The Angel of Albania?

Whilst rehearsing my Queensway and Bayswater walk a slightly odd occurrence happened. About halfway through the walk I decided to investigate a previously not included monument on Inverness Terrace.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Benton

Photo courtesy of Stephen Benton

After taking a few pics, I had to venture into the undergrowth of the unkempt ornamental gardens surrounding the mounted bust to read the plaque on the wall behind.

Inverness Terrace Garden

Photo courtesy of Stephen Benton

In 2012 this odd looking monument to a man in strange headgear had appeared in this garden to which I had wondered why it was there and who did it represent? Of course I had forgotten about it until now.

It was installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence.  It is the creation of Albanian sculptor Kreshnik Xhiku who has produced other nationalistic monuments for sites around the world.

Emerging somewhat suspiciously I’ll admit from the bushes, I crossed the road and was heading for the next stop when a stranger approached me. “I saw your interest in the statue”, he said. I was a little startled and said “OK”?

“Do you know about it”? he asked.

“Nothing at all”.

“I can tell you”.

Intrigued I responded, “Please do”.

“I could talk for hours on it,” he said.

“Try five minutes”. I replied.

What followed I found truly astonishing. Here was a smallish, smiling man in his fifties, unshaven, a little unkempt. He seemed to appear from nowhere carrying a small bag of shopping. I hadn’t seen him when I was scrambling around the statue, even though I had looked around to see who would have been watching me as I climbed over the fence to investigate.

“Are you Albanian” ? I asked.

“Yes” he smiled. He then proceeded to give a lecture on the subject and the importance of the man depicted by the statue.

Albanian princes it seems would be captured by the Ottoman Turks and taken back to Constantinople as hostages as insurance against attack. Skanderbeg was a son of one of those princes.

Gjergi Kastrioti or George if you insist on being English was born in Albania in 1405. Then captured by the Ottoman forces and taken to Turkey aged eighteen and remained there for the next twenty years. He became a trusted leader and attained high office in the Empire, but he never forgot his Albanian roots. In 1443 he deserted the Ottomans and returned to Albania where he soon became leader of Albania and Macedonia.

For twenty five years he defended Albania against the Turks, preventing them from reaching Rome and conquering Christendom. Seen as the saviour of the Christian West against the Ottoman Muslims, he became a champion of Pope Pius II for whom he assembled an army to crusade against the Turks. When Pius II died he joined forces with the Venetian army and fought until his death in 1468.

His comparison at the time to Alexander the Great got him the name Skanderbeg from the latinised Alexander.

Had Skanderbeg not prevailed, the Ottoman Empire would have extended through the Balkans and eventually overthrown Italy and Western Europe changing history, possibly forever.

I had felt humbled by the knowledge of this little foreign stranger, but became even more impressed as he then remarked how British History would have turned out completely differently had Prince Arthur Tudor survived to become King instead of his younger brother Henry. Henry VIII would never have existed, Britain may have remained under the influence of Rome and somebody completely different may have been on the British throne today.

I had enjoyed this guy’s astonishingly enlightened input so I thought I would repay the compliment and ask him to accompany me to my next stop. I turned to put it to him, but he was nowhere to be seen.

As the guy once said, “It’s a funny old game isn’t it”?

Skanderbeg

If you would like to discover more secrets of Bayswater then click here to find out about our fund-raising walk which will be taking place on Saturday 25th July at 2pm. We are raising funds for the Magical Taxi Tour more details of which can be found on our recent blog post.

Ray Coggin is both a qualified Taxi Guide and a qualified City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights tours and themed tours) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

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