The ancient ruins of Butrint, 18km south of Saranda, are famed for their size, beauty and tranquillity. They’re in a fantastic natural setting and are part of a 29-sq-km national park. The remains – Albania’s finest – are from a variety of periods, spanning 2500 years. Set aside at least two hours to explore.
This place is in the middle of nowhere in Southern Albania. There is no bus stop. You just have to motion to the driver to pull over at the side of the road when you see a promising looking dirt trail. You take that trail off the main road, all the time assuming that you couldn’t possibly be in the right place. At the end of the trek, you’ll find the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to eat on the little floating deck they’ve installed in the river that flows out of the Eye. The restaurant serves heaping plates of lamb ribs, grilled over charcoal and big bottles of cold Albanian beer, all for a few dollars. A short walk up a dirt path from the restaurant lies the main destination: a coldwater spring of unknown depth and unbelievable color that bubbles up into a green little grotto. It’s often too cold and fast for a swim, but it’s refreshing to put your feet into and beautiful to hang around.
The area is protected and veery attractive for tourist for its recreational views. Islands are a wonderful oasis of marine and terrestrial landscapes covered with typical Mediterranean vegetation. Under water sea we meet a very rich flora and fauna, where is worth mentioning phanerogam (Halophyla stipulacea) and bivalve ( Pinna nobilis ), species protected by the conventions to which Albania adheres. Lake Butrint has environmental problems, but it is important in particular for aquaculture and its avifauna, including Lake range (Bufi), which communicates to the east. Rich fauna especially in reptiles and insects, many species of which are protected species. Having within its borders ancient city of Butrint, subject to UNESCO, the park is a very attractive area for visitors and tourists. It is the most organized park in our country, has also management plan.
Although the site was inhabited long before, Greeks from Corfu settled on the hill in Butrint (Buthrotum) in the 6th century BC. Within a century Butrint had become a fortified trading city with an acropolis. The lower town began to develop in the 3rd century BC, and many large stone buildings had already been built by the time the Romans took over in 167 BC. Butrint’s prosperity continued throughout the Roman period, and the Byzantines made it an ecclesiastical centre. The city then went into a long decline and was abandoned until 1927, when Italian archaeologists arrived. These days Lord Rothschild’s UK-based Butrint Foundation helps maintain the site.
As you enter the site the path leads to the right, to Butrint’s 3rd-century-BC Greek theatre, secluded in the forest below the acropolis. Also in use during the Roman period, the theatre could seat about 2500 people. Close by are the small public baths, where geometric mosaics are buried under a layer of mesh and sand to protect them from the elements.
Deeper in the forest is a wall covered with crisp Greek inscriptions, and the 6th-century palaeo-Christian baptistry decorated with colourful mosaics of animals and birds, again under the sand. Beyond are the impressive arches of the 6th-century basilica, built over many years. A massive Cyclopean wall dating back to the 4th century BC is further on. Over one gate is a relief of a lion killing a bull, symbolic of a protective force vanquishing assailants.
The top of the hill is where the acropolis once was. There’s now a castlehere, housing an informative museum. The views from the museum’s courtyard give you a good idea of the city’s layout, and you can see the Vivari Channel connecting Lake Butrint to the Straits of Corfu. There are community-run stalls inside the gates where you can buy locally produced souvenirs.