Of the countless antique ruins and landmarks of Albania, Butrint is the one most responsible for putting Albania on the map. Butrint’s glorious 2500-year-old ruins, within a majestic 30 km wide natural reserve, are some of the most well-preserved in Europe. In 1992, Butrint was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it sits comfortably at the top of every international list of must-sees in Albania. Yet, for all the interest that this beautiful place arouses, it has somehow remained an oasis of rare tranquility. You can walk freely here, bypassing the long lines or similar hindrances commonly associated with these rare sights.
What is especially wonderful about Butrint is that its many gorgeous, well-preserved monuments reflect each distinct stage of its rich history, starting from the Hellenistic period and continuing on to the Roman, Byzantine and Venetian periods. Each has left its own beautiful trace on this place! Though life in Butrint had started long before, the influence of Hellenic culture in Albania officially began in the 6th century B.C. when Greeks from the island of Corfu settled on the hill of Butrint. According to mythology, the city’s antique name of Buthrotum comes from the word buthrotos, meaning “the wounded bull,” which refers to the Trojans’ sacrifice of a bull when they established the town on the hill. Even the great ancient Roman poet, Virgil, tells of Aneasus in Buthrotum in his famous epic poem Aeneid!
The entrance to the ancient city displays one of this period’s best preserved Hellenic masterpieces: the Greek Theater (3rd century B.C.) which could once sit 2500 people and which, to this day, houses the most spectacular performances, faithfully reflecting its former glory. Near the theater stand the ruins of the Temple of Asclepius (1st century), the ancient god of health and the city’s defender. When the Romans arrived in Butrint, around the 2nd century B.C., the most significant monuments in the city had already been completed, including the fortification and the Acropolis, built centuries ago atop a hill. With the entrance of the Roman Empire in 44 A.D., Butrint saw a series of additional constructions which today illustrate early Christianity in Albania. Please note: The ancient columns and, in particular, the floor mosaic composed of 69 church medallions, represent two of the most beautiful sights in the entire country!
Further on, we have the magnificent walls of the 6th century basilica and its intricate mosaics, the fortifications up the hill dating back to various centuries, and the imposing Lion’s Gate (5th century A.D.), which displays the relief of a lion gnawing at a bull’s throat, an image symbolizing the city’s fierce defense. The very top of the hill house a castle from the city’s Venetian period, built where the ancient acropolis was. The castle was originally built in the 14th century and was identically reconstructed in 1930. Today, this castle houses the Museum of Butrint. It is the view from the top of this hill that represents Butrint’s last spectacular gift! The Lake of Butrint, the Vivari channel linking the Butrint Valley to the Ionian Sea, the nearby Castle of Ali Pasha, and the dense forests enveloping the landscape, compose the frame of this masterpiece, the rare microcosm of Mediterranean history that is Butrint!
Take the Bus line Sarandë – Butrint, departing every 30 minutes from Mother Theresa Square, in the center of Saranda. The bus ticket costs 100 ALL.