Based on the geographical position, natural wealth and the area configuration of Gjakova and its vicinity, we can assume that this area was inhabited since prehistory. Tumular cemeteries in the nearby villages Brekoc and Moglica and other findings (two pythos, three pipes from roman water supply, sepulchral epigraphic monuments) prove the livelihood of Illyrians in this area.
For the first time, in medieval time, Gjakova is mentioned as a village, as a market place in 1485.
In 1594/5 Sylejman Hadim aga built the Hadum’s Mosque, the school, the library, the inn, the hammam and the timing room (muvakkithane), a building used for measuring time and setting the calendar with the help of astrolabe squares, which were the core around which the Great Bazaar was built.
In 1662 Gjakova is mentioned for the first time as a town by the ottoman travel writer Evlia Çelebiu, who wrote:”Jakova has two thousand decorated houses located on a wide field. It has two beautiful mosques, masjids, led covered inns… It has a beautiful hammam that gives joy to your heart and around three hundred shops with around thousand of workmanships. Since it has pleasant climate, the inhabitants are handsome and kind”.
The names of the city have changed over centuries. The oldest name Jakova originates from the word Jak-an anthroponym widely used amongst local Albanians and the extension from ottoman ovasi which means field. Therefore Jak-ovasi means Jak’s field, since Jak Vula, from the legend, allowed Hadum aga to build the mosque and abovementioned buildings under the condition that the future city would be named after him.
The name Jakova can be found in all the sources until 1912, after Serb invasion, when it finally was given the name Gjakovë for Albanians and Gjakovica for Serbs.
The city very fast turned into an important business, trade, education, political and cultural center, which was connected to Shkodra, Kosovo, Sanxhak and other places of Balkans and Europe owing to the geographical position, strategic importance and very versatile education-loving inhabitants. This is also proven by sixhili, the city chronicle where the whole history until 1912 was presented, but it was destroyed in the World War First by Serb-Montenegrin forces.
Despite the growing number of Muslims, Albanians, regardless of their religion, organized the resistance against ottoman invasion. This resistance was used by Great Powers every time they were fighting against Ottoman Empire. In 1689 thousands of Albanian insurgents led by Pjetër Bogdani joined the Austrian army that entered in Gjakova as well, where they stayed until after their defeat in Kaçanik in 1690.
Successive insurgencies and the epidemics that were accompanying them cause a drop in Gjakova area in the second half of the XVII century and in the first half of the XVIII century. But owing to the economical development of the Grand Bazaar it overcame very fast these setbacks.
Same as before, Gjakova with its vicinity took part in all anti ottoman insurgencies of XIX-XX centuries, organized during the Albanian National Awakening managing for few times to drive out temporarily the government forces and proclaim local self-governance. There were many distinguished nation leaders that left deep traces in our memory through national songs and historical cultural monuments. In 1837 Gjakovar insurgents drew out the ottoman forces from the city and proclaimed the self governance in their areas. In 1845 the insurgents led by Binak Alia and Sokol Rama liberated Gjakova again, but Albanian-killer Mehmet Reshit Pasha, crushed the insurgence with a bloodshed. Dah Polloshka tried to kill the brutal ottoman pasha.
The insurgencies continued even in 1860, when the insurgents led by Binak Alia and Sokol Rama crushed the ottoman expedition in Ahmetgjaka, and in 1862 Mehmet Ali Pasha left in Malësi 1500 dead soldiers, whereas in 1866-1868 Binak Alija, Shaqir Curri, etc. Forced the ottomans to accept the self-governance and in 1871 Shaqir Curri and Binak Alija with their friends were imprisoned in Nish, but the insurgents besieged Gjakova and demanded their release.
The preparations for creation of the Albanian League of Prizren started in Gjakova in 1877, when Haxhi Zeka and Ahmet Koronica contacted the English and continued until its formation on June 10, 1878.
Gjakova branch of the Albanian League was one of the most active and progressive ones. This branch organized the assassination of the Representative of the Porte in Berlin Congress, the marshal Mehmet Ali Pasha, who arrived in Gjakova in his way to submit to Montenegro and Serbia the Albanian lands, based on the decisions of the Berlin Congress; the branch sent the voluntary forces to protect Plava and Gucia and Hoti and Gruda in Montenegro; it drove out of Gjakova the ottoman government representatives.
In the Provisional Government of 1881 there were representatives from Gjakova Branch including Sylejman Vokshi and Ali Ibra. Sylejman Vokshi, commander of the forces of the League, liberated Skopje, Prishtina, Vushtrri, Mitrovica, Gjilan, Kumanovo, Tetovo, Gostivar, Dibra, etc. whereas Ali Ibra had to establish the governance of the League in Jeni Pazar.
Gjakova Branch sent its forces against Dervish pasha in Shtime and Slivovë, where the commander Mic Sokoli covered with his chest the Turkish cannon.
After the military fall of the League, Dervish Pasha did not manage to regain power in Gjakova until 1885, when marshal Vesel pasha arrested Sylejman Vokshi, who was putting efforts to recover the branches of the Albanian League.
The movement for autonomy of Albania continued even further until the establishment of the League of Peja in 1889, where Bajram Curri was one of the distinguished persons.
Gjakova was an arena of battles even during the insurgencies in years 1909, 1910 and 1911.
Gjakova people gave their assistance even in the General Insurgency of 1912. In April 1912 the insurgents of Reka, Krasniqe and Hasi, led by Bajram Daklani, Zefi i Vogël, Qerim Binaku, Miftar Syla, etc. attacked Gjakova. This created the conditions for the Junik Assembly, which demanded the organization of the insurgency in a national scale and formulated the requests for the autonomy of Albania.
Due to the procrastination of the negotiations between Albanians and Turks, the insurgents marched towards Skopje. The first group led by Zefi i Vogël and Bajram Daklani entered Skopje, where Bajram Daklani displayed the Albanian flag.
Feared of the successes of the insurgency, the Balkans Alliance declared war to Turkey. On November 6, 1912, Serb-Montenegrin forces split Gjakova in two parts. The Montenegrins robbed and burnt the Grand Bazaar and other parts of the city and its vicinity. They converted by force Muslim and Catholic Albanians into Orthodox.
With the decision of the Ambassadors’ Conference in London in 1913 Gjakova remained under Serb domination.
During the World War I Gjakova was under Austro-Hungarian reign until 1918, when Serb army forced returned.
After the reoccupation the general situation was unbearable. Agrarian reform and the colonization made the situation of the villagers extremely difficult. In Gjakova region, 2100 families were colonized, having in possession 29.093,35 ha of land.
Differently from other Albanians in Kosovo who were moving to Turkey, Gjakova people were moving to Albania, where they were getting organized for war and liberation of the country. Bajram Curri, Niman Ferizi, Qazim Bakalli etc. who were very active in the Committee for the National Protection of Kosovo that was fighting through political means in the League of Nations, were engaged even with arms in the armed groups of insurgents for liberation of Kosovo from Yugoslav oppression.
After the capitulation of Yugoslavia in 1941, many boys educated in Albania returned to Gjakova, who got employed in administration, education and other institutions, and brought new ideas about fighting against fascism. They organized the antifascist resistance.
The most important event of this period was the organizing of the Conference of Bujan, of the first parliament in the new history of Kosovo, where participants of all the communities took place forming the first government of Kosovo.
The main responsibility for holding this meeting was born by Gjakovars.
A Resolution was approved in the Conference, which, based on the right for self-determination, demanded the union with Albania. The drafters of this resolution were Gjakovars Hajdar Dushi, Zekeria Rexha and Xheladin Hana.
After the war, this resolution was not taken into account by Yugoslavia, nor by Albania.
In Gjakova and in Malësi there was another antifascist nationalist movement led by Gani Kryeziu, which was oriented towards Anglo-American allies. It included patriots with western political orientation such as Selman Riza, Ejup Binaku etc.
Ten Gjakovars were declared national heroes for extraordinary merits during different historical times in former Yugoslavia and Albania.
Century long freedom-loving traditions applied fully even in the KLA war. Around 50 thousand villagers from war zones were sheltered in the city area, even though the generosity was paid by some of them with life. As soon as NATO bombing started, around 20 thousand of them escaped from Serb terror in the city and moved to Raça and Moglica.
Gjakova was the only city that strictly objected the practice of fleeing ancestral lands, the only city that established the Brigade 137 “Gjakova” of KLA, the only city were guerrilla fights took place, something that did not suit to Serb military, police and paramilitary forces. Therefore Serb forces burnt the Bazaar with 168 houses, 423 shops, the Complex of Bektashi Tekke, the Complex of the Grand Madrasah and all other historical and cultural monuments.
In Gjakova municipality with 70 burnt villages, a total of 6200 residential houses and auxiliary buildings were burnt together with 47 cultural, historical and religious buildings, 18 healthcare facilities, 23 schools and 80% of the infrastructure.
During the war 180 people were martyred, 609 were missing, 645 were civilian victims and 324 were imprisoned.
After the war, 154 innocent civilians were sentenced 1632 years by Millosheviq’s regime.
War consequences are felt even today in all fields of life.