At least Albania’s not on globetrotter Gunnar Garfors list of the 25 least visited countries in the world like Libya. Gunnar claims to have been in every country, even the 25 most ignored ones like Somalia with only 500 tourists showing up in 2012. He has, therefore, been to Albania. This Balkan country is making a big effort to increase tourism. Only one of the obstacles in its way is the fact that it’s across the Adriatic Sea from traveler magnet Italy. Another is that its major resort city on the Adriatic is bedraggled Durres.
Durres was once Albania’s capital. Its one of the oldest cities in Albania and, currently, its 2nd largest with about 100,000 residents. Its ancient name was Epidamnos. That was almost 3,000 years ago when it was founded by Greeks in 627 BCE. When it was part of the Roman Empire, Durres was where Julius Caesar fought his last battle with Pompey. One of the few reasons to visit Durres, in my opinion, is to see what’s left of a Roman amphitheater, the 2nd largest in The Balkans. It was constructed in the 2nd century AD and doesn’t photograph especially well.
Durres is Albania’s major seaside resort town. During the years when Russia had major influence, Soviets liked to vacation here. Today ethnic Albanians from Kosovo favor Durres for their annual beach time. I personally would not go in the water. Its 6-mile-long beach with hundreds of hotels claustrophobically side by side developed haphazardly. This resort area is so close to city center and a busy port that Durres’ urban waste, according to Lonely Planet, “causes frequent outbreaks of skin infections in swimmers”. I saw many empty buildings but was told that, being May, the busy summer season had not yet begun.
The Roman theater seated up to 20,000. Built during Emperor Trajan’s time, it was unusual in that it was within city walls in the heart of Duyrrachium and close to the sea rather than outside town center like other large Roman amphitheaters. As a result of its urban location, the area filled in completely with houses after a major 4th century earthquake and rising Christianity caused a shut-down. The amphitheater wasn’t rediscovered until 1966 when a tree fell and a gallery appeared. There are still houses perched atop its exposed walls even though it has become a major archaeological and tourist site. These dwellings will eventually be removed, I was told. In Roman times, our guide said, there were 3 shows per day. The 1st paired animals, the 2nd was a beast vs gladiator affair, and the evening event brought combat between 2 desperate-to-win gladiators.