Whether Butrint was actually founded by the Homeric hero Aeneas, as the legend reports, will probably never be clarified. It is certain that the ruined city developed from a Roman spa and festival site to an early Christian baptismal center with Byzantine flair and that every era has left its mark.
Ruined city of Butrint: facts
|Official title:||Ruined city of Butrint|
|Cultural monument:||Remains of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a Byzantine diocese|
|Location:||Butrint, on the southwest bank of the Butrintsee|
|Appointment:||1992, expanded in 1999|
|Meaning:||outstanding example of European urban development from antiquity to the Middle Ages|
Ruined city of Butrint: history
|10th-8th Century BC Chr.||oldest finds|
|5th century BC Chr.||City expansion and construction of the Lion Gate|
|4th century BC Chr.||Construction of a 650 m long, 10 m wide and 5 m high fortress wall on the north-west bank of the Butrintsee|
|3rd century BC Chr.||City expansion, 2.5 km long city wall, amphitheater for up to|
|2nd century BC Chr.||Conquest by the Romans; Roman veterans settled under Caesar and Augustus|
|5th / 6th Century||Christian cult buildings, including Basilica (31 x 22.5 m) below the Acropolis|
|13th century||Fortifications on the canal|
|1386||Conquest by Venice|
|from 15th century||Decline due to swamping of the surrounding area|
|1996/97||partial destruction during civil war riots|
|2000||Establishment of the Butrints National Park; 2005 expanded|
A Troy in the land of the Skipetars
After the destruction of their hometown Troy by the Greeks, so at least the Roman writer Virgil reports, Aeneas and his men embarked on a long odyssey across the Mediterranean. Off the coast of Chaonia, today’s southern Albania featured by franciscogardening, they received the astonishing news of a new Troy: In Butrint, Andromache, the widow of the Trojan hero Hector, ruled together with her new husband, the seer Helenos – a subject that moved poets and inspired the French playwright Jean-Baptiste Racine in the 17th century for his tragedy “Andromaque”.
Of course, modern archeology cannot confirm these stories in detail. After all, the traces of Butrint’s settlement go back to the beginning of the first millennium BC. Andromache could hardly have chosen a more beautiful place: Butrint is enthroned on the tip of a limestone massif at the southern end of the lake of the same name, which a canal now drains into the nearby Ionian Sea. A splendid city with temples, town hall, theater and foyer, known as the »Stoa«, developed from a small castle on the Acropolis under the protection of the defensive walls, which were expanded several times.
Regardless of their proximity to Corfu and other Greek colonies, the majority of Butrint’s residents were probably not Greeks, but belonged to the Illyrian people of the Praissaiben and retained elements of their Illyrian culture well into Roman times: for example, women took part in the theater and Monumental inscriptions found on a tower of the city wall attest to a special place, had full ownership rights as a single person and could lead their family after the death of their husband, which would have been unthinkable in Greek society. It was only with the settlement of Roman veterans in Caesar’s time that Butrint completely lost his autonomy.
The Roman emperors, especially Julian the Apostate, the last pagan on the throne, gave Butrint monumental well houses, so-called “nymphaea”, and a new grammar school, which, like the bath houses, was equipped with elaborate mosaics. The bishops who had lived in the city since the 5th century also left a beautiful mosaic as the floor of the baptistery. Thanks to its walls and economic strength, Butrint survived the onslaught of the Goths and later the Normans, to finally fall into Venetian hands in 1386. Only now did the city lose its importance as a trading center and was gradually abandoned. Only in the pentagonal fortress at the top of the hill was a garrison still stationed. The last historical building by Butrint was built at the beginning of the 19th century.
The surrounding area became marshy, and rising groundwater flooded the deeper parts of the abandoned city. So today the water lilies swim in the knee-deep pond above the theater mosaic, a frog concert accompanies the spectacle of the turtles and colorful dragonflies. The amphibious symbiosis of culture and nature may seem particularly appealing to the visitor – the water gives archaeologists nightmares, and for the last residents of Butrint it must have been a hell, a breeding ground for cholera and malaria, where the Italian excavation director Luigi was still in 1936 Ugolini was to die after working in Butrint for eight years.
In the turmoil of the Albanian civil war in the 1990s, the small museum was also looted and the mosaics damaged. Fortunately, the outstanding finds, such as the marble head of the “Venus of Butrint” attributed to Praxiteles, are in the National Museum of the capital Tirana.