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Elbasan (Albanian: Elbasan or Elbasani) is a city in central Albania. It is located on the Shkumbin River in the District of Elbasan and the County of Elbasan, at 41°∆06°«N 20°∆04°«E. It is one of the largest cities in Albania, with a population of around 100,000 (2003 estimate) and an area of 1,290 square km.
Elbasan was - until the beginning of the Second World War - one of the most pleasant and unspoilt Ottoman cities in Albania, with a mixture of eastern and medieval buildings, narrow cobbled streets and a large bazaar where Turkish could still be heard. There was a clearly defined Christian settlement within the castle walls, a Vlach district on the outskirts of the city and several fine mosques and Islamic buildings. At the time the population was about 15,000 people.
The distinguished English journalist J.D. Bourchier, then the Balkan correspondent of The Times, records that on a visit in 1911 he saw :
"The population celebrating Bairam in central space : wonderful primitive merry-go round with gypsy minstrels (flute and drum), pushed round by the men with poles; also a cartwheel poised on a tree top; pekhilvans(clowns) wrestling, mostly refugees from Dibra, thus gaining a precarious livelihood."
Elbasan came into prominenece in the Roman period when it was known as Masio Scampa. The word Scampa means rocks or peaks in the ancient Illyrian language. The Romans built a substantial fortress here, about 300 meters square, protected by towers. In the 3rd and 4th centuries it became known as Hiskampis. It had developed as an important trade and transport centre near the junction of two branches of the Via Egnatia coming from Apollonia and Dyrrachium.
Ptolemy wrote that it was the town of the Eordaei tribe, who later migrated to Macedonia. It took part in the spread of Christianity along the Via, and had a bishop, cathedral and basilicas as early as the 5th century. But as a town in a wide river valley, it was vulnerable to barbarian attacks once the legions were withdrawn, and despite the efforts of the Emperor Justinian to improve the fortications. Hiskampis was destroyed by the Bulgars and Ostrogoths during the Slav invasions of the Balkans. Although some semblance of urban and military life must have continued for a time, as it is mentioned in the work of Procopius of C©°sarea in the 6th century, it was totally destroyed by the Bulgars in intermittent attacks over the next 200 years.
The site seems to have been abandoned until the Ottoman invaders built a military camp here, followed by urban reconstruction under Sultan Mehmet II in 1467, who constructed a massive four-sided castle, with a deep moat and three gates. He named it Ilibasan, meaning 'strong place' in Turkish. It became a centre of Ottoman urban civilisation over the next 400 years. By the end of the 17th century it had 2000 inhabitants. The fortress was dismantled by Reshit Pasha in 1832.
In 1909, after the 'Young Turk' revolution in Istanbul, an Albanian National Congress was held here to study educational and cultural questions. (Elbasan had the first teachers' training college in Albania.) The delegates, all from central and southern of Albania, endorsed the decision of the Congress of Monastir (modern Bitola, FYROM) to use the Latin alphabet rather than the Arabic script in written Albanian.
The Muslim majority opposed the installation of Prince William of Weid in 1914. Elbasan was occupied successively by Serbs, Bulgars, Austrians and Italians between 1915 and 1918. Industrial development began in the Zogist period when tobacco and alcoholic drinks' factories were established.
The city was also noted for its good public buildings, advanced education provision, public gardens and timber-built shops. But there was much wartime damage and an intensive programme of industrial development in the Communist period that boosted the city to around 75,000 inhabitants, and the rection of many ugly modern structures. The culmination of this process was the construction of the huge 'Steel of the Party' metallurgical complex outside the city, in the valley of the Shkumbini, built with Chinese assistance in 1960s and 1970s. It was called "The Second National Liberation of Albanian" by Enver Hoxha. with its chimneys, the tallest in the Balkans, always belching smoke and emitting a stream of dangerous pollutants - which soon meant that much of the hitherto prosperous agricultural area in the river valley was useless for all crops.
Culture and religion
Elbasan has been occupied by several different groups, including the Serbs, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Austrians and Italians. Elbasan remained a center of Islam in Albania even after the Ottoman occupation. After the 1908 Congress of Manastir (in modern Bitola, Republic of Macedonia) decided to use the Latin alphabet for the written Albanian language, muslim clerics influenced by the Young Turks held various demonstrations in favor of the Arabic script in Elbasan. The muslim majority also opposed the installation of Prince William of Wied in 1914.
Industrial development began during the Zog regime with the production of tobacco and alcoholic beverages, and culminated during the communist regime. The city gained prominence after the Chinese built a steel mill in 1974. There were also other industries operating in the city during the communist regime, and as a result the city now suffers from pollution.
Elbasan is the site of the ancient city of Skampa founded in the 1st century A.D. It came into being and developed during the construction of the Egnatia route - a main road artery in the land communications and trade and commercial interchanges between the Apennine Peninsula, on one side and the Balkan Peninsula and the East on the other. The surrounding walls of the town were built in the 4th century, having 3 entrances and 26 towers. Its fortress was built during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (483-565) by which time Skampa had become the seat of a Bishopic with a Cathedral and a Basilica outside its surrounding walls. After the failure of the second Turkish siege of Kruja, Sultan Muhamet II rebuilt the fortress in 1466 and renamed the town Elbasan (El-basan is turkish for Fortress).
In the 16th and 17th century, Elbasan became an important centre of trade and handicrafts noted for its leather, wood, silk and metal work (especially silver). In the 19th century local feudal lords led an uprising against the Turks, who destroyed the walls of the fortress in 1832, so that only their southern part still stands. One of the gates of the fortress is still in use. Beside the hotel 'Skampa' is a bath-house of the Turkish period. A museum relating the history of the Elbasan district is located in the fortress. It's exhibits include the tombs of an Illyrian warrior, with helmet, arms and household utensils and two statues of Apollo. Today Elbasan has a population of 70,000 inhabitants, and it is Albania's fourth largest town and the administrative centre of a district. The town is the birthplace of the teacher Theodor Haxhi Filipi known as Dhaskal Todri (1730-1805) and of the lexicographer Kostandin Kristoforidhi (1827-1895). In Elbasan was opened the first teachers training college (1909) the 'Alexander Xhuvani' University, named after the poet and publicist.
In the Archaeological Museum are exhibited various archaeological collections that narrate the history of the city and its surroundings. Of interest there are the archaeological materials that throw light on the culture of the Illyrian centre. The Turkish Bathhouse is situated on the side of 'Skampa' hotel.
Elbasan has a wood processing industrial combine, a factory for the processing and fermentation of tobacco, a big oil refinery has been set up not far from the city (Cerrik), a cement factory, engineering works and construction materials factory.