Classical Tour of Albania
The amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum
is a short drive to Durres from Tirana Airport, across the
coastal plain with small farms. Durres is the second largest
city in Albania and an important port on the Adriatic
sea. The new promenade along the sea front is lined
with 1990s high rise hotels and restaurants.
Durres was settled by the Illyrians in the C7th BC around a large natural harbour. The city thrived during Roman and Byzantine times. The city walls date from the Byzantine settlement in the C5th and C6th. They were further reinforced with towers in the C15th by the Venetians.
It’s fortunes waned during Ottoman times and by the end of the C19th it was just a small village. After Independence in 1912 it again became an important port.
Most people visit Duress for the Roman Amphitheatre dating from C2nd and the largest in the Balkan peninsula seating between 15,000 - 20,000 spectators. It fell out of use in the C4th. This could have been the result of damage from a major earthquake in 345/6AD or a revulsion against blood sports and the expense of importing wild animals.
The site was rediscovered in 1966 and has still only been partially excavated. Much of it is still covered by housing.
It was originally an elliptical shape with seating built up the sides of the hillside.
It is constructed of alternate rows of bricks and stones bound by mortar(opus incertum) which was designed to resist earthquakes.
Steps near the ticket office lead into the vaults and underground passageways where the animals were kept.
The local Christian community took over the amphitheatre in Byzantine times and it became a christian cemetery. A small chapel was built in the passageways for burial services This had a small baptismal well at the entrance.
At one end is a small apse. On the back walls are remains of mosaics.
It is very attractive with a tall central atrium with pillars and smaller display cases round the outside.
The ground floor has Illyrian and Roman artefacts from the local area. In March 2017 work was still on going on the Byzantine display on the first floor. There were small labels at the top of each display case in Albanian and English. There were beautiful Illyrian vases including ‘red figure vases’. There were small statues, pottery, amphorae, jewellery, coins, oil lamps and Roman glass as well as small statues of Artemis from a local temple.
Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the museum, so I had to make do with pieces of carved masonry displayed outside.
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