Buthrotum (Butrint)

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

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 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.

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 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.

PORTFOLIO

The early fortifications dating back to the 4th century BC. The wall was constructed without mortar, using large blocks of stone.
The Lake Gate or Scaean Gate built in the 4th century BC within the Hellenistic city walls.
The Lion Gate, with a relief of a lion devouring the head of a bull. 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.
Inscription naming Junia Rufina at the Spring of the Nymphs behind the Lion Gate. 2nd century AD.
The Agora and the Roman Forum in the background.
The Roman theatre, 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, built to hold offerings made to the god Asclepius. The earliest Sanctuary comprised a temple to the God, a stoa and a treasury to hold the offerings made to the god.
The Sanctuary of Asclepius was later modified to include a theatre and a perisytyle building, probably a pilgrim’s hostel.
The public bath-house with hypocaust and hot plunge bath.
The public Bath-house with the Apodyterium (undressing room).
The Agora.
The Roman Nymphaeum, a fountain dedicated to the nymphs. 2nd century AD.
The great Late Roman residence 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 thee 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 both to Christianity and to aristocratic life. Early 6th century AD.
Detail of the mosaic floor of the Baptistery.
The Medieval waterfront wall.
The Museum of Butrint which houses finds of the Italian archaeological mission that first excavated in Butrint from 1928 to 1940.
Imperial portraits from Butrint. From left to right: Emperor Augustus, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Empress Livia, Antinous.

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Byllis

Byllis is a vast archaeological site overlooking the River Vjosa in southern Albania in the Fier County. Founded by the Illyrians in the middle of the 4th century BC, Byllis was the largest city of Southern Illyria and the capital of the League (koinon) of the Bylliones. With its fascinating ruins amid stunning views over the Vjosa valley, the ancient city of Byllis, mentioned by Caesar and Cicero, is one of the numerous hidden treasures of Albania. The remains include an impressive theatre, several Byzantine basilicas paved with outstanding mosaics, Illyrian private houses and Roman public buildings.

Coordinates: 40° 32′ 25.08″ N, 19° 44′ 15″ E

byllis

The Illyrian settlement of Byllis occupied a dominant position on the summit of a hill 520 meters above sea level, over the road from Apollonia to Epirus and into Macedonia. It became the headquarters of the league of the Bylliones, a Hellenized Illyrian tribe first mentioned around 380 BC by the Greek geographer Pseudo-Scylax. The Bylliones had a sophisticated system of

ILLYRIA, Byllis. Circa 230-168 BC
Bronze coin minted circa 230-168 BC

government, minted their own bronze coins (from around 270 BC to 167 BC when the Romans dissolved the koinon) and controlled an area of about 20km². They fortified their capital with a circuit wall around 2 km long, 3.50m thick and 8m to 9m high. Byllis adopted a fully Hellenised regular street-plan and buildings including a theatre, stoas, stadium, gymnasium and temples.

The state of the Bylliones flourished until 229 BC when the Romans landed in Apollonia and their territory became a field of battle between the Roman and Macedonian armies for the control of Apollonia. In 49-48 BC, during the Caesar’s Civil War, Byllis surrendered to Julius Caesar and became a supply base for his army. The city was later turned into a Roman colony as is shown by several Latin inscriptions found there referring to the city as Colonia Iulia Augusta which became part of the province of Epirus Nova. The city walls were rebuilt, the theatre and stoas were reconstructed and other monuments were erected.

Byllis was attacked and sacked by the Visigoths towards the end of the 4th century AD but the city was reconstructed under Theodosius II (408-450 AD). The city suffered another attacked by the Sclaveni (a South Slavic tribe) and was again reconstructed under Emperor Justinian I (483-565). During Justinian’s reign, Byllis became an important religious centre and the seat of a bishopric. Several large Palaeo-Christian basilicas were built, all of them featuring lavishly decorated mosaics. Sadly for the visitors, all the mosaics are kept covered with protective layers of sand and are not visible. In 586 AD, Byllis was sacked by foreign invaders and was abandoned. The seat of the bisphoric was moved to Ballsh, preserving the name of the old city.

PORTFOLIO

The Gate of the Agora looking towards the Vjosa valley, 1st half of the 4th century BC, reconstructed by the Roman colonists, Byllis, Albania
The Gate of the Agora looking towards the Vjosa valley. The city walls were built in the 1st half of the 4th century BC and were reconstructed by the Roman colonists.
The Gate of the Agora with an inscription dedicated to Augustus, Byllis, Albania
Latin inscription dedicated to the emperor Augustus. It was found in front of the entrance gate to the Agora.
“Augustus, son of the divine Caesar, permitted it (the rebuilding of the walls)”
General view of the Agora built in the middle of the 3rd century BC according to a single plan that harmonized the theatre, stoas, stadium and other public buildings.
General view of the Agora built in the middle of the 3rd century BC according to a single plan that harmonized the theatre, stoas, stadium and other public buildings. The agora of the city covered an area of 4 ha.
The Theatre dating from the middle of the 3rd century BC, it had a capacity of 7500 spectators.
The Theatre was built against a natural slope and dates from the middle of the 3rd century BC. With its 40 steps of seats it had a capacity of 7,500 spectators.
The cavea of the theatre with decorated seats.
The cavea of the theatre with decorated seats.
The remains of the stage building of the theatre (scaenae frons) with architectural parts in the Doric order.
The remains of the stage building of the theatre (scaenae frons) with architectural parts in the Doric order.
Latin inscription dedicated to Caius Julius, a liberated slave of Augustus, about 30 BC.
Latin inscription dedicated to Caius Julius, a liberated slave of Augustus, about 30 BC.
View towards the Vjosa valley.
View towards the Vjosa valley.
The 190m long Stadium with only one ring of nineteen steps, built in the 3rd century BC.
The 190m long stadium with only one ring of nineteen steps. It was built in the 3rd century BC and was accessible to the many citizens who gathered in the agora during political activities, festivals, theatrical shows and sporting events.
The ruins of the Prytaneion measuring 20,10 x 5,80 m. It was the seat of the Prytaneis (executive).
The ruins of the Prytaneion measuring 20,10 x 5,80 m. It was the seat of the Prytaneis (executive).
The Arsenal, a building for weapons standing 3m below the adjacent Prytaneion, it was built in the 3rd century BC and rebuilt using the opus reticulatum technique in the 1st century AD.
The Arsenal, a building for weapons standing 3m below the adjacent Prytaneion. It was built in the 3rd century BC and rebuilt using the opus reticulatum technique in the 1st century AD.
Inscription dedicated to Antoninus Pius in 140 AD.
Inscription dedicated to Antoninus Pius in 140 AD.
The underground cistern with a depth of 6m and a capacity of about 1200 m3, built in the 3rd century BC it collected water from the roof of the Great Stoa.
The underground cistern under the stadium with a depth of 6m and a capacity of about 1200 m3. Built in the 3rd century BC it collected water from the roof of the Great Stoa. It was in use until the Byzantine period.
Remains of an Altar located in the middle of the Agora, it is believed that it was the altar of the emperor Augustus when the city had the status of Roman Colonia, 1st century BC.
Remains of an Altar located in the middle of the Agora. It is believed that it was the altar of the emperor Augustus when the city had the status of Roman Colonia, 1st century BC.
The Baths of Justinian I, its structure included the apodyterium (dressing room), frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room), caldarium (hot room) and sudatio (sweat room).
The Baths of Justinian I. Its structure included the apodyterium (dressing room), the frigidarium (cold room), the tepidarium (warm room), the caldarium (hot room) and the sudatio (sweat room).
Basilica C, church of average dimensions built in 525-550 AD and paved with mosaics. It had three naves, a narthex covered by a gallery, preceded by a portico and several annexes.
Basilica C, a church of medium size built in 525-550 AD and paved with mosaics.
Basilica C. It had three naves, a narthex covered by a gallery, preceded by a portico and several annexes.
Basilica C. It had three naves, a narthex covered by a gallery, preceded by a portico and several annexes.
The Cathedral or Basilica B consisting of a church, a baptistery and an episcopal palace, built at the end of the 4th century, beginning of the 5th century.
The Cathedral or Basilica B consisting of a church, a baptistery and an episcopal palace. It built at the end of the 4th century, beginning of the 5th century AD.
The Cathedrale (Basilica B) was the largest monument of the city in the Late Antiquity. The floor of the exonarthex, the naves, the sanctuary and the northern wing were paved with mosaics, making this the largest surface covered with mosaics so far discovered in Albania.
The Cathedral (Basilica B) was the largest monument of the city in the Late Antiquity. The floor of the exonarthex, the naves, the sanctuary and the northern wing were paved with mosaics, making this the largest surface covered with mosaics so far discovered in Albania.
The Cathedral (Basilica B) was destroyed during the Slavic invasions around 547-551 AD.
The Cathedral (Basilica B) was destroyed during the Slavic invasions around 547-551 AD.
The Byzantine City Walls built in opus incertum by Victorinus after the destruction of the city by the Slavs in 547-551 AD.
The Byzantine City Walls built in opus incertum by Victorinus after the destruction of the city by the Slavs in 547-551 AD.
The Byzantine City Walls was equipped with towers at regular intervals. This wall reduced the fortified city from 30 to 11ha.
The Byzantine City Walls was equipped with towers at regular intervals. This wall reduced the fortified city from 30 to 11ha.
View towards the Vjosa valley.
View towards the Vjosa valley.

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