As Albanian’s first designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint (ancient Buthrotum) is the most famous and most visited archaeological site in the country. Located in southern Albania directly opposite the Greek island of Corfu, Butrint offers a combination of historic ruins and natural beauty. Its well-preserved ruins are nestled in a marshy landscape between an inland lagoon and the Ionian Sea and surrounded by densely forested hills. The remains of the ancient city span 2,500 years, from the Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Christian and even Venetian periods.
“Let me tell you that Buthrotum is to Corcyra (Corfu) What Antium is to Rome – the quietest, coolest, most pleasant place in the world” – Cicero Letters to Atticus 4.8.1
Coordinates: 39° 44′ 44″ N, 20° 1′ 14″
The earliest archaeological evidence of settled occupation dates to between the 10th and 8th centuries BC, although the legend associated with its origins speak of the city’s foundation by Trojan exiles. The Roman writer Virgil, in the Aeneid, describes Butrint as founded by the Trojan prince Helenus, a son of King Priam of Troy, and as appearing as a «Troy in miniature» (parva Troia) to the hero Aeneas who stayed there after his own escape from the destruction of the city.
Buthrotum appears in the written sources during the 6th century BC when the city was a small acropolis under Corcyrean control. The city grew in importance and developed its trade thanks to its access to the Straits of Corfu. The situation changed radically at the turn of the 4th century BC when the Molossians invaded the coast of Northern Epirus. The city was fortified with a new 870 m-long wall and numerous gates. By the late mid-3rd century BC, the settlement included a theatre that could accommodate about 2,500 people, an agora, as well as a sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing, Asclepius.
Due to its favourable location, Buthrotum played an important role in the Roman civil war in 49-48 BC and served as a base for Caesar’s army. In 31 BC Augustus, fresh from his victory at Actium, established a Roman colony and the city expanded considerably and remained an important road-station on the way to Nicopolis, the capital city of the Roman province of Epirus Vetus. The Roman Forum was constructed in the Augustan period while the city witnessed its greatest period of prosperity in the 2nd century AD when numerous bathhouses, fountains, and public buildings were constructed and the theatre was renovated.
The town suffered much damage from an earthquake sometime in the 4th century AD but survived into the Late Antique era, becoming the seat of a bishopric with Christian buildings including a large basilica and a Baptistery, one of the largest such paleochristian buildings of its type. The city then went into a long decline and was abandoned until 1928, when the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini’s Italy sent an expedition to Buthrotum.
The archaeological site has been the heart of the Butrint National Park, established in 2000 in order to preserve the natural ecosystems and woodlands which has a wide variety of animal habitats and great biodiversity. A network of walking trails exists in the park which leads to the many historical buildings and the rich variety of Mediterranean habitats. The finds from the site are on display in the small museum located on the top of the hill where the acropolis of Buthrotum once was.