The qeleshe is a local hat that is crafted in Kruja, Albania. Today, a few select artisans who can craft these accessories remain.
Not very far from Tirana, Kruja is one of the most well-known Albanian cities. This is due to hts historical importance. After being the centre of the state of Albania’s National hero, Skanderbeg, it has been able to maintain its importance throughout the years. It is now one of the main centres of historic tourism in Albania.
Kruja Old Bazaar: Home of the Qeleshe
A well known attraction in Kruja is the Kruja Old Bazaar, which is not as big as it used to be. However, there is a little part of it which has stood the test of time. It dates back to the 15th century. The bazaar is situated along the road. and one must pass in order to reach the castle and the George Castriota Skanderbeg Museum. It forms a retail therapy ‘compliment’ to the other sites of cultural importance in Kruja.
Albanian hats, known as the ‘qeleshe’ are found in some shops in the Old Bazaar. The hat is a rare, culturally distinct form of apparel in Albania. The hat that dates back to ancient times. According to ethnographers, the “qeleshe” has always been an essential part of Albanian traditional customs. Wool is used to make felt. One must then wash the fabric with soap and water thoroughly. The fabric passes through 16 different phases in order to create the “qeleshe”.
Current Status of the Practice of Felt-Making:
Ndriçim Guni is one of the few remaining felt makers in Kruja. He was 20 years-old when his father taught him this craft. The creation of felt has been part of his family legacy for generations. Traditionally, these artisans pass the techniques of felt-making from generation to generation. Guni himself is proud to be passing on his skills to his son!
The decline of felt-making has occurred due to a lack of skilled artisans. Fewer and fewer people in Albania wear the “qeleshe”. The ones that wear it are relatively older, mostly from the third generation. The younger population mostly uses the “qeleshe” as a symbol of national identity in stadiums, when the Albanian National Team competes.
However, Guni is very happy that there will always be people that will resist the changing times and continue this craft. People like Guni are exemplary of individuals who have the thirst to pass on their cultural distinctness down to posterity.