About 25 miles from Tirana you’ll find Durres which is Albania’s second largest city and its main port. It’s not exactly the prettiest city one could visit, with busy cranes and docks right next to the city centre, but it has some interesting buildings and a few historical monuments. It was here that we spent the first half of our last day in Albania.
The city was founded between the 11th and 13th century B.C. by pro-Illyrian people who were drawn there by the nice climate. They settled along the river which gave them a great location to build docks that contributed to the rapid growth of the area. In the 10th until the 8th century B.C. an Illyrian tribe founded a federation of state and named Durres its capital. Over thousands of years Durres was attacked dozens of times which have created a rich history- 20th and 21st century buildings and medieval Venetian and Ottoman structures all built on top of Roman ruins.
The Roman ruins were our first stops of the day in the city. We first visited the Roman Forum which is little more than a few columns and some stones now. It was hard to get a sense of what the structure would have looked like and we didn’t stay long here.
More impressive was the Roman Amphitheatre just a short walk up the street. This is likely their biggest tourist site which was only quite recently discovered accidentally after it had lay buried and built over for hundreds of years. It was built in the 2nd century and sources say it could hold up to 20,000 people.
Today it is mostly cleared of the homes that were built on it and partially restored, but it does allow visitors to wander around all through it to get a sense of the size and feel what it must have been like to sit in the seats. We also wandered through the tunnels underneath the seats that would have been used by the gladiators, and to view a 6th century Christian chapel with wall mosaics.
From here we did a little wandering from the amphitheatre down to the Archaeological Museum and pictured below are some of the sites and street scenes we saw along the way…
The Archaeological Museum is in a bright and modern building that covers artifacts from the Bronze Age to Roman times such as, decorative pottery, sacred statues, gravestones, and objects found during the excavations of the amphitheatre. A museum docent took our group around to explain most of the pieces and history but we weren’t allowed to take any photos.
From here we wandered back out on to the streets along the waterfront where our guide suggested we take the lift up one of the more modern buildings for a look out over the city and to have a gelato treat. He made a great suggestion! Both the view and the gelato were fantastic.
We didn’t have a long visit in Durres but really with such a compact city centre a few hours is enough to visit the main sights. Plus it was getting on time for us to move along to our final stop… the capital city, Tirana.
To read more about our adventures on our tour around Albania, please feel free to check out these posts:
Previous Post: Kalaja: The Fortress of Berat
Next Post: 5 Must-See Sights for Your Visit to Tirana