Geographically, the city of Shkodër sprawls across the Mbishkodra plain between the freshwater marshlands of Lake Shkodër and the foothills of the Albanian Alps. Like most of the Dinaric Alps, the mountains are dominated by limestone and dolomite rocks. The lake, named after the city of Shkodër, is the largest lake in Southern Europe close to the Adriatic Sea. The city is trapped on three sides by the rivers Kir in the east, Drin in the south and Buna in the west.
The region that today corresponds to the city territory was founded in the 4th century BC by the ancient Illyrian tribes of the Ardiaei and Labeates. It is evidenced by the artefacts and inscriptions that were discovered in the Rozafa Castle. During that time the city was known under the name Scodra. The city has historically developed on a 130 metres (430 ft) hill, strategically located in the outflow of Lake Shkodër into the Buna. The Romans annexed the city after the third Illyrian War in 168 BC, when Gentius was defeated by the Roman force of Anicius Gallus. In the 3rd century AD, Shkodër became the capital of Praevalitana due to the administrative reform of the Roman emperor Diocletian. With the spread of Christianity in the 4th century, the Archdiocese of Scodra was founded and was assumed in 535 by Byzantine Justinian I.