Review: Guided tour of the ancient city of Butrint (Albania) – a national treasure of Albania.
A large area and well-preserved architecture, a competent guide, trees all around – not hot to look at, interesting!
Hello all! I suggest you dive into the ancient history of our world. After all, many years ago lived the same people, loved and raised children, kept the economy, worked, invented, built, created their civilization. We all know that history evolves in a spiral, so even in those ancient times there were great minds, sophisticated architecture and amazing structures that surprise us, our contemporaries.
During our excursion to Albania from the Greek island of Corfu, we visited the archaeological museum-reserve Butrint, which is what my review will be about. At all times, people have sought to settle near bodies of water, and preferably with fresh water. So the city of Butrint appeared on the shore of the lake with the same name. Butrint Lake itself is a lagoon of the Ionian Sea, between them is connected a 3 km long channel Vivari.
Interestingly, the water in the channel spontaneously changes its course every 12 hours, I heard only about Tonle Sap Lake. Apparently due to this fact, the water in the lake itself is half fresh and half salty.
The ancient city of Butrint was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC, and originally it was called Butroton, which means “territory of the bull. Now it’s an open-air museum and we’ll take a walk through the territory of the bull! The entrance to the national museum leads through the eucalyptus alley.
The first excavations of Butrint began in 1928. Italian expedition led by scientist Luigi Ugolini was engaged in archaeological work.
In 1992 the ruins of ancient Butrint, excavated by Italian archaeologists, were included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Butrint is an ancient city that survived the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Venetian eras.
A temple was built on the highest point of the city in the 6th century BC. The temple was dedicated to the ancient Greek god of healing Asklepios (Aesculapius), who was the patron of the city.
It was to this temple that many pilgrims from other cities came to Butrint in the hope of getting rid of their ailments. In order to do so, the needy had to spend the night at the temple and remember the dream he had there. In the morning, the dream had to be told to the priest and the healer, who after consulting with each other figured out how to solve the problems. And can you imagine, there were quite a few people to whom the god Asclepius helped to heal! These people were not stingy with their donations to the temple, and subsequently the amphitheater and stage were built on these endowments.
The amphitheater had 1500 seats. The first row was decorated with images of lions’ paws, and the place, now flooded with water, served as an orchestra pit.
In addition to the theatrical performances, all the inhabitants of Butrinta used to gather here and decide all matters related to the life of the town, such a general assembly.
Decisions, decrees and laws, made at this general meeting, were written not on paper, but on stones. As it looked like on the following picture.
One of the deciphered records says that in the 3rd century B.C. a law was passed that once a year entitled the head of the city to free a slave or group of slaves who had worked for the city for 25 years. The laws of the city of Butrintus were quite humane. Another entry gave women equal heritage rights with men. A progressive society it was, however.
The territory of Butrinta was flooded in the same 3rd century BC. It was after three major earthquakes in succession, which broke the underground drainage system. People were forced to leave the area of Butrint.
It was here, on the territory of the amphitheater, in this flooded marshy place, that archaeologists in the first 3 months of excavation discovered many ancient household items, statues, coins and other interesting finds. This encouraged them to do more research. The archaeologists had been working for another 10 years until Luigi Ugolini was bitten by a malarial mosquito and died in 1938. The work was therefore stopped.
An interesting fact is that every year here in Butrint, on the stage of this amphitheater an international theater festival is held among young actors from different countries of the world. And every 5 years a festival of folklore music among the countries of the Balkan Peninsula is held here.
Another interesting and unexpected fact. In 1959, Khrushchev visited Albania. It was for his visit that an asphalt road was laid from Saranda to Butrint!
There is an amusing legend in connection with his visit. At the entrance to the fortress a poisonous snake crawled out to meet the Soviet delegation. All stunned, and only Nikita Sergeyevich so menacingly looked at the snake, that it fell dead! And Khrushchev turned around and said: you see comrades, the look of a real communist kills even snakes! The Albanians remembered this, and for a long time they were afraid of the Soviet leader’s gaze!
Now this story is passed on by word of mouth, and you will certainly be told it when you learn that you are from Russia. In fact, the story is not made up, but, of course, rigged. The fact that the snake was pre-poisoned, that’s the whole secret!
Roman wells. Not quite ordinary, in this one, for example, once a year took a bath goddess of wisdom Minerva. And the ancient Romans believed that this is where the first mineral water came from! Where did you think it came from? In any case, remember that in any mineral water there is a particle of wisdom of the goddess Minerva! By the way, the depth of this well is more than 7 meters.
From these ancient walls and reeks of the centuries. Butrint was abandoned at the end of the 17th century.
Many places have not yet been studied by scientists, not solved their purpose, such as the one in the photo below.
There are ancient mosaics in the three arches, what was here?
Here once was a huge church. Just as well preserved is an amphitheater, baths, temples, and dwellings.
Isn’t it true that the ancient structures of this temple are not at all lacking in elegance? Anyway I liked it very much!
And further on the photo will be nothing but an ancient infirmary! Yes yes! And in those ancient times people tried to limit themselves from unknown diseases. So all mariners arriving in the city had to be isolated in the infirmary and only after 30 days they had the right to go out into the city.
Above the entrance, an incomprehensible image is carved in the fortress wall. We were asked a riddle – who is shown on the arch of the entrance? We spent a long time guessing. And your version?
And the next picture is of the lake Butrint, which gave birth to the city. Its inhabitants grew fish and traded with the Greek island of Kerkyra (now Corfu). And beyond those mountains is Greece.
The water is a beautiful greenish color, and in general the area is very picturesque!
Ancient Byzantine fortress, located on a high mountain. It is also included in the list of sites protected by UNESCO, but a little later – in 1999. This is already Byzantine era ancient Butrint.
View from the observation deck of the fortress. Flag of Albania.
Views from the Byzantine fortress. It is beautiful! The nature of southern Albania is all green and blue, the colors of the sky, sea, lakes and mountains covered with green vegetation.
A land of mountain eagles soaring over the mountains and lakes of Albania.
There is a small museum in Butrint, which is located in the basement of a Byzantine fortress.
All of these statues were found at the bottom of Lake Butrint.
Almost every one has a plaque, but the statues themselves have been significantly damaged by water and time.
Ancient…shattered pieces of the ancient world, joined by modernity.
All of these objects were once in daily use.
And here are the familiar stone records, a code of ancient laws, or maybe some kind of signpost or designation of something:
The museum is small, but it is kind of soulful, alive, or the energy there is positive, but I did not want to leave, even though I’m not a big fan of antiquity. But it’s time to know the honor, through these gates we returned to our buses and bidding farewell to the ancient city of Butrint.
Once again we can see Lake Butrint from the window of the bus. Now in the sun it is bright blue. These structures on the water are nothing more than a mussel farm.
Butrint is little known to world tourism. Nevertheless, it is quite well-preserved ancient city, which occupies a large territory. The tour is very interesting, I definitely enjoyed it!
I make no claim to the accuracy of the historical facts in this review. Everything I wrote, I just recounted the words of our guide. If what I remembered wrong or misunderstood, I apologize in advance and ask for your corrections. With that I take my leave, until we meet again on the site “Otzovik”!
Butrint is a national park and open-air archaeological museum
Butrint is a national park and archaeological museum-reserve in the very south of Albania, not far from Saranda. It is protected by UNESCO and is one of the most famous and visited places in Albania. A visit to Butrint offers not only a touch of antiquity, unique artifacts and the ancient city of Butrint, but also the beauty of nature, the view from above, the valley of Lake Butrint and the Vivari Channel. The Butrint excavations are surrounded by a forest with unique flora and fauna. It is a very rare combination of archaeology and nature.
Most of the monuments presented today in the ancient city were discovered by the Italian archaeological mission led by Luigi Maria Ugolini who worked in Butrint (1928-1939) for almost 10 years. Butrint (Buthrotum) has been known since the 7th century B.C. as the most important city of Epirus, an important port and trading center on the main Adriatic waterway. The ancient city and its heritage preserve unique testimonies of Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman cultures and civilizations.
Myths and a brief history of Butrint
According to classical mythology, the ancient city known as Buthrotum was founded by exiles who left the city after the fall of Troy. Upon arriving in Epirus, Helenus, son of the Trojan king Priam, decided to sacrifice a bull to the gods. But the bull somehow managed to escape and swim across the channel to the other side. Helenus thought this was a good sign and founded a town near this place, on a hill, which was called Butrotum (Boutros the bull in Greek). There is also mention of this ancient city in the epic poem Aeneid by the Latin poet Virgil. It tells the story of the hero Aeneas, who visited Butrint on his way to Italy.
Data from many years of archaeological excavations show that around the 4th century BC, the ancient settlement of Butrint was surrounded by defensive walls, whose peculiarity was the way the stone was laid, without any kind of bonding mortar. Butrintus owes its growth and early fame to the sanctuary of Asclepius, god of medicine, erected in the 4th century BC on the southern hill of the acropolis. Believers came to the shrine to be healed, leaving gifts and money to the god and his attendants. The city gradually developed into a cult center. An inscription on one of the sites of the ancient theater of Butrint shows that its construction was due to the donations of the faithful.
In 228 BC Butrint came under Roman rule and in the 1st century BC it became part of the Roman province of Macedonia. Julius Caesar in 45 BC founded his colony for veteran soldiers at Butrint, the Colonia Julius Butrotum. A little later, during the reign of Emperor Augustus, Butrint, already known as the Colony of Augustus Butrotum, reached its greatest development. The size of the city and the number of its inhabitants more than doubled.
During this period the city was redesigned and Butrint was already different from the former one associated with the sanctuary of Asclepius. The theater and many other buildings were remodeled in the Roman style. Baths (thermae), mansions, fountains, nymphaeum, temples were built and a new water supply system, the aqueduct, was created. The heart of the city was the forum with imposing buildings and marble statues. A bridge was built across the Vivari channel to connect the two banks.
In the 3rd century AD a powerful earthquake destroyed most of the city, after which it was already slowly falling into decay. By the 5th century A.D. Christianity had prospered in Butrint and it became the seat of Bishop. The city of that period has preserved evidence of impressive art and architecture. The Baptistery with its mosaic floor, every detail of which symbolizes the rite of baptism, and the Great Basilica are from the 6th century A.D. Eight other churches have been found in other, more distant parts of the city, the most important of which is on the plain of the Vrina, on the other side of the Vivari Canal.
Butrint was rebuilt and attacked many times over the next centuries. Byzantium lost these lands in the 7th century. After Butrint was controlled by the Bulgarian Empire for 200 years and re-established Byzantine rule in the 9th century. The town was conquered by the Normans in 1080-1085, but was recaptured by the Byzantines. Butrint was then a site of conflict between the Byzantines, the Angevians of southern Italy and the Venetians. The city changed hands many times. In 1267 Charles of Anjou captured the city. In 1386 Butrint, along with Corfu, was sold to the Venetians, who held control until the 17th century.
The Venetians fought wars with the Ottoman Empire and Butrint fell under the influence of one or the other many times. In 1799 Ali Pasha Tepelena conquered it and Butrint became part of the Ottoman Empire, until the independence of Albania in 1912. At the beginning of the 19th century Butrint had already become a small fishing village, losing its former glory. Swamps were formed on the site of the town, and the inhabitants left it.
During the 400 years of Venetian rule, the Venetians built many defensive works, including a triangular fortress on the Vivari channel, later rebuilt by Ali Pasha to defend against French attacks from Corfu. Also at the top of the acropolis is the Venetian castle from the 14th to 16th centuries, which was reconstructed in the 1930s. The tower and the pentagon-shaped walls surrounding it provided a good view of the whole surrounding area.
Attractions of Butrint
- The Venetian Tower, built in the 15th and 16th centuries.
- A sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine, 4th century B.C.
- Ancient Theatre, 3rd century BC, later rebuilt in Roman style and equipped with a stage
- Roman Baths (Thermae), 2nd century BC
- the Agora or Forum, the business and commercial center of the city
- Gymnasium, probably a pagan shrine later transformed into a church.
- Roman villas, in the 5th century converted to the Triconc Palace
- Baptistery with mosaic floor, early 6th century
- Nymphaeum fountain of the 2nd century AD, dedicated to the nymphs
- Great Basilica, 6th century
- The Gates of the Lake 4th century BC
- The Lion Gate, a medieval reconstruction
- Hilltop Acropolis, dating back to the 8th century BC
- Venetian castle of the 14th-16th centuries, reconstructed in the 1930s
- Museum of the ancient city of Butrint
An entrance ticket to Butrint National Park costs 700 lek (about 5 euros). There is a Family fare which will cost 300 lek per person. Opening hours are from 8am until dusk. At the entrance to the park you can get a free map with a brief history and the most important places to see in Butrint. The walk will take at least 2 hours. Most of it you will walk in the shade of the trees. But it is necessary to wear a hat, comfortable shoes, and water.
Butrint Archaeological Museum
The museum of the ancient city of Butrint is located in the building of the Venetian castle at the top of the hill. The museum was first opened in the 1930s during the Italian archaeological mission, but in the 1990s, difficult times for Albania, it was looted. Many antiquities were stolen and sold to private collections around the world.
In 2005, the museum of the ancient city was reopened to visitors. Many priceless artifacts were recovered and returned. Butrint Museum presents the history of the city in chronological order, from the Bronze Age to the late Middle Ages. The museum is open from 9.00 to 16.00. On the square in front of the museum you can see the sculpture, found during the excavations of the ancient city. This is the head of the goddess Daeva Butrinta. She is a symbol of Albania’s antiquity.
Butrint National Park
In addition to its historical value, Butrint is famous for its ecological system, unique nature and landscape. The ancient city, which became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, is now located in the Butrint National Park. The park has a total area of 9,424 hectares. Since 2003, it has the status of a wetland of international importance and is protected by the Ramsar area.
Butrint’s ruins stand among amazing subtropical jungle and laurel forests. The area is considered very diverse in terms of flora and fauna. There are about 800 plant species on its territory, among which 16 are considered endangered and 12 are listed as rare. There are also 246 species of birds, 105 species of fish and 39 species of mammals in the waters of Lake Butrint, among which many are endangered.
Butrint is a National Park and open-air archaeological museum, offering you a wonderful journey through centuries of history. Once there you will have an unforgettable experience.