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October, 2019

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Durres, on Albania’s coast, is around an hour from its capital, Tirana and is therefore a popular weekend seaside destination for city dwellers. We stopped on route when driving from “Berat”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/place/201853-review-berat.

During our trip, we’d been fortunate to have some excellent guides. Sadly, Durres was not one of those places and our tour was disappointing. We felt that with a different guide, we’d have gained a better insight into the city’s rich historical past and seen much more.

Durres Archaeological Museum – the museum curator provided a short introduction before leaving us to wander around. There were three floors: the top floor, still in development, was something about the sea, whilst the second was roped off with red and white tape, but it wasn’t made clear why. There were lots of artefacts from the pre-historic, Hellenistic and Roman periods. This included jewellery, shell encrusted amphora from the sea, kiln and pottery, and turquoise glass used for storing perfume rather than drinking. However, as a glass making area hadn’t been found, they surmised it had been imported. There were lots of maps and our guide went into detail about the various lines and routes, but we found it difficult to follow.

Outside, we walked past an ancient section of wall but neither of us really understood what the guide was saying and by this point, we’d lost the will to ask.

Durres Amphitheatre – Once again, there was a brief introduction from the charming ticket office girl, who told us the Roman amphitheatre, built in the 2nd century AD, had been discovered by accident in 1966 during renovations to a house above. This answered locals, who had always wondered why rain sank into the hill rather than running down it. Whilst they’d like to excavate further, it requires UNESCO funding and would mean knocking down houses. This was one of the largest theatres in the Balkans and would have seated around 15,000 spectators. Steps led to the tunnels where the gladiators and wild animals would be kept in cages, and the arches from which they emerged from. The stone steps of the theatre weren’t in good condition making it difficult to see the levels. The walls had periodic layers of stone and mortar, known as opus incertum, which acted as a buffer for earthquakes. When gladiatorial combat was banned, the area became a Christian funerary space and small chapels were created in the bowels. We saw the remains of a wall mosaic behind bars and a baptismal font.

Whilst our guidebook mentioned a number of other sites including a forum and baths, King Zog’s palace, Ottoman buildings and other monuments, these were bypassed.

This was a disappointing experience and we learned more from our guide about state-controlled fingernail and hair length and handkerchief use during the communist era. In addition, we were told that because German Mercedes were driven by the party elite, it is the reason why 70% of Albanian cars are Mercedes: apparently they’re all bought with black market money.

Six weeks after our visit, an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude hit the nearby area with most of the 52 deaths occurring in Durres.

Helen Jackson

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