Vlora – Valona

Vlora – Valona is the coastal city of Albania, where the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea meet, one of the largest and the most populous cities of Albania – with some 150000 inhabitans. Vlora is located 130 km south of Tirana capital, 120 km from Mother Teresa International Airport, 123 km from Greece (the island of Corfu), on the beautiful southwest coast of the Ionian Sea, fully covered with olives and surrounded with the foot of the gigantic Ceraunian Mountains, which stretch for some 100 km along the Albanian coast from the Greek border to the Otranto Straits, in northwestern diretion. The western vanguard of the city of Vlora – Valona is the island of Sazan at the entrance to the Vlora Bay and the Karaburun Peninsula with which it keeps “the key” to the Strait of Otranto, and the city with the lagoon of Zvernec and the castle of Kanina.

The prefecture of Vlora – Valona includes 4 cities – Vlore, Selenica, Himara and Orikum, and is mostly populated by Greeks, with about 90.000 Greeks living there. Vlora – Valona hosts the second largest port in Albania and makes importation destination of ferry lines in the Adriatic and the Ionian seas, linking Vlora and the Albanian Riviera with Greece and Italy such as Corfu-Saranda, Brindizi – Vlora, Bari – Vlora.
Vlora is rich with history and antiquity which dates back to the 6th century B.C., when it was known as Aulona. Exactly at the Valona Bay was the official border of the Roman provinces of Epirus – the Epirus Nova and Epirus Vetus, while later in the 9th century it used to be the border of the Bulgarian Kingdon of Tsar Simeun and the Byzantine Empire. Fragments of the massive wall surrounding Aulona have been found in the center of the city, close to Sheshi i Flamurit (“Flag Square”, with the the sculpture worked by Albanian artist, Mumtaz Dhrami.). In 1081, the city fell under Norman dominion, and after that here was the seat with large possessions of the Serbian Prince Mrksa Žarkovic. In the 14th century it was part of the “Kingdom of Arbëria” ruled by the Balsha Serbian Family, until 1417 when the city was invaded by the Ottomans. In 1812, the city came under the control of Ali Pashë Tepelena, and one century later, on November 28, 1912, it became the first capital of an independent Albania, ruled by the government of Ismail Qemali, who raised the Albanian national flag and established an independent government. After the foundation of the independent Republic of Albania in 1913, Epirus was divided between Southern Albania and Epirus in Greece. According to the mainstream public opinion in Greece the Greek speaking people of Orthodox religion living in Southern Albania are called Northern Epirots (Vorioepirotes).
The most interesting sights of Vlora include the Independence Museum (in the headquarters building of the first government), the History Museum, and the Ethnographic Museum. Among the religious objects in Vlora, one of the most important is the Mosque of Muradie, built in 1542 by the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, Mimar Sinani, who was probably originally from the region. He is the constructor of the famous Suleymanye Mosque in Istanbul and had also rebuilt other cities in Turkey, such as Edirne (Selymie Mosque), Erzurum and others. Also, a prominent hill above the city is home to the Bektashi Tekke of Kuzum Babai. The site offers an amazing view of the city of Vlora, the beautiful and historically important peninsula of Karaburun, the island of Sazan and the Narta lagoon. There are also several interesting clubs and restaurants in the city of Vlora.
North of the city of Vlora is the lagoon of Narta, the second biggest lagoon in Albania. There are 195 species of waterfowl living in the area, and Mediterranean woods and sand dunes cover the tract of land dividing the lagoon from the sea. It’s a good place to observe the seabirds or to fish. The water is full of different kinds of fish, especially eels and bass. The village of Narta stands south of the lagoon on the water’s edge, and is surrounded by low hills covered with vineyards that are used to make one of the best artisan wines in Albania. The lagoon also offers the picturesque view of the village of Zvërneci and of the nearby island, which hosts the Byzantine-style Church and the Monastery of Saint Mary from the 14th century which is one of the most frequented tourist attractions.
The lagoon ends with the Cape of Treporti, which joins the forest-covered hill to form a beautiful natural ensemble. Continuing the journey southward, you will be able to see and enjoy the panoramic view of this part of the Gulf of Vlora. After passing through the tunnel in the area known as Uji i Ftohtë (“Cold Water”, named after a nearby mountain stream that flows into the sea), you will see the tourist area of Jonufër, with its small rocky beaches well known for their crystal-clear waters. Beyond Jonufri lies Rradhima, which continues for several kilometres up to the Dukati stream, near the small city of Orikumi. The beaches in Rradhima fatures beautiful colors, with vivid contrasts between the deep blue of the sea and the green hills, with their Mediterranean olive and citrus plantations. The Gulf of Vlora is also the perfect place to go diving. There are several sunken ships like “PO”, the Italian ship that sank in 1941 during the Italian – Greek war. You might also want to dive into the waters of Zhiron to observe the green and black algae. Crystalline beaches extend to the southern-most and beautiful Albanian town of Saranda.
The small city of Orikum lies 15 km away from Vlora, 42 km south of the Greek colony of Apollonia, on the southern end of the Gulf of Vlora, near a marina that can berth 650 yachts. Orikum was one of the most important cities in the ancient world, the most ancient port on the coast of Vlore. The settlers from the island of Eubea founded it during their retreat from the Trojan War. Orikum’s strategic position turned it into the main port of the Illyrian Amant clan and it played an important role in the civil wars between Caesar and Pompey. During the Byzantine period, the small port of Orikum took the holy name “Jerico”. This is because of the presence of a Jewish community in the bay of Vlora. During the Ottoman occupation, Orikum took the name of “Pasha Liman”. The most important archaeological object is the antique theater of Orikum, with 400-500 seats. Another notable local site is the Orthodox Church of Marmiroi dating from the Byzantine period. The church is mentioned in historical records for the first time in 1307. Given that it has no narthex, and due to other similarities with other similar churches in Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia, it is thought to have been built in the 12th or 13th century AD, although some researchers have put its construction period in the 10th century. The most accredited hypothesis is that it was dedicated to Saint Mary. The church has three entrances and is renowned for its complex construction and architectural values.

Orikum is a good start point for exploration of the Karaburun peninsula which encloses the western part of the Gulf of Vlora, at the eastern side of the Strait of Otranto where the Adriatic Sea meets the Ionian Sea. The western shore of Karaburun is spectacular, with small gulfs and isolated beaches of deep and clear water. The marine Cave of Haxhi Alia (a 17th century sailor from Ulqin) is set north of the Karaburun peninsula. Antique writings have been found in the steep slopes close to the beach of Grame (the name derives from the Greek word Gramata). In this place was supposed to be the ancient temple of the Pelasgian princess Ledea.