Butrint (ancient Buthrotum) has made my list of ‘top ten archaeological sites of the eastern Mediterranean.’ The ancient town was our final stop in southern Albania before our group crossed the border to Greece early last week. The site occupies a peninsula on the Vivari channel that connects the Ionian sea to Lake Butrint, and the acropolis provides panoramic views of the town surrounded by water. The archaeological remains preserved and excavated at the site are impressive—enormous fortifications and towers of ancient to early modern date, a standing church of 6th-7th century date, monumental baptistery with impressive mosaic floors (but covered during our visit), Roman baths, Hellenistic theater, late Roman palace, nymphaeum, inscribed manumission records, and gymnasium, among many others. Butrint has for good reason been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The official website for the park (http://www.butrint.org/index.php) allows the visitor to explore particular monuments at the site.
The city has much to offer the person interested in Corinthian history. Located on a peninsula with a view of the island of Corinth’s colony Corfu (ancient Corcyra), Corinthian influence was deep during the archaic and classical periods. Unlike Corinth, the city was spared the destruction and dissolution of the 2nd-1st centuries BC, but like Corinth Butrint was colonized by Julius Caesar in 44 BC and again by Augustus not much later. The archaeological museum at the site brought to mind familiar parallels to early Roman Corinth: commerce town benefiting from advantageous location, suburban districts across the Vivari Channel, images of the imperial family, honorific decrees, Roman perspectives, highly stratified society.
When telling people of my trip to Albania prior to departure, I often got the question ‘why?’ but having been there, that one now seems a bit strange. Why rather do few visit even Saranda and Butrint in southern Albania when the journey from nearby Corfu is so brief?