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Where in the World?

Posted on 8/31/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Question: Where in the world is this former Greek, Roman, and Byzantine colony and the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in its homeland?

Answer: Butrint, Albania

Albania may not be the first country that comes to your mind when you think of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, but the hidden ancient colony of Butrint is home to remarkably well-preserved ruins from throughout Mediterranean history. It was once a Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian colony, and 2,500 years later it still fascinates.

Compared to many other Greek and Roman ruins, Butrint flies under the radar. It’s a repository of lesser-known ruins each representing varying periods of the city’s evolution over the course of history. Butrint is also a national park in Albania and is notable for its beautiful surrounding mountains, freshwater lakes, marshes, islands, and diverse animal species. The main part of the Butrint archeological site sits atop a forested peninsula on the channel that connects Lake Butrint with the Ionian Sea.

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In the days of antiquity, Butrint was known as Buthrotum, a name that refers to the sacrifice of a bull by the Trojan Princess Aeneas. In the legend, the bull was offered as a sacrifice on the island of Corfu; however, it escaped and swam to the mainland. The Greeks considered it a sign from the Gods and decided to build a settlement at that very spot. Later, Butrint was considered to have the power of healing with a temple that honored the God of medicine and healing, Asclepius.

Under Roman and Byzantine rule the city expanded and experienced great prosperity—it was one of the finest cities in the empire at the time. After the rule of the Venetians, the settlement was abandoned, giving way to marshes that overgrew the remains.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that an Italian archeologist led excavations on the area and made the remarkable discovery of the amphitheater, basilica, gymnasium, public baths, temples, ancient walls, and many daily objects. Statues of Apollo and marble heads of Zeus were even unearthed. In 1992, the site joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, Albania’s first to make the list. It’s one of the most important historical and archeological sites in Albania as well as the Balkans as a whole.

Must-See Monuments in Butrint:

  • The ancient theater: Originally built in the third century B.C.E., this well preserved Hellenistic and Roman theater accommodated up to 2,500 spectators for religious ceremonies and public discussions. It continues to host performances—every year in July the stage hosts performances for the Butrinti Summer Festival.

  • The Roman forum: This is the only Roman forum to be found in Epirus (the province now shared between Greece and Albania). In ancient times, people gathered here to buy and sell goods, participate in political conversation, attend gladiator games, and take baths.

  • The baptistery: Following Roman rule, the Byzantines turned Butrint into an important Christian center. The baptistery features a mosaic floor of animal and geometric patterns as well as a basin at the bottom of the floor for those being baptized to step down into.

  • The basilica: Another remain left from the Byzantine Empire is a Christian basilica. It’s the largest out of nine churches found in Butrint and is made entirely out of stone with rows of archways.

  • The Butrint Museum: At the top of a forested hill is a 14th-century Venetian Castle that houses the Butrint Museum. Some highlights of the museum include statues of Roman gods and Emperors. There are also inscriptions on the role of women in ancient Butrint society.

Explore thousands of years of history at Butrint during our Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece Small Ship Adventure.

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