Durres (Albania)

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Durrës is a port city on the Adriatic Sea in western Albania, west of the capital, Tirana. It’s known for its huge Roman amphitheater. Nearby is a 9th-century church with mosaic-covered walls. The Archaeological Museum displays pieces from the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman periods. Broad Durrësi Beach has shallow waters. Nearby is the former summer villa of 20th-century King Zog.

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Durres is a versatile port city with both a modern and ancient appeal. If fun in the sun is in order look no further than the waterfront, where Albania’s largest and liveliest beach buzzes with activity in summer. Durres is also replete with Roman and Byzantine heritage – you can discover the remnants of Albania’s biggest amphitheatre here, while both the city defences and forum date back 1500 years. You could also travel inland to see the castle where Albanian national icon Skanderbeg fought off three Ottoman sieges in the 1400s, or continue on to Tirana to visit the nation’s capital.

1. Durres Amphitheatre

Surely one of the greatest pieces of ancient architecture in Albania, if not the Balkans, the Durres Amphitheatre was built in 100AD by Hadrian and was only rediscovered in the 1960s. It was used for about 300 years and back then it could as many as 20,000 spectators. This grand scale is part of what makes the landmark special, but archaeologists are also intrigued by how the building demonstrates the Roman transition to Christianity. Within this site is a chapel with stunning wall mosaics of saints, showing how the amphitheatre took on a religious purpose later in its life.

2. Durres Castle

This monument consists of a single tower and wall, and is referred to in many guides as the Venetian Tower. It dates way back to the 400s, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I who was born in this city. Since its construction Durres Castle has seen some serious action, having been reinforced by the Venetians just before the city’s conquest by the Ottomans. In 1939 the castle was the base for a ragtag collection of Albanian patriots trying to delay the advance of the Italian army. Some 360 locals held their ground successfully until armoured Italian units disembarked at the port and took the city.

3. Durres Beach

Albania’s most popular destination for a day by the sea, Durres Beach stretches out for more than ten kilometres along the city’s waterfront. The urban part of the beach is crazy in the summer, when it’s packed with people from all walks of life. There are all manner of things going on, from games of table football to water sports events. You’ll never need to leave your seat for a snack as hawkers patrol the arteries between the tight grids of sunbeds, selling a huge array of drinks and foodstuffs, often from the packs of donkeys that they lead along the sand.

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