Butrint, ancient Buthrotum, is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in southwest Albania. Situated on the Straits of Corfu, and surrounded by a picturesque lagoon, it is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the Adriatic region. The city served as a port from Hellenistic to Ottoman times. The site has been occupied since at least the 9th century B.C, but legends hint to the city’s foundation by Trojan exiles.
Butrint owes its growth and early fame to a sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The sanctuary was located on the south slope of the acropolis. Worshippers came to the sanctuary in order to be healed, leaving symbolic objects and money to the god and his attendant priests. The sanctuary was the making of Butrint and the sacred power of Butrint’s water was revered as long as the town lasted.
By the 4th century B.C., a walled settlement had been established and the city began to grow through trade. Augustus founded a colony at Butrint and the town remained a relatively small Roman port until the 6th century A.D. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the city shrank in population and significance. Butrint then entered a turbulent period and control of the city was bitterly fought for by the Byzantine, Norman, Angevin, and Venetian states. Later ownership was disputed by Venetians, the Ottoman Turks and, briefly, the French. By the time it became part of Albania in 1912, it was virtually deserted. Various archeological efforts began in the 1920’s and continue until today. Butrint was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
The grounds of Butrint feature an impressive array of historically significant archaeological sites. Foremost among them is the theater, which dates from the 4th century, B.C. and seats approximately 1,500 spectators. Dramatic performances are still staged there at a festival each summer. An impressive baptistery with extensive mosaics and basilica from the 6th century A.D. can also be viewed. A canal and vestiges of Roman courtyard houses lie near the theater. Additionally, kilometers of imposing walls surround much of the site. Nearby, the recently renovated Butrint Museum houses many fascinating objects unearthed during various archeological digs.