CAPTAIN: “This is Illyria, lady”.
So begins Twelfth Nigh. Illyria is now in northern Albania on the Adriatic Sea. In Shakespeare’s day it had an exotic reputation as a pirate stronghold. Antonio describes it as:
“These parts, which to a stranger, unguided and unfriended, often prove rough and unhospitable” (III, 3, 9-11).
Shakespeare also talks of Illyrian pirates in Henry VI, IV and Measure for Measure IV.
In Albania, pirate legends survive of the mighty pirates of Ulcinj (now in Montenegro) where it is claimed that in 1571, Cervantes the author of Don Quixote was imprisoned. In Southern Albania, there are songs and legends of the pirate Haxhi Ali, born in Ulcinj and who operated from Vlora in the late 16th Century, fighting off invaders from Albanian shores and pillaging Africa and Spain. You can still visit his cave, near Vlora.
When he was killed in battle the residents cast him in myth and popular songs – when passing the cave, sailors rang sirens and threw oil and bread into the sea as a tribute.
You can visit the cave by sea today.