Photomontage of Lezhë
|Founded||4th century BC|
|• Mayor||Pjerin Ndreu (Socialist Party)|
|• Municipality||509.1 km2 (196.6 sq mi)|
|Elevation||10 m (30 ft)|
|Time zone||UTC+1 (CET)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC+2 (CEST)|
|Area code(s)||+355 (0)215|
One of the main strongholds of the Labeatai, the earliest of the fortification walls of the city are of typical Illyrian construction and are dated to the late 4th century BC. The city was one of the main centres of the Illyrian kingdom. During the conflicts with Macedon it was captured by Philip V becoming the Macedonian outlet to the Adriatic Sea. The town was later recovered by the Illyrians. It was subjected to Rome after the Roman-Illyrian wars and the fall of Gentius' realm.
The city is mentioned in ancient sources as Lissos (Ancient Greek: Λισσός) and Lissus (Latin: Lissus, Lissum). The ancient name Lissus evolved into its modern form Lezhë (archaic: Lesh) through Albanian sound changes. 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.
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. The earliest human constructions have an Illyrian character and appear on the site from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. The settlement with its fortifications was built on a 413-metre-high mountain, the Mal i Shëlbuemit, from at least the 8th century BC, and was located near the mouth of the Drin river.
Diodorus ("Library", 15.1, c. 1st century BC) mentions that Dionysius of Syracuse founded a "city called Lissos" in the year 385 BC, as part of a strategy by Dionysius to secure Syracusan trade routes along the Adriatic. Diodorus calls it a polis. It has been suggested that the Syracusan colony mentioned by Diodorus was in fact more likely 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. Meanwhile, Issa is known from other evidence to be a Syracusan foundation. Pierre Cabanes notes that 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.
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. 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. 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.
By the 3rd century BC, Lissus was one of the main cities of the Illyrian kingdom under the Ardiaean and Labeatan dynasties. 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. 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.
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, on a Greek model it was organized as a 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. In 211 BC, Philip V captured Acrolissus, the citadel of Lissus, and Lissos surrendered to him, becoming the Macedonian outlet to the Adriatic Sea. 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. During the reign of Gentius in the first half of the 2nd century BC, Lissus minted coins for the Illyrian ruler. The city was of some importance in the Roman Civil War, being taken by Marc Antony  and then remaining loyal to Caesar. In Roman times, the city was part of the province of Epirus Nova,
During the reign of Justinian I (527-565) the local fortress was possibly mentioned as Alistion in the Synecdemus of Hierocles. At early 590s Lissus was captured by Slavic populations. Byzantine control was re-established during the early 9th century.
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, except for a short period (1501–1506) when it returned to Venetian domination. Because it was under the Venetian control, it was chosen in 1444 by Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg as a neutral place for the convention of Albanian nobles and lords of the area aiming at organizing their common defence against the Turks.
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%)
Lezhë is located mostly between latitudes 41° and 46° N and longitudes 19° and 38° E. The municipality of Lezhë is surrounded in the County of Lezhë within the Northern Region of Albania and consists of the adjacent administrative units of Balldren, Blinisht, Dajç, Kallmet, Kolsh, Shëngjin, Shënkoll, Ungrej, Zejmen and Lezhë as its seat. The municipality spans between the Plain of Zadrima in the north, the Pukë-Mirditë Highlands in the east, the mouth of the Mat River in the south and the Albanian Adriatic Sea Coast in the west.
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 functionally 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.
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.
- Skanderbeg, the National Hero of Albania
- Anton Kryezezi, Bishop of Lezhë
- Lekë Dukagjini, prince
- Jonima (Gjoni) family noble family
- Gjergj Fishta, Catholic priest and poet
- Ndoc Gjetja, poet
- Henri Ndreka, soccer player, capped with Albania
- Robert Grizha, soccer player
- Erjon Dushku, soccer player
- Renato Malota, soccer player
- Ornel Gega, rugby union player
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- Waterfield 2014, p. 49.
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- Shehi 2015, p. 34.
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- Gaffiot 1934, p. 915: "Lissus".
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- Catholic Encyclopedia, article "Alessio (Lissus, Alexiensis)"
- Shpuza 2014, p. 118; Shehi 2015, p. 34
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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.
- 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."
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- Wilkes & Fischer-Hansen 2004, p. 325: "In 385 Dionysios of Syracuse assisted the Parians to establish a settlement on Pharos, having already sent a colony to the Adriatic and founded “a city called Lissos” (no. 82) (Diod. 15.13.4)." p.332: "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."
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- Wilkes & Fischer-Hansen 2004, p. 325: "The place from which Dionysios’ fleet came could be the later Illyrian fortress of Lissos (Lezhe) at the mouth of the river Drin in northern Albania, which has an impressive circuit of late Hellenistic masonry fortifications, but is more likely to be in fact the other Greek colony in the area, Issa (Vis) on the island of the same name and known from other evidence to be a Syracusan foundation."
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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
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The fortress in Lezhe farther to the north along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, was reoccupied in the early 9th century
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- lezha.gov.al – Official Website (in Albanian)