Buthrotum (Butrint)

As Albanian’s first designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint (ancient Buthrotum) is the country’s most famous and most visited archaeological site. 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

Buthrotum in the Augustan Age.

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 speaks 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 town 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, and 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 Julius Caesar‘s army. In 31 BC Augustus, fresh from his victory at the Battle of Actium, established a Roman colony. The city expanded considerably and remained an important road station on the way to Nicopolis, the capital of the Roman province of Epirus Vetus. The Roman Forum was constructed in the Augustan period. At the same time, 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.

Reconstruction of the sanctuary, Theatre and Forum, c. AD 100.

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 to preserve the natural ecosystems and woodlands, which have a wide variety of animal habitats and incredible biodiversity. A network of walking trails in the park leads to the many historical buildings and the wide 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.


The early fortifications date back to the 4th century BC. The wall was constructed without mortar, using large blocks of stone.
The Lake Gate or Scaean Gate was built within the Hellenistic city walls in the 4th century BC.
The Lion Gate, with the relief of a lion devouring a bull’s head. The relief was carved in the 6th century BC but added in the 5th century AD to lower the gate and make it easier to defend Butrint.
An inscription naming Junia Rufina at the Spring of the Nymphs behind the Lion Gate. 2nd century AD.
The Agora and the Roman Forum are in the background.
The Roman theatre was built in the 2nd century AD over an earlier 4th century BC Greek Theatre.
The theatre was partly dug into the southern slope of the acropolis and could accommodate about 2,500 people.
Roman Forum. View of the Capitolium (?) and the Peristyle building.
The sacred well in the Sanctuary of Asclepius.
The Asclepian Treasury was built to hold offerings made to the God Asclepius. The earliest Sanctuary comprised a temple to the God, a stoa and a treasury to have the offerings made to the God.
The Sanctuary of Asclepius was later modified to include a theatre and a peristyle building, probably a pilgrim’s hostel.
The public Bathhouse with hypocaust and hot plunge bath.
The public Bathhouse with the Apodyterium (undressing room).
The Agora.
The Roman Nymphaeum is a fountain dedicated to the nymphs. 2nd century AD.
The great Late Roman residence is known as the Triconch Palace. The original townhouse was developed into a great palace around AD 400.
The conversion of the villa into a grandiose palace involved the expansion of the original courtyard and a new east wing. This housed a luxurious triconch dining room attached to a riverside entrance.
The Great Basilica, the seat of the bishop. 6th century AD.
The Great Basilica originally had three aisles separated by colonnades of columns and capitals reused from earlier buildings and a floor paved with mosaic.
The Baptistery, with its well-preserved mosaic pavement featuring iconography relating to Christianity and aristocratic life. Early 6th century AD.
Detail of the mosaic floor of the Baptistery.
The Medieval waterfront wall.
The Museum of Butrint houses finds from the Italian archaeological mission first excavated in Butrint from 1928 to 1940.
Imperial portraits from Butrint. From left to right: Emperor Augustus, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Empress Livia, Antinous.


One thought on “Buthrotum (Butrint)

  1. WOW ! This is a magnificent archaeological site. Thank you for such wonderful pictures Carole. How long did it take for you to walk around to take your photo’s ?


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