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Butrint (Albanian: Butrint or Butrinti) is a city and an archeological site in Albania, close to the Greek border. It was known anciently as Bouthroton in Ancient Greek and Buthrotum in Latin. It is located on a hill overlooking the Vivari Channel. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of an Epirot city, a Roman colony and a bishopric.
Butrint was originally a town within the ancient region of Epirus. It was the one of the major centres of the local Chaonian tribe with close contacts to the Greek colony on Corfu and Illyrian tribes to the north. According to the Roman writer Virgil, its legendary founder was the Trojan seer Helenus, the son of King Priam, who had married Andromache and moved West after the fall of Troy. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote that Aeneas visited Butrint after his own escape from the destruction of Troy.
First archaeological evidence of sedentary occupation dates to between 10th and 8th centuries BC. The original settlement probably sold food to Corfu and had a fort and sanctuary. Butrint was in a strategically important position due its access to the Straits of Corfu. By the 4th century BC it had grown in importance and included a theatre, a sanctuary to Asclepius and an agora.
In 228 Butrint became a Roman protectorate alongside Corfu and Romans increasingly dominated Butrint after 167 BC. In the next century, it became a part of a province of Illyricum. In 44 BC, Caesar designated Butrint as a colony to reward soldiers that had fought on his side against Pompey. The local landholder Titus Pomponius Atticus objected to his correspondent Cicero who lobbied against the plan in the Senate. As a result, Butrint received only small numbers of colonists.
In 31 BC, Emperor Augustus fresh from his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium reestablished the plan to make Butrint a veterans' colony. New residents expanded the city and the construction included an aqueduct, Roman bathhouses, a forum complex, and a nymphaeum.
In the 3rd century AD, an earthquake destroyed a large part of the town, levelling buidings in the suburbs on the Vrina Plain and in the forum of the city centre. Excavations have revealed that city had already been in decline and was becoming a manufacturing center. However, the settlement survived into the late antique era, becoming a major port in the province of Old Epirus. The town of late antiquity included the grand Triconch Palace, the house of a major local notable that was built around 425 AD.
In the early 6th century AD, Butrint became a bishopric and new construction included a large baptistry, one of the largest such Paleochristian buildings of its type, and a basilica. Emperor Justinian strengthened the walls of the city. The Ostrogoths under King Totila sacked Butrint in 550 AD. Evidence from the excavations shows that importation of commodities, wine and oil from the Eastern Mediterranean continued into the early years of the 7th century when the early Byzantine Empire lost these provinces. In this, it follows the historical pattern seen in other Balkan cities, with the 6th to 7th century being a watershed for the transformaiton of the Roman World into the Early Middle Ages.
By the 7th century, following the model of classical cities throughout the Mediterranean, Butrint had shrunk to a much smaller fortified post and with the collapse of Roman power was briefly controlled by Slavs and Bulgars before being regained by the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century. It remained an outpost of the empire fending off assaults from the Normans until 1204 when following the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine Empire fragmented, Butirnt falling to the breakaway Despotate of Epirus. In the following centuries, the area was a site of conflict between the Byzantines, the Angevins of southern Italy, and the Venetians, and the city changed hands many times. In 1267, Charles of Anjou took control of both Butrint and Corfu and renovated the walls and the basilica.
The Republic of Venice purchased the area including Corfu from the Angevins in 1386; however, the Venetian merchants were principally interested in Corfu and Butrint once again declined. In 1490, they built a tower and a small fort. The area was lightly settled afterwards.
In 1797, Butrint came under French control when Venice ceded it to Napoleon as a part of the Treaty of Campo Formio. In 1799, the local Ottoman governor Ali Pasha Tepelena conquered it, and it became a part of the empire until Albanian independence in 1912. By that time, the site of the original city had been unoccupied for centuries and was surrounded by malarial marshes.
The first modern archaeological excavations began in 1928 when the Fascist government of Mussolini's Italy sent an expedition to Butrint. The aim was geopolitical rather than scientific, aiming to extend Italian hegemony in the area. The leader was an Italian archaeologist, Luigi Maria Ugolini who despite the political aims of his mission was a good archaeologist. Ugolini died in 1936, but the excavations continued until 1943 and the Second World War. They uncovered the Hellenistic and Roman part of the city including the "Lion Gate" and the "Scaean Gate" (named by Ugolini for the copy of the famous gate at Troy which Aeneas is supposed to have seen).
After the communist government of Enver Hoxha took Albania over in 1944, foreign archaeological missions were banned. Albanian archaeologists including Hasan Ceka continued the work. Nikita Khrushchev visited the ruins in 1959 and suggested that Hoxha should turn the area into a submarine base. The Albanian Institute of Archaeology began larger scale excavations in the 1970's.
After the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, the new democratic government planned various major developmetns at the site. The same year remains of Butrint were included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. A major political and economic crisis in 1997 and lobbying stopped the airport plane plan and UNESCO reclassified it as a "Site in Danger" because of looting, lack of protection, management and conservation.
The Albanian Government established the Butrint National Park in 2000 under the leadership of Auron Tare. With the support of Albanian and international institutions the situation was improved to the point that UNESCO removed the site from the danger list by 2005. The National Park was also made a UNESCO World Heritage Site during these years as well as a Ramsar Site.
Butrint may yet provide a model of how local communities in developing countries can be empowered through the sustainable exploitation of cultural heritage. The Park Directorate ensured that the Park was able to establish an international position. In 2005 the Butrint National Park in collaboration with the Butrint Foundation and Leventis Foundation reopened the Museum which had been destroyed in 1997. This work is being continued by the new park management.
The Butrint National Park has become an important educational resource. Annually at Butrint there are the Albanian-American Anthropology Summer School under the leadership of Prof. Tom Crist and John Johnsen from Utica College and Prof and Neritan Ceka from the Albanian side; a field school for Albanian University Students run as a collaboration with the Butrint Foundation, directed by Ilir Gjepali of the Albanian Institute of Archaeology and The Butrint Foundation and the annual Theatre Festival which is held every summer in the ancient city.
Butrint is accessible from Saranda, along a road built in 1959 for a visit by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It is increasingly becoming a popular tourist attracting day-trippers from the nearby Greek holiday island of Corfu. Hydrofoils (30 minutes) and ferries (90 minutes) run daily between the New Port in Corfu Town and Saranda. A regular public bus service runs between Saranda port and Butrint.
The Roman Empire & Illyria
The Romans ruled Illyria--which now became the province of Illyricum--for about six centuries. Under Roman rule Illyrian society underwent great change, especially in its outward, material aspect. Art and culture flourished, particularly in Apollonia, whose school of philosophy became celebrated in antiquity. To a great extent, though, the Illyrians resisted assimilation into Roman culture.
Illyrian culture survived, along with the Illyrian tongue, though many Latin words entered the language and later became a part of the Albanian language. Christianity manifested itself in Illyria during Roman rule, about the middle of the 1st century AD. At first the new religion had to compete with Oriental cults--among them that of Mithra, Persian god of light--which had entered the land in the wake of Illyria's growing interaction with eastern regions of the empire. For a long time it also had to compete with gods worshiped by Illyrian pagans. The steady growth of the Christian community in Dyrrhachium (the Roman name for Epidamnus) led to the creation there of a bishopric in AD 58. Later, episcopal seats were established in Apollonia, Buthrotum (modern Butrint), and Scodra (modern Shkodr'). By the time the empire began to decline, the Illyrians, profiting from a long tradition of martial habits and skills, had acquired great influence in the Roman military hierarchy. Indeed, several of them went on from there to become emperors. From the mid-3rd to the mid-4th century AD the reins of the empire were almost continuously in the hands of emperors of Illyrian origin: Gaius Decius, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, and Constantine the Great.
Butrint is situated on a low promontory on the southwest coast of Albania. The site has been occupied since at least the 8th century BC, although myths associated with its origins speak of the city's foundation by Trojan exiles.
By the 4th century BC a walled settlement was established and the city became a successful cult site, dedicated to Aesclepius. Augustus founded a colony at Butrint and the town seems to have remained a relatively small Roman port until the 6th century. Little is known of the site between the 7th and 9th centuries. Its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved first in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and second in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. By the early 19th century it had dwindled to a small fishing village clustered around a Venetian castle.
Butrint is undeniably a beautiful place. Close to modern civilization yet with its monuments in thick woodland, it is reminiscent of the age of 19th-century tourism. Set in a marshy landscape between Lake Butrint, an inland lagoon, and the busy straits separating Corfu from Albania, it is an environmental haven rich in birdlife.
ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT CITY AND ITS HINTERLAND
Archaeological investigation of the site was begun by an Italian mission in the 1920s, and was continued under the post-war communist government of Albania. Since 1994 excavations have been undertaken by the Albanian Institute of Archaeology and IWA (working under the auspices of the Butrint Foundation). The archaeological investigation of Butrint has involved a combination of evaluation, excavation, field survey, geomorphology, geophysical survey and archival research. Key areas of excavation include a late-antique palatial dwelling known as the Triconch Palace, the spectacular late-antique baptistery, a Roman villa and associated late-antique church at Diaporit (a possible location of the villa of Cicero's correspondent Atticus), and a major suburb of the town, located on the plain in front of the walled city.
Documentation, photographs, film footage and oral history help to direct future research and to contribute to modern excavation reports. Work is in progress to develop an on-line electronic archive that will make the material accessible to all.
In 1972 UNESCO, the United Nations' Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organisation, adopted the Convention ‘Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage' and under its auspices introduced the World Heritage List. Butrint was nominated as a World Heritage Site in 1990 but in May 1991 ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, recommended that its inclusion be deferred to await verification of various definitions and plans relating to its protection. By 1992 ICOMOS was satisfied that all the protective requirements were in place and they recommended that Butrint – the intramural area covering 16 hectares - be included on the World Heritage List on the basis of Criterion iii.
Criterion iii: The evolution of the old natural environment which led the inhabitants to abandon Butrint at the end of the Middle Ages, means that this archaeological site provides valuable evidence of ancient and medieval civilizations on the territory of modern Albania.
In 1997 civil unrest prompted ICOMOS to recommend that further action regarding the protection of the site was essential and Butrint was put on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. As a result a workshop for the definition of the past, present and future of the site was held in 1998 which led to the Albanian Government creating an office for the protection of the Butrint Site. In 1999 ICOMOS asked to extend the buffer zone of the site for fear of uncontrolled tourist development in a small area on the coast. The protected zone was therefore extended under the existing criterion (iii) on condition that the State Party withdrew plans for this development. The establishment of the Butrint National Park in 2000 gave the site new legal status and protected an area of 29 km˛, managed by the appointment of a director. It is possible that Butrint may be removed off the sites in danger list by the UNESCO who will report on their findings in July 2005.
Butrint's significance as described by the UNESCO (2004): Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city's development.
It is relatively easy to reach Butrint by sea and/or road, via Saranda, the main port for the area. However, poor road surfaces and minimal sign-posting can make driving in Albania difficult.
FROM CORFU TO SARANDA
Take a ferry from the main port in Corfu town, opposite the Hotel Atlantis (the port is a 10-minute taxi ride from Corfu airport). There at least one passenger ferry per day ( the Kaliope).The ferry journey takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. There is also a hydrofoil service operated by Petrakis Lines (the Flying Dolphin), which takes 30 minutes. Check times at the port before planning your journey. In February 2005 there were departures from Corfu at 7.00 and 7.15 Greek time, and return journeys from Saranda at 11.30 and 13.30 Albanian time. You should be at the port in good time to allow for changes in departure time, allowing at least 20 minutes prior to embarkation for customs formalities. Remember that Greek time is 2 hours ahead of UK time and Albania is only 1 hour ahead.
TICKETS are bought from the ticket office on the quayside or on board. A single ticket costs approx. €15. Tickets are valid only for the ferry for which they were bought - therefore it may be advisable to buy your return ticket separately so that you can choose your preferred return time and ferry. Before boarding a ferry you must go to the Greek passport control office further along the quayside to hand over your passport and to obtain a boarding pass. Wait to board the ferry until the customs official or boat Captain calls out your name. Your passport will be retained by the ferry Captain for the duration of the voyage in order to prepare your documents and visa for the Albanian port officials. At Saranda, customs officials board the ferry for passport control. There is an entry visa fee of €10 or $10 for all nationalities. On paying the entry fee your passport will be stamped and returned to you together with a small white card - this is your exit visa and should be kept carefully, as leaving the country without it is complicated.
You should not attempt to disembark the ferry before completing this procedure. When leaving Albania, first go to the police office immediately to the right of the entrance to the port, hand in your white exit visa card and have your passport stamped. Then go to the ferry and wait to board. The ferry times allow just enough time for a day trip to Butrint. If you wish to see other sites in the area, you will need to stay overnight in Saranda. On arriving in Corfu all passengers may be held on the boat for some minutes. On disembarking, proceed immediately to the Greek customs office for a baggage check before leaving the port.
BY COACH OR TAXI: Some of the ferry companies have arrangements with tour operators in Saranda for inclusive day trips to Butrint. Tourists are often transported to Saranda on the Flying Dolphin and then by coaches from the port to Butrint. Taxis are also available for hire at the port - but agree a price for the day as it is difficult to find taxis in Butrint in the afternoon. A good daily rate for at taxi is €40-50, or 5,500 – 7000 leke. Cheaper taxis can be found by walking into Saranda town or to the main road on the far side of the bay of Saranda (15 minutes). The journey time from Saranda to Butrint is about 20 minutes. From the road there are spectacular views across Lake Butrint to the ancient city of Butrint and out across the Corfu Straits.
DRIVING: Driving in Albania can be an adventure, so check with your Embassy first for advice. Many roads are unsurfaced and impassable without a four-wheel drive vehicle. Butrint is 19 km from Saranda. To drive there, turn right out of the port. At the first junction, marked by a tree, go straight ahead , across the main road and follow the smaller road into town. Stay on this road until you reach the main square. From this square take the lower, right-hand road, which joins the main road out of Saranda. After 200 m, where the road rises, turn right onto the road for Ksamili and Butrint. Note that there are numerous petrol stations in Saranda but only one between Saranda and Butrint, located at Ksamili.
FROM IOANNINA TO BUTRINT
The journey from Ioannina to Butrint takes approximately 2 hours (excluding the time required for customs formalities). From Ioannina, take the E90 road. At Kalpata turn left onto the E853 and continue to the border, at Kakavia. Here you must pass through Greek customs and Albanian passport control. From Kakavia follow the road north, towards Gjirokastra. After approximately 10 km, just after the village of Jergucati, turn left and follow this road over the mountains. On the descent there is a choice of roads, both of which go to Saranda. The main road to the left, which follows the valley of the Bistrice river, is the better road. The other, much poorer, road goes via the town of Delvina.
At the foot of the mountains there is the source of the Bistrice river. At the head of the river there is a wonderful freshwater spring, known as the Blue Eye (Syri Kaltër), where the clear blue water of the river bubbles forth from a stunning, 50 m-deep pool. It is well worth a visit. To get there, stop at the bar and shop on the main road, at the foot of the mountains, and ask for directions. A small track takes you past a fish farm and lake, to the Blue Eye and its small visitor centre/restaurant. The main road follows the course of the Bistrice, along a gorge. After a few miles, where the gorge opens out, you will come to the monastery of Mesopotam. The town of Saranda is a further 10 km along the road. You enter the town on the south side of the bay from the hill above.