Sunday, 13 September 2015

Butrint in Albania - thousands of years of history (and selfie-sticks galore...)

Though Saranda's historic merits might be a bit on a modest side, you don't need to travel far for those.

About an hour's drive away from Saranda there's Butrint national park, home to ruins of an ancient Roman city.

In 1992 Butrint was added onto UNESCO World Heritage Sites, of which the whole country only has three. It is the single most significant archaeological site in the Southern Albania and a must-see for history buffs. Or anyone with a selfie-stick...

First signs of habitation in Butrint are from 10th-8th century BC. First it was occupied by an Greek tribe called Chaonians.  The Romans took over in 167 BC and it became a Roman protectorate. The best preserved parts of Butrint are from this very period. 

The park hosts a pagan temple, a bath house, amphitheater, early Christian church, fountain and palatial buildings. Going through the entire site (and avoiding those goddamn selfie-sticks!) takes at least a good couple of hours. If you're here in the summer, come in the morning and do bring lots of water as it gets really, really hot.

Butrint was supposed to become a hospice for the veterans of Roman wars, but in the 3rd century AD an earthquake destroyed most of the city.

By 10th century Butrint had fallen under the Byzantine rule and kept fending off Norman invasions until the fall of the empire. In the following centuries Byzantine, the Anjou-dynasty of Southern Italy and Venetians all fought for the dominion of the place. 

Midway the 13th century Charles I, the ruler of Sicily, took over Butrint and the neighbouring island of Corfu. This marked the beginning of massive renovations around the walls and the Grand Basilica.

In 1386 Republic of Venice purchased both Corfu and Butrint (jeez - I can barely afford milk for my tea!). The new owners weren't particularly interested in Butrint though and the area was left to crumble.

By the time Albania gained independence from the Ottoman empire in 1912, Butrint had been abandoned for centuries.

First modern excavations were started in 1928, but upon the Communist era international research was effectively shut down. 

After the fall of communism in 1992 Butrint was awarded a place among UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the new administration started plans to develop the area. In 2002 the park was opened to the public.

Butrint is accessible from Saranda by bus. The travel time is about an hour (for a 14-kilometre-journey!). For timetables, please see here. The price of the one-way ticket is about 100 Lek (a little less than €1). Beware though- bus drivers seem to be like rock stars in Albania. They turn up when they feel like it and not when the timetable would indicate it. 

The bus route operates via popular beach destination of Ksamil, so more often than not it's packed, so you might want to hire a taxi. The fare for a return trip comes to about €20 (room for haggling!)- the driver will wait for you.

Entrance (for foreigners) is 700 Lek, about €5.

Oh, all that selfie-stick rage of mine? Hell yes. Throughout the entire tour I had to watch out for those bloody idiots waving them about and blocking every passage. Why, WHY bother turning up here, to the site of thousands of years of history just to show your Instagram-followers you can pucker your lips and do a peace sign?

Oh, no. I've become a grumpy middle-aged woman, haven't I?





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