The earliest historical reference to the city of Durrës is from 627 BCE. The modern city is built on the top of the ruins of the ancient Epidamnos, or Dyrrachion, which became known as Dyrrachium in the Roman period. According to Thucydides, Corcyreans and Corinthians named the city Epidamnos after colonizing it. The founder was Phalius, from Corinth and a descendant of Heracles. The earliest coins of Epidamnos, dating back from the first half of the 5th century BCE, were marked with symbols of Corinthian origin. Another account, by the historian Apian, indicates that a non-Greek king named Epidamnos lived in the area before the Greeks arrived. He built the first city and named it after himself. Dyrrhachos was his grandson and the city was later named after him.
Epidamnos was involved in the Peloponnesian War, and following the war the name was changed to Dyrrachium. The war led to many political and architectural changes in the city. Trade with the Illyrians flourished during the ensuing years. Many Illyrian tombs were discovered in the city cemeteries, indicating that this period was characterized by significant cultural exchange and that people were traveling freely between the regions.
Dyrrachium was the battlefield between the legions of Caesar and Pompey during the Civil War of 49 – 48 BCE. The city sustained damages as a result. In the year 30 BCE, Dyrrachium became a Roman colony and was named Colonia Iulia Augusta Dyrrachinorum.
Most of the excavations began in the 1960s, and most of them are ongoing, allowing observers a rare opportunity to view an archaeological excavation in progress. One of the most interesting finds in the city is the “Bukuroshja e Durrësit” (Pretty Women of Durrës) mosaic, housed in the National Historic Museum in Tirana. The mosaic dates back to the 4th century BCE, surviving as a wonderful artifact from this period. In the 9th century CE, the city entered into a turbulent period.
During the 2nd century CE, the city’s status as a major trade center was further enhanced by the construction of the “Via Egnatia”, a roadway linking the Adriatic with Thessalonica and then on to Constantinople. The largest of all public buildings constructed in Dyrrachium during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE is the amphitheater, with an estimated capacity of 15,000 – 20,000 people, situated near the center of the modern city. Other important archaeological finds are the public baths dating back from the 2nd century CE, the remains of a 15 km long aqueduct built during the reign of Hadrian, the Byzantine era walls and the round forum-macellum built in the 5th – 6th centuries CE. Normans attacked the city in 1071 CE, and then in 1081 CE subsequent attacks by the Venetians, and later the Ottomans, threatened the city’s very existence. In the city of Durrës you may also visit the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museums.
Early Christian Basilica of Shën Mëhill (Saint Michael) in Arapaj: The ruins of the St. Michael Basilica (Bazilika e Shën Mëhillit) were discovered during an archaeological expedition in 1974 CE, which took place 6 kmaway from the modern city of Durrës. The church is notable for its architectural style, which features three naves, an atrium on the west side and an impressive mosaic covering a surface area of 54 m². The mosaic is almost intact and survives in a surprisingly good condition. Not far from the area, some sculptural objects dating back to the 5th – 6th centuries CE were also discovered. Many unearthed coins found around the area indicate that the settlement was in use from the 5th – 14th centuries CE. In 1081 CE, the Byzantine soldiers fleeing from the Norman invasion sought refuge in the church, and it was thus later burned to the ground by the invaders.
The Bazaar of Kruja has been protected since 1961 CE, preserving the rich characteristics of traditional Albanian markets of the 18th – 19th centuries CE. The market of Kruja covers a wide area, stretching from the center of the city to the western gate of the castle. The cobblestone street is lined with a variety of small shops displaying a range of products for sale, as well as artisans working in their studios. The roofs are made of wood, covered with tiling to protect both the shoppers and the products on display. Nowadays the original wooden facades of the market of Kruja are very well preserved. The market is famous for its diversity and for the eldest forms of merchandising, playing a special role in Albanian culture and tradition.
The Ethnographic Museum of Kruja is one of the most visited museums in the country. It is housed inside the walls of Kruja Castle and is known as one of the most organized museums of Albania. It opened in 1989 in a traditional house of the noble Toptani family, originally built in 1794. The construction is classified as a “first class building.” It is a large, two story house with 15 rooms, a garden and a water well. 90 percent of the objects displayed in this museum are original, some of them over 500 years old. Here the visitor will have the opportunity to see the guest room, the living room (with a separate section for women), the children’s room, the Turkish bath, the kitchen with its equipment, olive oil processing tools, the smithy and more. Various clothes are also on display, including Catholic and Muslim costumes. Pottery, wood works and silk, cotton and wool clothes are also on show. The Skanderbeg Museum of Kruja, housed inside the castle walls, is also worth a visit. It is dedicated to Skanderbeg, Albania’s national hero. In the cape of Rodon you can also visit the Church of Saint Anthony and the ruins of a castle.
The ancient town of Albanopolis is located in the vicinity of the modern town of Kruja. It was thought that the Illyrian castle of Zgërdhesh might actually be the site of the ancient city, Albanopolis, capital of the Albans, from whom the present day country is named. The city was built on a hill and covers an area of approximately 10 hectares. The protective walls, now measuring 90 m and still relatively intact, once stretched 1,400 meters. The large acropolis dominates approximately one third of the area that was once enclosed within the walls. Among the items unearthed at the site is a small marble statue of Artemis which is particularly beautiful. The ancient city flourished for three or four centuries but then was eventually abandoned around the second century CE.