Butrint had been on our list for sometime, but seeing that Albania is a little off the beaten track it took us awhile to get there. When we planned our short four day trip to the country, it looked so easy to get around. About the size of the state of Maryland, we figured it would be a couple of hours in any direction to get to a site. This is not exactly the case. What looks like big, modern highways on the map are usually not. There is one large highway, but it cuts in and out and is unbelievably difficult to stay on. Heading south out of Berat, we started on the highway and within a half an hour we had lost it. No kidding.
We love to drive, and we certainly love seeing the small villages, farmlands, the markets, the people, and we love stopping at roadside fruit stands. We bought some fresh cherries to snack on for the ride. The ride which lasted almost the entire day, even though we thought it would only take 3-4 hours. We had planned on spending the night, so we had made reservations. Since we arrived so much later than our plan, we wanted to check in first then find Butrint. Finding our small hotel turned out to be quite the goose chase. The address given, although apparently correct, showed a completely different side of town than were it was situated. We looked and looked, asking several people, and even though we were eventually successful, the time was slipping by.
All checked in, we got back in the car and drove the 20 minutes to the site of Butrint. Before even getting out of the car, we were smitten. It is situated on the waterside, and across the river is a triangle fortress. To get there, you must walk or drive on a tiny ferry that will cart you across. We were debating whether or not to just go ahead and visit the site right then or return, but upon stepping out of the car we were pleasantly surprised that there was a cool breeze. The day had been sweltering hot, and one of our decision points was that the evenings are usually so much hotter and more humid than mornings. When we felt the cooler temperature we walked up to the gate to inquire how much longer the site would be open. We had a few hours and knew that was what we wanted to do. So, in we went.
Butrint dates back to prehistoric times, and due to its supremely strategic location on the waterways between Italy and Greece, everyone wanted a piece of it. First the Greeks came in and built and pottered and created the beginnings of the city. They built the sanctuary, which is one of the must-sees on the walk around the ruins. Set not far from the water, it is still peaceful and spiritual. During the Hellenistic period, legend has it that the survivors of Troy flooded into the city to take refuge. Thus increasing its wealth which made it look very appealing to the Romans. Butrint by this time had become well-known and a popular place to buy land. The Romans continued to expand the city with a mint, an aqueduct, a forum, bathhouses, and huge villas. Supposedly some of the more intricate mosaics can be seen, but they were all covered with gravel during our visit.
Butrint is located on a picturesque lagoon, and as nature tends to do, it has started reclaiming the land. As we wandered from the amphitheater to the sanctuary, we encountered all kinds of wildlife. One villa is completely overrun by turtles, as the water level is getting higher and higher. To compensate the park authorities have built a wooden walkway so you can still get around. We also saw a number of snakes. The first was a feisty baby, then we saw a four foot water snake that was eating a fish.
At the crest of the hill is the fortress, where the museum is located, and it has spectacular views of the surrounding area. The museum was quite small, but we did see one inscription on a marble plaque that we found interesting. On it Lucius, spelled LL UCI, had someone carve for him that was no longer a slave. Apparently this was a common practice to free a slave after he had either outlived his/her usefulness or to prove that you are so rich that you had no need for keeping slaves, you could pay your workers.
After we had explored the museum, chased all the snakes we could find, and gawked at more ruins, we were fully done. Remember when I said there was a pleasant breeze by the water, and that is why we had decided to go ahead and tour the park in late afternoon? Well that didn’t last long. In fact, because of the encroaching nature or swamp, hiking up and down and around was very humid. We were drenched. We downed a liter of water each when we got back to the car, and headed off to take a shower and find dinner.
After our fiasco of trying to find our hotel room earlier, we decided to walk to dinner. Luckily we were close to a small beach with a restaurant/bar. We were the first ones there, so they still had very cold beer. This was very important. We ordered calamari and watched one of the most gorgeous sunsets of the year.
Have you been to Albania? Would you visit the ruins of Butrint?