county with the same name.

One of the main strongholds of the Labeatai,[1] the earliest of the fortification walls of the city are of typical Illyrian construction and are dated to the late 4th century BC.[2] The city was one of the main centres of the Illyrian kingdom.[3] During the conflicts with Macedon it was captured by Philip V becoming the Macedonian outlet to the Adriatic sea.[4] The town was later recovered by the Illyrians. It was subjected to Rome after the Roman-Illyrian wars and the fall of Gentius' realm.[3]

The present municipality was formed at the 2015 local government reform by the merger of the former municipalities Balldren, Blinisht, Dajç, Kallmet, Kolsh, Lezhë, Shëngjin, Shënkoll, Ungrej and Zejmen, that became municipal units. The seat of the municipality is the town Lezhë.[5] The total population is 65,633 (2011 census),[6] in a total area of 514.97 square kilometres (199 square miles).[7] The population of the former municipality at the 2011 census was 15,510.[6]


The City is mentioned in ancient sources as Lissos (Ancient Greek: Λισσός) and Lissus (Latin: Lissus).[8] The ancient name Lissus evolved into its modern form Lezhë (archaic: Lesh[8]) through Albanian sound changes.[9] In Turkish, the town is known as Leş or Eşim and in Italian as Alessio. Lezhë is also known as Alise, Alexiensis, Eschenderari, or Mrtav.[10]



The Iron Age fortification was built on the Mal i Shëlbuemit (413 m high, on the right of the pic), called later Acrolissus; the proper city of Lissus was built on an adjacent hill (172 m high, on the left of the pic).[11]

From the early Mycenaean period (1600-1450 BC) a free exchange pattern is confirmed with the centres of Mycenaean Greece as seen by various swords (C and D type) unearthed in Lezhë.[12] The earliest human constructions have an Illyrian character and appear on the site from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.[13] The settlement with its fortifications was built on a 413 m high mountain, the Mal i Shëlbuemit, from at least the 8th century BC,[14] and was located near the mouth of the Drin river.[15]

Classical antiquity[edit]

Lezha castle on the 172 m hill.
Ruins of Labeatan fortification walls.

In antiquity the area was described as the territory of the Illyrii tribe (the "Illyrians proper"; Ancient Greek: Ἰλλυριοί, Illyrioi; Latin: Illyrii or Illyrii propriae dicti).[16]

Diodorus ("Library", 15.1, c. 1st century BC) mentions that Dionysius of Syracuse founded a "city named Lissus" in the year 385 BC,[17] as part of a strategy by Dionysius to secure Syracusan trade routes along the Adriatic.[18] Diodorus calls it a polis.[17] According to some scholars, the Syracusan colony mentioned by Diodorus was established at Issa near the island of Pharos, not at Lissus (modern Lezhë) which was too distant for the events described by the ancient historian.[19][20] According to Gocha Tsetskhladze, there is nothing to connect Lissos with Syracuse except Diodorus' account, and even if Diodorus' account is accepted as accurate, it is very likely that this colony had a short life.[19]

The earliest of the fortification walls of the proto-urban settlement are of typical Illyrian construction and are dated to the late 4th century BC.[21] The transition from the Iron Age fortification of Acrolissus (on the 413 m Shëlbuem mountain) to the proper Illyrian city of Lissus was continuous. The city was built on a lower hill (172 m) near the Iron Age fortification.[22] It was surrounded by ramparts that faced the low valley of the Drin river and the sea coast. Its function was to guard the route inland, to ensure defense against possible attacks from the sea, and to furnish a secure anchorage for the Illyrian ships.[23]

By the 3rd century BC, Lissus was one of the main cities of the Illyrian kingdom under the Ardiaean and Labeatan dynasties.[3] In the 228 BC peace treaty with Rome, the Illyrian queen Teuta promised not to sail south of Lissus at the mouth of the Drin river with more than two lembi (Illyrian light ships), even those had to be unarmed.[24] But when Rome was engaged in a war against the Celtic peoples of the Po Valley in northern Italy about the years 225–222 BC, Illyrian commander Demetrius detached the Atintani tribe from their alliance with Rome. Moreover, he sailed south of Lissus and engaged in piracy in violation of the 228 BC peace treaty. In the summer of 221 BC, tensions in Greece increased as Macedonia allied with the Achaean League against the Aetolian League, and the Illyrians attacked in their typical manner. Demetrius and Scerdilaidas sailed with 90 lembi south of Lissus. When they failed an assault on Pylos (western Peloponnese), they separated their fleets and Scerdilaidas returned north with 40 ships, while Demetrius plundered the Cyclades with 50 ships.[25]

In Roman times Lissus was located in a territory inhabited by the Labeatae, however ancient sources never relate it with this tribe. Taking in account archaeological and historical considerations, the city of Lissus should have been founded in a Labeatan context, but perhaps by the time of Teuta's fall in the end of the 3rd century BC, it was organized as a proper polis turning away from its ethnic context. The dissociation from the ethnic to the polis coincided with Philip V of Macedon's conquest of a number of cities in Illyria.[26] In 211 BC, Philip V captured Acrolissus, the citadel of Lissus, and Lissos surrendered to him,[27] becoming the Macedonian outlet to the Adriatic sea.[19] The town was later recovered by the Illyrians. It was in Lissus that Perseus of Macedon negotiated an alliance against Rome with the Illyrian king Gentius, and it was from Lissus that Gentius organized his army against the Romans. Lissus maintained a large degree of municipal autonomy under both Macedonian and Illyrian rule, as evidenced by the coins minted there.[28] During the reign of Gentius in the first half of the 2nd century BC, Lissus minted coins for the Illyrian ruler.[29] The city was of some importance in the Roman Civil War, being taken by Marc Antony [30] and then remaining loyal to Caesar. In Roman times, the city was part of the province of Epirus Nova,[31]

Middle Ages and Ottoman period[edit]

During the reign of Justinian I (527-565) the local fortress was possibly mentioned as Alistion in the Synecdemus of Hierocles.[32] At early 590s Lissus was captured by Slavic populations.[33] Byzantine control was re-established during the early 9th century.[34]

The grave of Skanderbeg (former Selimie Mosque) and Lezhë Castle on its hill

In Middle Ages Lezha (known in Italian as Alessio) frequently changed masters until the Venetians took possession of it in 1386. It still belonged to them when Skanderbeg died, but In 1478 it fell into the hands of Turks during the siege of Shkodra, with the exception of a short period (1501–1506) when it returned to Venetian domination.[10] Because it was under the Venetian control, it was chosen in 1444 by George Castrioti (Skanderbeg) as a neutral place for the convention of Albanian, Serbian, Dalmatian and other lords of the area aiming at organizing their common defence against the Turks.[35]

Lezha was the site of the League of Lezhë where Skanderbeg united the Albanian princes in the fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Skanderbeg was buried in the cathedral of Lezhë which was dedicated to Saint Nicholas and later used as Selimie Mosque.

Modern era[edit]

Today Lezhë is a growing city. Its proximity to the port of Shëngjin as well as its location on the national road between the Montenegrin border to the North and Tirana to the South makes it an attractive location for industry and business.

Majority of the people from Lezhë descend from the Zadrima, Mirdita and Malësia/Malësi e madhe regions of northwestern Albania. The people from Zadrima and Mirdita are native to Lezhë and the surrounding area. Whilst the Malësor clans from Malësia, such as Kelmendi, Shkreli, Kastrati etc., had settled Lezhë and surrounding areas around 100–300 years ago. In terms of religion, Lezha has a Catholic majority(70-80%) and a Muslim minority(30-20%)


Remains of the Lezhe castle


State Road 32 From Shëngjin


There are urban buses throughout the city and international and national buses.


Lezhe has a train station not far from the center. The line starts in Durrës and ends in Shkodër. It is functonally but not frequently.


The main highway in Lezhe is E762. The E762 stars in Fushë-Krujë and ends in Shkodër. The Durrës-Kukës Highway intersects with E762 in Milot. Also the SH32 intersects in to Lezhe coming from Shëngjin.


The association football club is KS Besëlidhja Lezhë. Although primarily concerned with football, KS Besëlidhja also participates in sports such as wrestling and beach volleyball.

Archaeological excavations[edit]

From 2004 an excavation started around the ancient Acropolis of Lissos and the Skanderbeg Memorial, which revealed Hellenistic, Roman and Early Byzantine buildings, tombs and other findings.[36]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ Waterfield 2014, p. 49.
  2. ^ Stylianou 1998, p. 194.
  3. ^ a b c Shehi 2015, p. 34.
  4. ^ Tsetskhladze 2008, p. 177; Shehi 2015, p. 34
  5. ^ Law nr. 115/2014 Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b "Population and housing census - Lezhë 2011" (PDF). INSTAT. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  7. ^ "Correspondence table LAU – NUTS 2016, EU-28 and EFTA / available Candidate Countries" (XLS). Eurostat. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  8. ^ a b Gaffiot 1934, p. 915: "Lissus".
  9. ^ Katičić 1976, p. 186.
  10. ^ a b Catholic Encyclopedia, article "Alessio (Lissus, Alexiensis)"
  11. ^ Shpuza 2014, p. 118; Shehi 2015, p. 34
  12. ^ Bejko, Lorenc (2002). "Mycenaean Presence and Influence in Albania". Greek influence along the East Adriatic Coast. Kniževni Krug: 12. Retrieved 4 April 2020. The variety of C and D type swords reported from central and northern Albania (Mat river valley, Lezhë, Shkodër), and their provenience from burial contexts, confirm the free exchange pattern with the Mycenaean centers of this part of the country, as in the early Mycenaean period.
  13. ^ Shpuza 2014, pp. 106, 116, 118: "All the sites described above are situated in the Lowlands of Shkodra, in small hills, which create a protection system of all the area. A similar fortification can be found also at Akrolissos, [...] The chronological framework for the dating of such fortifications is the Final Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age."
  14. ^ Elsie 2010, p. 272.
  15. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 135; Tsetskhladze 2008, p. 177
  16. ^ Matijašić 2011, p. 299; Boardman & Sollberger 1982, pp. 628–629
  17. ^ a b Mogens Herman Hansen (2004). An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis. Oxford University Press. p. 322. ISBN 0-19-814099-1. Lissos was founded shortly before 385 by Dionysios I [...] on the steep slope of a hill, modern Lezha [...] a site already occupied by Illyrian settlers.
  18. ^ Evans, A., Destani, B., Ancient Illyria, an archeological exploration. IB Tauris, 2007. p. 276.
  19. ^ a b c Tsetskhladze 2008, p. 177.
  20. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 115: "It has been proposed that it was this place [Issa] and not Lissus far to the south at the mouth of the Drin from which help came to the Greeks on Pharos, since Issa lies only 25 miles away."
  21. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 135; Tsetskhladze 2008, p. 177; Stylianou 1998, p. 194; Shehi 2015, p. 34
  22. ^ Shpuza 2014, p. 118; Shehi 2015, p. 34
  23. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 135; Tsetskhladze 2008, p. 177
  24. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 161–162; Errington 1989, pp. 89–90
  25. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 162–163; Errington 1989, pp. 91–92
  26. ^ Shpuza 2017, p. 43.
  27. ^ Polybius 8.13-14
  28. ^ Arthur Evans (2007). Ancient Illyria: An Archaeological Exploration. I.B.Tauris. p. 276. ISBN 9781845111670.
  29. ^ Shpuza 2014, p. 122.
  30. ^ Plutarch (1920). Life of Antony. Loeb Classical Edition. p. 7.4.
  31. ^ Epirus Vetus: The Archaeology of a Late Antique Province (Duckworth Archaeology) by William Bowden, 2003, ISBN 0-7156-3116-0,2003, page 233, of Lissus in Epirus Nova
  32. ^ Winnifrith, Tom (2002). Badlands, Borderlands: A History of Northern Epirus/Southern Albania. Duckworth. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-7156-3201-7. Also for Justinian's reign there survives a catalogue of towns in the Empire, the Synecdemus of Hierocles." "In Epirus Nova we find Apollonia, Byllis, Amantia, Pulcheropolis (Berat), Aulon (Vlore), Lychnidus (Ohrid) and the unknown Alistion, possible the modern Lezhe, and Skepton
  33. ^ Pohl, Walter (2018). The Avars: A Steppe Empire in Central Europe, 567–822. Cornell University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-5017-2940-9.
  34. ^ Curta, Florin (2019). Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages (500-1300) (2 vols). BRILL. p. 308. ISBN 978-90-04-39519-0. The fortress in Lezhe farther to the north along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, was reoccupied in the early 9th century
  35. ^ Schmitt Jens O.(2009) Skanderbeg, Der neue Alexander auf dem Balkan, Verlag Friedrich Pustet, pp. 55,56
  36. ^ Karl-Franzens Universitat, Lissus excavation report 2004. Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine


External links[edit]