Butrint National Park

Butrint /Buthrotum/ is spectacular archaeological site and the National Park of Albania that occupies a beautiful and small peninsula between the Straits of Corfu and Butrint Lake in the far south of Albania. Inhabited since the prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city, and an Epirote bishopric and the Ottoman reign. Located on a Peninsula extending into Lake Butrint, the town site was an important location through history, known as Bouthroton or  Bouthrotios in Ancient Greek and Buthrotum in Latin, with numerous archaeological finds from the long and turbulent history excavated in the area. According to a legend, the Butrint city was founded in the 12th century BC by fleeing Troyans after the victorious Greeks had burnt their town of Troy.

Under Emperor Augustus, great Roman building works were instigated at the Buthrotum including an aqueduct bringing water for fountains, and bath houses creating a lovely city core with a large forum, gymnasium and theaters, along with villas and palaces. By the 5th century AD, Christianity was established in Butrint, and large basilicas and structures were built or created within previously built structures. Butrint passed through rule under the Slavs, Byzantines, and Angevins. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the ancient city of Butrint was abandoned in the late Middle ages, when marshes covered the whole area. In 1386, the Venetian Republic purchased the area from the Angevin Kings and held control of Butrint and the island of Corfu just across the straits until the fall of the Venetian Empire in the late 1700’s. Following periods of Byzantine and Venetian rule the city was largely abandoned at the end of the Middle Ages when marshland encroached on its territory. By the early 19th century it was merely a small fishing village set around a Venetian fortress on the southern bank of the Vivari Channel. After that the Butrint area fell under Ottoman Rule until Albanian Independence was declared in 1912. In communist times, Butrint was a militarised buffer zone separating Saranda from northern Greece. During communist regime when Nikita Kruschev made a visit in 1960, a road was constructed from Saranda to the Butrint archaeological site. The Soviet leader proposed to build a submarine base in Lake Butrint with a deepened channel connected to the Straits of Corfu. Since 1991, this largely uninhabited region of south Albania has been threatened with uncontrolled development towards creating mass tourism.

Butrint harbors some of the most extensive archaeological remains in the Balkans: Greek, Illyrian, Roman, Venetian and Ottoman ruins co-exist here on a tiny green peninsula between a lake and the Straits of Corfu. The most illustrious parts of the rich Butrint archaeological site are the Temple of Asklepios, the Old Amphitheater, Nymphaeum and the Baptistery, with its intact mosaic pavement dating to the early sixth century. The Butrint amphitheater, dating from the 3rd century BC is situated at the foot of the acropolis, close by two temples, one of which is dedicated to Asclepios, the Greek god of medicine. The Triconch Palace inside Butrint was completed for public viewing in 2005, the Roman villa and pilgrimage site at Diaporit was completed in 2006 and the Roman suburb on the Vrina Plain was completed in 2008.

The Balkan Theater Festival is held traditionally every July at the Butrint amphitheater. The sprawling Butrint fortress of the notorious Ali Pasha is practically surrounded by water, the castle on top housing an excellent museum, high above hollow shells of the ages. At Butrint the only tourists seen are day-trippers from Corfu. The present archaeological site of Butrint is a repository of the ruins representing each period in the Butrint city’s development. The Butrint National Park has been established in 2000 by the Albanian Government, and supported with substantial funds of the Government, UNESCO and other institutions. The limits of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint were expanded in 1999 to include not only the walled city from the Greek, Roman and the Medieval periods (approximately 16 ha), but an additional 184 ha to better protect the site.

Butrint National Park is located about 25 km to the south of Saranda and belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage. Butrint features high scientific, tourist and archaeological values as well as a high biodiversity. The Butrint National Park spreads on 2,500 hectares. Butrint area is composed by a tectonic lagoon of 1600 ha, known as Lake Butrint, that is surrounded by forested hills and mountains and complemented by saltwater and freshwater marshlands. The following activities besides touring the Butrint site can be carried out in this area: blue tourism in Ksamil, ecotourism in Butrint lake, fishing, water sports etc.