South Albania


Butrint, located in the south of Albania approximately 20km from the modern city of Saranda, has a special atmosphere created by a combination of archaeology, monuments and nature in the Mediterranean. With its hinterland it constitutes an exceptional cultural landscape, which has developed organically over many centuries. Butrint has escaped aggressive development of the type that has reduced the heritage value of most historic landscapes in the Mediterranean region. It constitutes a very rare combination of archaeology and nature. The property is a microcosm of Mediterranean history, with occupation dating from 50 000 BC, at its earliest evidence, up to the 19th century AD. Prehistoric sites have been identified within the nucleus of Butrint, the small hill surrounded by the waters of Lake Butrint and Vivari Channel, as well as in its wider territory. From 800 BC until the arrival of the Romans, Butrint was influenced by Greek culture, bearing elements of a “polis” and being settled by Chaonian tribes. In 44 BC Butrint became a Roman colony and expanded considerably on reclaimed marshland, primarily to the south across the Vivari Channel, where an aqueduct was built. In the 5th century AD Butrint became an Episcopal centre; it was fortified and substantial early Christian structures were built. After a period of abandonment, Butrint was reconstructed under Byzantine control in the 9th century. Butrint and its territory came under Angevin and then Venetian control in the 14th century. Several attacks by despots of Epirus and then later by Ottomans led to the strengthening and extension of the defensive works of Butrint. At the beginning of the 19th century, a new fortress was added to the defensive system of Butrint at the mouth of the Vivari Channel. It was built by Ali Pasha, an Albanian Ottoman ruler who controlled Butrint and the area until its final abandonment.

The fortifications bear testimony to the different stages of their construction from the time of the Greek colony until the Middle Ages. The most interesting ancient Greek monument is the theatre which is fairly well preserved. The major ruin from the paleo-Christian era is the baptistery, an ancient Roman monument adapted to the cultural needs of Christianity. Its floor has a beautiful mosaic decoration. The paleo-Christian basilica was rebuilt in the 9th century and the ruins are sufficiently well preserved to permit analysis of the structure (three naves with a transept and an exterior polygonal apse).

What to see

Defences – the earliest defensive circuit encloses only the acropolis and belongs to the 7th/6th centuries BC. The establishment of a city was accompanied by the construction of a new city wall in Hellenistic ashlar masonry. The post-antique defences formed additions to the Hellenistic circuit and belong to three successive phases: 2nd half of 9th century; 11th/12th centuries and the Venetian period (15th century).

Theatre – is one of the best-preserved ancient theatres in Albania, with 19 tiers of seating and a capacity of 5,000 spectators. It was first built in the 2nd half of the 3rd century BC; the stage building belongs to the Roman period.

Baptistery – with its total-immersion baptismal font set in a circular building decorated with columns and mosaics, is one of the finest of its kind. It is ascribed to the middle of the 6th century AD.

Basilica – stands next to an entrance through the defences guarded by two towers. It has three aisles and measures 20.15 18.33 m. It was built at the beginning of the 6th century AD, underwent subsequent rebuilding and was still functioning as a church until the 18th century.

Archaeological Museum – is housed within the Venetian castle on the acropolis. The finds displayed here illustrate the history of occupation at Butrint and its surroundings from the earliest times until the Middle Ages. The museum is arranged chronologically and thematically and is extremely well laid out and labelled (in English and Albanian). Open daily, 08:00-16:00.

A Shrine of Aesculapius, a small Roman temple built over a previous temple of the Greek period, backs onto the W side of the theater. It comprises a vestibule and a cella in which was discovered a large headless statue which must be that of Aesculapius or of his priest; some 340 vases and vase stands were found in the votive pit and inscriptions to Aesculapius were found on some of those dating to the Hellenistic period.

There are numerous buildings at Buthrotum, partially preserved, dating primarily to the Roman period. Among them are various bath complexes, the Nymphaeum, and the Fountain of Junia Rufina. The fountain, near the Porta del Leone, is a well of sulphurous water used in the Greek period and on into the Roman period. Along the parapet are limestone slabs with a Greek inscription referring to Junia Rufina, the friend of the Nymphs. The arcaded aqueduct, near the Porta a Mare, is also noteworthy. The Baptistery was built from a circular room of the Roman period with a mosaic pavement dating to the end of the 4th c. A.D. On the pavement a baptismal font in the form of a Greek cross had been carved out of two superposed column drums. Two panels inserted in it depicted the Baptism and the Eucharist. The mosaic is polychrome and the decoration is of animal forms in bright colors.

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