Vlora is one of the largest and most populous cities in Albania. It is 130 km from the capital, 120 km from Mother Teresa International Airport, and is home to the second largest port in Albania. Vlora is rich in history and antiquity. This historic city dates back to the 6th century B.C., when it was known as Aulona. Fragments of the massive wall surrounding Aulona have been found in the center of the city, close to Sheshi i Flamurit (Flag Square). In 1081, the city fell under Norman dominion. In the 14th century it was part of the Kingdom of Arbëria, ruled by the Balshaj, Albanian princes, until 1417 when the city was invaded by the Ottomans. In 1812, the city came under the control of Ali Pashë Tepelena, and one century later, on November 28th, 1912, it became the first capital of an independent Albania, ruled by the government of Ismail Qemali. The most interesting sights in Vlora include the Independence Museum (in the headquarters building of the first government), the History Museum, and the Ethnographic Museum. Among the religious objects in Vlora, the most important is the Mosque of Muradie, built in 1542 by the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, Mimar Sinan, who was originally from the region.(He was born in Agirnas district of Kayseri- Turkey). He is the constructor of the famous Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and is also known for his work in other cities in Turkey such as Edirne (for the Selymie Mosque), Erzurum, and many others. Also, a prominent hill above the city is home to the Bektashi Tekke of Kuzum Babai. The site offers an amazing view of the city of Vlora, the peninsula of Karaburun, the island of Sazan, and the lagoon of Narta. There are also several interesting clubs and restaurants in the city of Vlora.
Amantia was the historical capital of the Illyrian tribe of Amanties, founded around the 5th century BCE. Its present location is near the village of Plloça in the river valley of Vlora. At its peak, Amantia featured an acropolis and a Doric style temple dedicated to Aphrodite. The most notable archeological object among the preserved features is the stadium, measuring 60 x 12.5 meters. A significant sculptural object is the bas-relief of the God of Fertility, which can be seen at the National Historic Museum. Additional relics from Amantia are on display at the Archaeological Museum.
Finiq (Phoenice) is located near the modern city of Saranda and is about 20 km north of Butrint Lake and the Albanian border with Greece. During antiquity the territory surrounding the settlement belonged to Chaonia, part of the Epirus kingdom. The site is rich in findings from the Classical to the Byzantine period. Ancient sources mentioned the wealth of the city, especially during the Hellenistic period, between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, when Finiq was a prominent city in the Epirote League. The city of Finiq hosted the historically significant signing of the treaty ending the first Macedonian War. This document took the name of “The Peace of Phoenice.” The city’s prosperity continued throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Ottoman occupation appears to have caused the shrinking of the city of Finiq. Phoenice boasts several archaeologically important relics, including a small prostylos temple, a theater, exemplars of Hellenistic houses, and several Roman water cisterns.This picturesque site also contains an important Byzantine church.
Behind the Independence Monument Square in Vlora, the excavated remains of a rectangular castle are visible. The castle comprised a portion of the ancient city of Aulona and was built in the 4th century CE to withstand Gothic invasions. Other finds in the area indicate that it was first settled during the 4th century BCE. The most famous find from this period is a sculpture known as “the aulonian girl”, depicting a girl wearing an Illyrian dress. Historical sources mention Aulona in the 2nd century CE, in relation to Roman efforts to improve roads in this part of the western Balkans. In various itineraries, Aulon is mentioned as a principal stopping place on the main road from Dyrrachium to Butrint. Following the Gothic invasions of the 5th century CE, an archdiocese was established inside the castle. During the reign of Justinian, the castle was further fortified by his direct orders. Late in the 6th century CE, Slavs invaded the city, causing widespread damage and an evacuation by many citizens to the island of Sazan, where traces of this settlement have been discovered. The city might have never regained its status, appearing to have diminished significantly in size and importance. Aulona is mentioned again in Byzantine documents, around 1100 CE.
Treport: Excavations near the Cape of Treport, located in the lagoon of Narta, have revealed traces of an ancient settlement dating back to the 7th century BCE. Over the centuries, the settlement expanded and a new wall was built around it in the 4th century BCE. Between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE, the city prospered. The original name of the city is unknown, but according to finds in the area, the indicated name is Daulia. The city was mysteriously abandoned after the 2nd century BCE, but this might have been related to the Illyrian-Roman wars.
Orikum (Orikos) is located in southwest Albania, about 40 km south of the archaeological site of Apollonia. According to Pliny, colonists from Colchis established the city of Orikum. Its geographical position made it an important harbor and a trading center on the Adriatic coast. Orikum was important to military strategists as well. It was used by the Romans as a defensive base in the wars against the Illyrians as well as in the 3rd century BCE against the Macedonians, who later occupied it in 214 BCE. Julius Caesar used the area as a troop encampment for several months until Pompeius Magnus took them. Being subject to such varied cultural influences, Orikum became a thriving urban center. This is evident by various archaeological ruins, such as part of an orchestra platform and a small theater with the capacity to hold 400 spectators. Additionally, ruins of protective walls and streets are visible lying underwater in a lagoon. The emperor Theodore commissioned the nearby Marmiroi Church, of Byzantine origin, in the 13th century CE. It has a small 6m x 9m main hall and a dome approximately 3m in diameter that is supported by four Roman arches. Its internal walls feature fragments of murals that reflect various aspects of Byzantine culture. The church has three entrances and is renowned for its elaborate construction and architectural significance. Today Orikum is an important city, which has been part of many regional development programs and has seen a distinct increase in the tourism sector. This is a result of its proximity to the Adriatic Sea and its relative position to other nearby cities.
Onchesmos (Saranda) is the name of the ancient town derived from Anchises, the Trojan warrior whose mythological union with the goddess Aphrodite resulted in a son named Aeneas. Aeneas, along with his father and his son, Ascanius, escaped the sacking of Troy, and journeyed throughout the Mediterranean. Dionysos of Halicarnassus calls Onchesmos the Harbor of Anchises, and the Byzantine historian, Procopius, mentions that Anchises died at Onchesmos. During the 6th century CE, the town’s name changed to Hagia Saranda or “Forty Saints”. The circumstances of this name change are unclear, but might be related to the construction of a great basilica overlooking the modern city of Saranda. Various monuments and archaeological finds of the city have been excavated. Among the more impressive finds are the ruins of a synagogue, a portion of a Roman imperial archway, and the ruins of a late antiquity house. Also noteworthy are an apsidal building, an odeon, a cemetery, and an elaborate mosaic widely known as the Dolphin Pavement.
The Monastery of Saint Nicolas in Mesopotam is a beautiful monument located in the village of Mesopotam, not far from the touristic city of Saranda. It is quite accessibile thanks to its location on the national road linking Saranda with Gjirokastra. It is a Byzantine church, reconstructed two times in the years 1793 and 1843 CE. The main characteristic of the monastery is its distinctive defense features. The fortified wall surrounding the monastery includes rectangular towers. As it is also near the National Park of Butrint, it attracts numerous visitors.
Muradie Mosque is located in the very heart of the city of Vlora. It is a sultan style mosque, with a dome built in the second half of the 16th century CE. It consists of a prayer hall and a minaret built of carved stone. This monument has a harmonious distribution of its windows. Mimar Sinan Aga the Great, an architect of Albanian origin who was one of the most important mosque builders in the Ottoman Empire, carried out the design and construction of this mosque. It is supposed that he was born in the village of Gjergaj (modern day Sinanaj) in the region of Tepelena, southern Albania. He is considered the greatest architect of the classical period of Ottoman architecture, often compared to Michelangelo. Muradie Mosque is the only structure that has remained from this master in Albania.
The Fortified Settlement of Karos is located near the village of Qeparo, along the Qeparo River. The location was clearly chosen for its natural defenses, as the fortress is situated atop a hill. Approachers from virtually any direction would face a difficult climb up a rocky slope. The original defensive walls apparently had only one entrance. The present state of the walls is a mere shadow of what it used to be, but it still extends for 350 m and is approximately 3 m thick. It varies in height, but reaches a maximum of 1.5 m in its ruined state. Two structures behind the entrance gate would have provided additional barriers for attackers and suggests just how heavily fortified this location once was. Origins of the settlement are unknown, but artifacts unearthed during the archaeological dig represent a wide range of inhabitants from the Early Iron Age to the 4th century C.E.
The region of Vlora is very rich with other sites. We should mention a number of orthodox churches along the Albanian Riviera, including the Chuch of Saint Mary of Mesodhia (1783 CE) and the Church of Saint Spiridhoni (1778CE) in Vuno, the Chuch of Ipapandia in Dhërmi, the Church of Saint Mary of Athali in Himara and the traditional houses of Odise Kasneci in Vuno and Lilo LLazari in Himara.
Other monuments in the district of Vlora include the Church of Marmiroi (13th century CE) close to Orikum, the towers of Dervish Aliu in the village of Dukat, the Castle of Kanina and the Gjon Boçari Castle in the village of Tragjas. In the district of Saranda, you may also visit the ruins of the Monastery of the 40 Saints (close to Saranda), the Lëkursi Castle (2 km south of Saranda) and the small castle at the entrance of the Vivari channel near Burtint.
As regards museums in the city of Vlora, you may visit the Museum of Independence, the Ethnographic Museum and the Historic Museum.