Albania: Durres history

With a history as old as Europe, Durres is Albania’s most ancient city. The fame of Durres rose with the Greek Colony. It was here by the Adriatic Sea, on the land of the Illyrian tribe of the Taulanti, that they would settle in the 627 BC. They came from Corinth and Corcyra and would stay for over 300 years; until the city was captured in 312 BC by the Illyrian King Glaucus. Appian Alexandrinius, a writer of the 2nd century BC tells us the founder of Durres was called Epidamnos and named the town after himself. His nephew was called Dyrrachion and built a pier on a bay near the city which he named after himself. Later Strabo, the Greek geographer, writes Dyrrachion took its name from the peninsula on which Durres was founded.

The Greeks set a foundation for a city that would stand the test of time. For several centuries, when part of the Roman Empire, Durres became the greatest city on the Adriatic. In the first two centuries of Roman power, an amphitheater, a library, public baths, an aqueduct, and many luxurious villas were built. It was at its port that the Via Ignatia, the Military Highway of the Balkans, began and led to the east past other major cities of the time like Manscio Scampa (Elbasan) and Thessaloniki to Byzantium. Durres’ ancient port, the largest of Illyricum, has survived over 2000 years, and is still Albania’s largest port today. The city became a center of trade and gave and took goods from other major cities of the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, and the Italian Peninsula.

Durres like the rest of Albania has been invaded often through the ages. Perhaps, even more so, owing to the fact it is susceptible to invasion by sea. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Bulgars, Serbs, Normans, Achaeans (Greeks), Venetians, Sicilians, Turks, Nazi Germans, Italians, and the like have all passed through Durres. Some stayed a very long time. The ancient Greeks spent over 300 years here; the Romans over 400; the Byzantine Empire held Durres for 800 years, the longest of all, with periodic interruptions from Albanian families or invaders, which lasted for years to decades to even centuries. After the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire held Durres for over 400 years.

Of all eras, a little to a lot of evidence can still be found today. Greek artifacts abound. Numerous historical sights worthy of recognition stand today. The Romans built the 1500 seat amphitheater, the second largest in the Balkans. The Roman era also gave Durres a castle, a small part of which still stands. The Byzantine Empire which held Durres the longest time, built a church in the 9th Century. The Venetians built a tower in the 1500’s, which still stands and in good shape, although as a cafe. While the Turks who would hold Durres for four centuries converted the population to Islam and built mosques. Later in the early 20th century, the Italians built roads and government buildings.

Important personages have noted Durres. Aristotle wrote of its constitution. Cicero wrote “I came to Durres because this is a free city and loyal to me,” and may well have lectured here, perhaps at the amphitheater itself. Julius Caesar came here probably during Rome’s fight with Pompey, which happened on the Adriatic coast. Durres captures the imagination for its ancient storied past, in particular for its classic Greco Roman civilization. While today it has been outshined by Tirana, it was in fact declared modern Albania’s first capital in 1912, and remains Albania’s second largest city. Though Durres may be thought of as second best, and a “has been,” its history is old as Europe itself.


Hoti, Afrim. Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion Durres. Cetis. Tirana, 2006.


Venetian Tower

Published by

George Shetuni

I am an author of fiction, essays, and poetry. I also enjoy blogging. In my blog, I write about self help, motivation, and literature.

2 thoughts on “Albania: Durres history”

  1. Wow, George! I had no idea how multi-faceted and diverse the region known as Albania was and is. I could never keep the succession of empires straight in my mind.
    I’m glad you are finding time to record your thoughts in a blog, mainly because blogs are very forgiving if the author makes a mistake, or decides to rewrite something. So you can feel free, I think, to explore ideas that come to you as you dig deeper into your Albanian heritage.


    I have a question for you. A few decades ago, in Columbus, Ohio, when I introduced you and your brother to bicycles, I was surprised to learn that Albanians usually do not learn to ride bikes as kids. When I asked your Dad about it, he explained that bikes really were not an Albanian thing.
    “Why not?” I asked?
    “Because much of Albania consists of small villages in mountainous terrain. Their streets are ‘paved’ (if that’s the right word) with very uneven cobblestones.”
    “Well,” said I, “once your family relocated to Columbus, you learned to bicycle rather quickly and quite well, as I recall.”
    I’m recalling now how my daughter Larissa got interested in unicycles, and actually taught herself how to stay upright on one. Even more amazing — just this past week she taught herself to ride an electric unicycle. She is more than 50 years old.
    I’m feeling my age just imagining how that looks.
    Enough for now,
    your ever-lovin’ Uncle Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Uncle Tom, yes I have been blogging for several years and love it. As you say, blogs have advantages to books.
      I love the opportunity to explore my Albanian heritage with this blog. Yes, bicycles are quite common in Albania nowadays. They have just about everything there now. The progress there astounds me; but there is some regress too. That also astounds me.
      I have fond memories when we all used to ride bikes and dine at OSU. My best to Larissa. Bravo, hobbies like that keep one young!
      my best,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s