Korytsa (Greek: Κορυτσά, Korytsá; Albanian: Korçë or Korça,Italian: Corizza) is a major city in south-eastern Albania, located at near the border with Greece. It has a population of around 60,000 people (2003 estimate), making it the fifth largest city in Albania. It stands on a plateau some 850 m (2,800 feet) above sea level, surrounded by the Morava Mountains.
Korytsa was founded in the 13th century as an Albanian feudal estate. In 1484, a mosque - which still stands - was built there by the local lord, Koja Mirahor Ilyas Bey, to commemorate his service in Ottoman military campaigns. The community gradually grew into a thriving centre of commerce and trade, attracting a mixed population of Albanians, Greeks and Slavs.
In 1805, the French traveller François Pouqueville noted that the city had a population of some 1,300 familes, two thirds of whom were Orthodox. It had a notably progressive outlook; the first school teaching in the Albanian language was established there in 1887, followed by Albania's first school for girls in 1891.
Ottoman rule over Korytsa persisted until 1912 but the city's proximity to Greece, who claimed the entire Orthodox population as Greek, led to its being fiercely contested in the First Balkan War of 1912-1913. The city was occupied by Greek forces on December 6, 1912. Its incorporation into Albania in 1913 was controversial, as Greece claimed it as part of a region that they called "Northern Epirus". However, in accordance with the Florence Protocol in 1914 the city was included in the newly formed Albanian state.
Greek forces returned to occupy the city from July 10, 1914 during the early part of the First World War. It was then taken by the Austro-Hungarians, then by the Greeks again and finally by France, which occupied Korytsa between 1916-1920. It was ultimately awarded to Albania by the International Boundary Commission which determined the country's post-war borders.
During the inter-war period, the city became a hotbed of Communist agitation. Albania's future dictator, Enver Hoxha, lived there and was both a pupil and a teacher at the town's French school. Korytsa's underground Communist movement became the nucleus of Hoxha's Albanian Party of Labour.
Korytsa was again occupied by Greece between November 1940 - April 1941, following Fascist Italy's annexation of Albania and the Greco-Italian War. Nazi Germany took over the occupation after Italy's withdrawal from the war.
During the occupation, the city became a major centre of Communist-inspired resistence to the Axis occupation of Albania. The establishment of the Albanian Party of Labour – the Communist Party – was formally preclaimed in Korytsa in 1943. Albanian rule was restored in 1944 following the withdrawal of German forces.
After the war, the area remained a bastion of support for the Hoxha régime, which rewarded it with major investments in the local economy such as the building of a major power station and engineering industries. Much of the surrounding region, which had been marshy, was drained to make it a major agricultural production area. Its demographic profile changed significantly during this period, with the city growing in size. It is still ethnically mixed, with a population of Greeks, Albanians, Vlachs, Slavs and Roma.
Korçë has been an important religious centre for Orthodox Christians and Muslims for centuries. It is the seat of an Orthodox metropolitan bishop and also possesses a large 15th century mosque. During the Ottoman period it became one of the centres of the growing Albanian identity, housing the first Albanian school.
During the 20th century, Korçë gained a substantial industrial capacity in addition to its historic role as a commercial and agricultural centre. The plateau on which the city stands is highly fertile and is one of Albania's main wheat-growing areas. Local industries include the manufacture of knitwear, rugs, textiles, flour-milling, brewing, and sugar-refining. Deposits of lignite coal are mined in the mountains nearby.