Last modified: 2006-08-19 by ivan sache
Keywords: albania | shqiperia | europe | eagle: double-headed (black) | president | skanderbeg | helmet (yellow) | anthem | constitution |
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Flag of Albania - Image by Carlos Esparza, 5 April 2001
Flag adopted 7 April 1992, coat of arms adopted 22 May 1993.
Description: A red flag with a black double-headed eagle.
Use: on land, as the civil, state and war flag, at sea, as the state ensign.
Colour approximate specifications (as given in Album des Pavillons [pay00]):
On this page:
The flag of Albania is red with a black double-headed eagle.
The nickname of the flag is flamur e Skënderbeut (Skanderbeg's flag).
Stephen Schwartz, 5 April 2001
During its recent history, Albania has used several flags which are variations of the basic design, a black double-headed eagle on a red background.
The flag descriptions are taken from Karl-Heinz Hesmer [hes92].
Harald Müller, 19 October 1995
Skanderbeg is the national hero of Albania. The current national flag
of Albania is said to have been his flag and his helmet was and is
still shown on several Albanian symbols.
Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg (c. 1403-1468) was a member of the noble Kastrioti family, considered as originating from the hamlet of Kastrat, located on the plateau of Has, in northern Albania. Jean Kastrioti took control around 1400 of the region spreading from Tirana and Shkodra after a long struggle against the Balsha and Thopia family. Jean Kastrioti was defeated in 1422 by the Ottoman Sultan Muhrat II (1421-1451) and has to give him his son Georges as an hostage. Georges was military trained in Andrinople; he was such a good fighter that the Turks nicknamed him Iskander (Alexander). The Sultan appointed him sandjak-bey, that is reponsible of a military fief (timar) in his birth region, and then vali of the vilayet of Kruja. Muhrat's policy was to appoint beys of Albanian origin in Albania in order to control the country and increase his supporters.
In 1442, a Polish-Hungarian coalition attacked the western border of the Ottoman Empire; Skanderbeg took advantage of the confusion to seize the fortress of Kruja and organized the Albanian resistance to the Turks. On 28 November 1843, he proclaimed the Free Principality of Albania and raised the red flag with the black double-headed eagle, which was his family's standart. In 1444, the Albanian chiefs gathered in Lezha, then a Venitian possession, and appointed Skanderbeg their supreme chief. Skanderbeg gained the support, mostly nominal, of the Republic of Venice and also of King Alphonse of Naples, who saw him as the advanced defender of Southern Italy against the Ottomans. Moving from village to village, he increased his army and defeated the Ottomans for the first time in June 1444 and then in 1445 and 1446.
Skanderbeg challenged the local rule of Venice, which attacked him in 1447. A huge Ottoman army besieged Kruja in August 1450 but withdrew one month and a half later after several failed assaults. Skanderbeg became famous in Europe as the pioneer of the Christian reconquest against the Ottomans. When attempting to transform the League of Lezha into a unified and organized state, Skanderbeg was abandoned by two great Albanian families and betrayed by his own nephew, Hamza Kastrioti, who joined the Sultan. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans resumed their attacks against Albania. On 7 September 1457, Skanderbeg won the battle of Albulene, near Kruja, and the Congress of Mantova proposed him the leadership of an anti-Ottoman crusade. A third siege set up in 1467 was not more successful. Skanderbeg died from fever in Lezha on 17 January 1468 and was buried there in the St. Nicholas cathedral. The Albanians did not give up but the Ottomans eventually seized Kruja on 16 June 1478 and a few years later most Albanian cities. After the fall of Lezha, the Ottomans desecrated Skanderbeg's tomb, spread away his bones and transformed the cathedral into a mosque. In 1501, Skanderbeg's grandson landed near Lezha but was expelled by the Ottomans.
In 1968, the 500th anniversary of the death of the national hero was commemorated with the erection of an equestrian statue portraying him on the main square of Tirana, Skanderbeg Square. The statue was made by the sculptor Odhise Paskali, assisted by Andrea Mano and Janaq Paço.
In 1576, Jacques Delavardin published in Paris Histoire de Georges Castriot, surnommé Scanderberg (sic), surely based on Barleti and Bardhi's books (see below). The famous poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) wrote as the preface to the book a sonnet dedicated to Delavardin, portraying Skanderbeg as follows (quote from Alexandre Zotos (Ed.) Anthologie de la prose albanaise. Fayard, 1984):
[...] Et Scanderbeg, haineux du peuple Scythien
Qui de toute l'Asie a chassé l'Evangile.
O très-grand Epirote ! Ô vaillant Albanois !
Dont la main a défait les Turcs vingt et deux fois [...]" "[...] And Scanderbeg, hating the Scythian people
Which from all Asia has expelled the Gospel.
O! Mighty Epirote! O! valiant Albanian!
Whose hand defeated the Turks twenty-two times[...]"
The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote in his Tales of a Wayside Inn (quoted by Smith [smi75b]):
The crescent banner falls
And the crowd beholds instead
Like a portent in the sky
Iskander's banner fly
The Black Eagle with double head [...]
More recently (1970), the epos of Skanderbeg and the sieges of Kruja have been related by the great Albanian writer Ismail Kadare in his novel The Rain Drums.
Marin Barleti, who exiled to Rome in 1479 after the fall of Shkodra,
published c. 1508-1510 in Latin his History of the actions of
Scanderbeg, Prince of the Epirotes, which was translated in several
languages and spread Skanderbeg's epos all over Europe. Frang Bardhi
(1606-1643) published in 1636, also in Latin, his Scanderbeg, whose
main goal was to refute the alleged Slavic origin of Skanderbeg (a
theory still defended by Macedonian and Serbian nationalists). In order
to prove that Skanderbeg did not belong to the Marnavić lineage, Bardhi
quoted Barleti, who wrote that Skanderbeg's family emblem was "a
double-headed eagle on a red background", an emblem never used by the
It is usually admitted that the eagle is of Byzantine origin. Petit Larousse Illustré 2004 claims that the Albanian eagle is of Austro-Hungarian origin, which is simply an anachronism; the flag section of that Larousse release is marred by mistakes and can unfortunately not be considered as a reliable source.
The eagle of the flag has often be related to the local name of Albania, Shqipëria, and of the Albanians, Shqiptar, formed on the Albanian root shqipe, the eagle. Albania is often named the Land of Eagles. The eagle was indeed highly estimated in Albania in very ancient times: the Epirot King Pyrrhos was nicknamed "The Eagle". However, the word shqiptar appeared only around 1555, in the oldest known documents written in Albanian, and only to designate the language spoken in the region then called Arbër. The Greek geographer Ptolemaus (IInd century BC) placed on his maps the city of Albanopolis, the capital city of the Albanoï. In th IX-XIth century, the Byzantine chroniclers used the names of Albanoi and Arbanites. In the Middle Ages, the Albanians called themselves Arben, Arbër or Arbëreshë their neighbours called them Arbanitoï, Arbanensis, or Arvanites, after the region of Arbanon, near Kruja, later called for long Arbeni. There is still near Tirana a village called Arbanë and the inhabitants of the region of Saranda call their region Arbër. For the Byzantines, the Arbanites were Roman Catholic, whereas the Orthodox were called Gracci, and later Epirotes. The use of Albanians for a nationality appeared only in the XIVth century.
Source for this section: J. Durand-Monti, op. cit.
Ivan Sache, 10 May 2006
The Constitution of the Republic of Albania, approved by the Albanian Parliament on 21 October 1999, says:
Source: Constitutions - what they tell us about national flags and coats of arms [vap00]
The national symbols (flag, emblem and anthem) of Albania are prescribed by Law 8926 (Për formën dhe përmasat e flamurit kombëtar, përmbjtjen e himnit kombëtar, formën dhe përmasat e stemës së Republikës të Shqipërisë dhe mpënyrën e përdorimit të tyre), adopted on 22 July 2002 and proclaimed by Presidential Decree 3417 on 31 July 2002.
Ivan Sache, 11 April 2006
National emblem - Image from the Albanian Ministry of Information, 22 March 2004
Several official websites (Presidency of the Republic, Parliament, Ministry of Justice, etc.) shows the national emblem of Albania as a red shield with the black double-headed eagle surmonted by the Helmet of Skanderbeg, placed inside the shield. A photography of the real emblem, as used in the Parliament, confirms the drawings available on the official websites. The emblem was also printed on the ballot boxes used for the elections in July 2005.
monarchic period. The current seal is very close to the former Royal standard.
The fortress of Kruja houses the Skanderbeg Museum, designed by the
architects Pranvera Hoxha and Piro Vaso and inaugurated in 1988. It
shows a replica of the hero's sword and helmet, whose originals are
kept in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The helmet is sometimes described as a Viking helmet, but is indeed surmonted by a goat's head. The origin of this odd decoration dates back to the second siege of Kruja by the Ottomans, when Skanderbeg and his troops were trapped in the fortress. With no way out, Skanderbeg played a trick on the Turks. That night he and his men let out a flock of goats through the only available passageway. They placed candles on the horns of the goats, and the Turks seeing these and thinking it was the army, attacked but became confused. In the confusion, Skanderbeg was able to get the upper hand and run the Turks out.
When Ahmed Zogu proclaimed himself King of Albania, he took the title of King Zogu Skanderbeg III and used the Helmet of Skanderbeg as the Royal crown; the Helmet was added to the flag and arms of the Kingdom. During the Italian rule, the Helmet was kept on the flag.
During the Second World War, the 21st Division of the SS was called Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS "Skanderbeg" (alban. Nr. 1). The goat-head Helmet worn by Skanderbeg was also adopted as the symbol for the division's collar patch, although this saw no or only limited use. [Axis History Factbook by Marcus Wendel -
Former or erroneous national emblem - Image from the Albanian Ministry of Information (no longer online), 26 November 2000
Another version of the emblem, with the Helmet of Skanderbeg placed upon the shield, as a crest, was formerly shown on official websites that are nowadays no longer available. It seems therefore that it was either a transitory or an erroneous representation of the national emblem.
Ivan Sache, Antonio Gutierrez & Željko Heimer, 10 May 2006
The national anthem of Albania was first published as a poem by
Aleksander Stavre Drenova (1872-1947) in Liri e
Shqipërisë (Freedom of Albania), an Albanian newspaper
published in Sofia (Bulgaria). The music of the anthem was composed
in 1880 by the Romanian composer Ciprian Porumbescu (1853-1883). In
the Albanian Constitution the name of the national anthem is Rreth
Flamurit ti Përbashkuar (lit., "United Around the Flag",
though sometimes translated as "United Around Our Flag"), which is
the first verse of the poem. Sometimes the more generic name Hymni
Kombëtar ("National Anthem") is used.
The anthem was officially adopted in 1912.
The Albanian text of the anthem is given below, followed by two possible English translations.
Rreth flamurit të përbashkuar,
Me një dishiri dhe një qëllim,
Ti gjithë Atij duke iu betuar,
Ti lidhim besin për shpitim.
Prej lufte vec, ay largohet,
Që ishtë lindur tradhëtor,
Kush ishtë burri nuk friksohet,
Po vdes, po vdes si një dëshmor.
Ni dorë armët do ti mbajmë,
Ti mbrojmë Atdheun në çdo vënd,
Të drejtat tona ne si ndajmë,
Kitu armiqtë skani vënd.
Se Zoti vet e tha me gojë,
Që kombe shuhen përmbi dhë,
Po Shqipiria do të rrojë,
Pir të, për të luftojmë ne.
English translation (1)
United around the flag,
With one desire and one goal,
Let us pledge our word of honour
To fight for our salvation.
Only he who is a born traitor
Averts from the struggle.
He who is brave is not daunted,
But falls - a martyr to the cause.
With arms in hand we shall remain,
To guard our fatherland round about
Our rights we will not bequeath,
Enemies have no place here.
For the Lord Himself has said,
That nations vanish from the earth,
But Albania shall live on,
Because for her, it is for her that we fight.
Source: Wikipedia Encyclopaedia
English translation (2)
The flag which in battle unites us
Found us all ready for the oath,
One mind, one aim, until our land
Becomes free from the enemy.
We stand in the battle for right and freedom,
The enemies of the people stand alone,
The hero dedicates his life to our land,
Even in dying he will be brave.
Source: The National Anthems website (no longer online)
Ivan Sache, 27 February 2004
Flag of the President of the Republic - Image by Jaume Ollé, 27 February 2004
The flag of the President of Albania is a square version of the national flag. The flag used during the Communist period was similar, but a red star with a yellow border was placed above the eagle.
Ivan Sache, 27 February 2004