Butrint, located in the south of Albania approximately 20km from the modern city of Saranda, has a special atmosphere created by a combination of archaeology, monuments and nature in the Mediterranean. With its hinterland it constitutes an exceptional cultural landscape, which has developed organically over many centuries. Butrint has escaped aggressive development of the type that has reduced the heritage value of most historic landscapes in the Mediterranean region. It constitutes a very rare combination of archaeology and nature. It includes a range of hills to the north, the Butrint plain, Lake Bufit, and part of Lake Butrint.
The site is a microcosm of Mediterranean history, with the earliest evidence for occupation dating from the Middle Palaeolithic, at its earliest evidence, and the latest to the final period of up to the 19th century AD. Prehistoric sites have been identified within the nucleus of Butrint, the small hill surrounded by the waters of Lake Butrint, connected to the sea by Vivari Channel, as well as in its wider territory. During the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic (50,000-10,000 BP), the site at Shën Dimitri/Xarra was occupied. It was originally on the coast but retreat of the coastline has meant that it is now 2km inland. There are several Bronze Age (2000-500BC) sites in the area, including those at Kalivo, the acropolis of Butrint, and Shën Dimitri.
From 800 BC until the arrival of the Romans in 44 BC, Butrint and Kalivo sites were colonized and influenced by Greek culture, taking the appearance of a Greek polis and being settled by Chaonian tribes. The city (called Buthros) was surrounded by fortifications, with public buildings such as a theatre and temples.
In 44 BC Butrint became a Roman colony in the province of Illyria and expanded considerably on reclaimed marshland, primarily to the south across the Vivari Channel. It was equipped with the usual appurtenances of a Roman city, including a aqueduct bringing water and roads, along which smaller settlements developed.
In the later Roman period (5th century AD), Butrint became an Episcopal center; it was fortified (as were several of the inland settlements) and substantial early Christian structures, such as basilicas and a baptistery, were built by the Christians. From the time the Slavs came to the Balkans (7th century) until the founding of the Epirus despotate (after the taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204), the city underwent great trials, with a short period of abandonment.
After a period of abandonment, Butrint was largely reconstructed and prospered again under Byzantine administration (Epirus) in the 9th century.
Butrint and its territory came under Angevin and then Venetian control in the 14th- century, and it was governed by a castellan based on nearby Corfu. Repeated attacks by the despots of Epirus and then the Ottoman Turks led to the strengthening and extension of the defensive works of Butrint, including the castle, the triangular fortress, and new city walls. Turkish dominion was established at the end of the 15th century, after the resistance of the national hero, Skanderbeg, was finally overcome.
The evolution of the old natural environment of Butrint led the inhabitants to abandon the city at the end of the Middle Ages, with the result that this archaeological site provides valuable evidence of ancient and medieval civilizations on the territory of modern Albania.
At the beginning of the 19th century, a new fortress was added to the defensive system of Butrint at the mouth of the Vivari Channel. It was built by Ali Pasha, an Albanian Ottoman ruler who controlled Butrint and the area. The city under Ottoman administration was threatened by the marshes that formed around the lake and was finally abandoned by the population.
This archaeological site, overgrown by vegetation and encircled by water infiltration, is a veritable conservatory of major monuments in ruins from each of the period of Butrint’s development. The fortifications bear testimony to the different stages of the city’s construction from the time of the Greek colony until the Middle Ages. The most interesting ancient Greek monument is the theatre. The major ruin from the paleo-Christian era is the baptistery, an ancient Roman monument built inside the Roman public baths that is adapted to the cultural needs of Christianity. Its floor has a beautiful mosaic decoration. The paleo-Christian basilica was rebuilt in the 9th century and the ruins are sufficiently well preserved to permit analysis of the structure (three naves with a transept and an exterior polygonal apse).
Other major monuments in this area are:
• Kalivo: Bronze Age and later site with large polygonal defensive wall with towers;
• Diaporit: Remains of a Roman villa, bath-house, and Byzantine basilica;
• A section of the main Roman road between Valona and Nikopolis, together with the link road to Butrint;
• Butrint’s main walled area, containing monuments from the 4th to 16th centuries;
• The suburbs of Roman Butrint from the Republican period to the Late Empire;
• The ruins of the Roman aqueduct;
• The Roman building and later church at Shën Deli;
• The Palaeolithic find site on Shën Dimitri/Xarra;
• Triangular fortress (Angevin and Venetian period) and Venetian defensive tower;
• The 18th century castle of Ali Pasha.
The monuments offer a rare and important archaeological resource in terms of:
• Archaeological-historical significance, representing over 3000 years of occupation history for both Butrint settlement and settlements within its sphere of influence.
• Geological-historical significance. The combination of a changing landscape formation and the resultant settlement pattern changes offers a unique “landscape museum” of the effects of nature on man and vice versa.
• Group value. The rare preservation of the site provides an important record of the interaction between town and countryside.
• Integrity of the cultural landscape has been well preserved.
• Aesthetic appeal. It has a strong spirit of place and a landscape of outstanding natural beauty, created by the unique combination of archaeology and nature.
• Cultural resource potential. Butrint’s un-spoilt nature, together with a comprehensive archaeological archive, provides an excellent opportunity to develop Butrint carefully as a cultural resource.