Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development.
The city of Butrint is one of the fragments which form the fabric of Albania’s ancient cultural landscape. Nestling in the highlands in the far south of the country and surrounded by dense vegetation, Butrint was linked to the Mediterranean by the Vivari canal, which runs from the Butrint Lake to the Ionian Sea.
Excavations have brought the light to many objects – plates, vases, ceramic candlesticks – as well as sculptures including a remarkable ‘Goddess of Butrint‘ which seems to completely embody, in the perfection of its features, the Greek ideal of physical beauty.
Under the rule of the Romans the city was to fall slowly into decay. In spite of this, three monumental fountains, three public baths, a gymnasium decorated with mosaics, and especially the aqueduct constructed during the reign of Augustus, prove that the site was not completely abandoned.
In the palaeo-Christian period, two basilicas and a baptistry were built; its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved, first, in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and then in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. Subterranean infiltration of water forced the inhabitants to flee, and the abandoned city was covered by mud and vegetation.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that systematic excavations were carried out by Italian archaeologists; following the liberation of Albania in 1944, Albanian archaeologists undertook more ambitious excavations. The mud and vegetation that covered Butrint had protected it from the natural and human ravages of time, and the entire city was revealed almost intact.
Key areas of excavation include a late antique palatial dwelling known as the Triconch Palace, the spectacular late antiquity baptistry, and a Roman villa and associated late antiquity church at Diaporit.
Text Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC