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Via Egnatia, one of the most important trade routes of the Roman Empire’s ingenious road network, once connected the Eastern and Western parts of empire. Constructed by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C., the road was functional for almost two millennia.
The traces of this epic road, which unite all Balkan countries, begin precisely in the territory of Albania, its gateway into Europe. Albania (ancient Illyricum), Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey are joined to this day from the archaeological remains of the old Egnatia trail. Often referred to as the “Great Road,” Via Egnatia perhaps most comprehensively reveals the mixture of cultures that have become the Balkans.
The hundred kilometers of road begin in Durrës (ancient Dyrrachium), Albania’s main port city, and the Illyrian city of Apollonia. These two ancient branches join in the city of Elbasan and continue on to Bitola, Macedonia and Thessaloniki, Greece. The road branches off again and touches Bulgaria and Istanbul (ancient Byzantium). Because of the remote places it reached and joined, this road was deemed an extension of yet another significant, ancient Roman road: Via Appia.
Similar to Via Appia and other major Roman roads, Via Egnatia is easily recognizable from the material from which it is constructed. Its surface comprised of typical large polygonal stone slabs covered in sand is iconic, creating a more grandiose version of a cobbled stone alley. The road once covered a total distance of about 1,120 km (or 696 miles), connecting Rome to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), and its width was approximately 6 meters.
Several tours are available that let you see and experience the spectacular views along the Via Egnatia. Albania Express Travel’s tour takes you from Durrës beyond the Albanian border, through Thessaloniki, all the way to Istanbul. For the detailed itinerary, click here.
For the more adventurous explorers, Via Egnatia Foundation gives a detailed itinerary of the first part of the Via Egnatia hiking trail, which stretches for approximately 475 km. It begins in Durrës, on the Adriatic coast, and goes through Albania, Macedonia and Greece, concluding in Thessaloniki.