The city, general presentation
A half hour drive from Tirana is Durres, the second largest city in Albania by number of inhabitants and the first seaport of Albania and one of the most important in the whole of the Adriatic.
Inhabited by more than 3000 years, it was the cradle of great emperors, visited by the Apostles and other figures of the ancient world. The city is a perfect fusion of past and present: the ancient ruins of which it is dotted are silent witnesses of a flourishing period and merge in harmony with the urban plant that Durazzo took today.
Wide beaches and mild climate, with one of the largest seaports of the Adriatic coast, city of famous musicians and poets, old living quarters with luxurious bars and modern buildings, hospitable people always ready to welcome visitors and guests: this and much more offers Durazzo , one of the most important tourist destinations and not only in the whole of Albania.
Durres was founded around the 627 BC with the name of Epidamnos from a colony of Corciresi (inhabitants of Corfù) and Corinzi (inhabitants of Corinto) in the settlement of the Illyrian tribe of Taulanti.
Epidamnos appears for the first time on the coins of the fifth century BC as part of the Kingdoms of Cassander and Pyrrhus. In the 229 BC, the Romans conquered the city and changed its name to Dyrrhachium. Making it a semi-autonomous colony of the Roman Empire, it was used as a military outpost for Roman militias settled in Greece and the Balkans.
From here the very famous departed Via Egnatia, which crossed all the southern Balkans to reach Byzantium.
Throughout its ancient history, Dyrrachium, also due to its geographical position, has been closely linked to the military affairs of the greatest Roman emperors: Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompey, Augustus, Trajan (he built the Roman Amphitheater in Durres) at that time the largest of all the Balkans), Diocletian.
Like the Roman Empire, Dyrrachium also suffered the devastation of a barbarian invasion: the siege of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, in 481 AD
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Dyrrachium entered the territories administered by the Byzantine Empire.
Curiously, the medieval history of today's Durres looks like one spin off on the other side of the Italian Adriatic: for example, the Normans, the Swabians and the Angevins passed through the Albanian city. The latter, around 1270 AD, made Durazzo the capital of the Kingdom of Albania against the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII.
In the 1392 the Venetians occupied Durazzo, annexing it to the so-called Albania. In the 1466 they also succeeded in repelling a first attempt at Turkish occupation of the city. Then, as for all of Albania, Durazzo also fell definitively under the Ottoman occupation after the death of Skanderbeg.
During the nationalist liberation motions of the 1910-1912, Durazzo went through a critical phase. Ismail Qemali raised the 26 November 1912 Albanian flag, but the Serbs occupied the city three days later and stayed there until the 1913. In 1914, Prince William of Weid arrived in Durrës, proclaiming it the capital of the newborn Principality of Albania.
Meanwhile, Durazzo had been involved in the winds of the First World War. Occupied by the Italians in the 1915, then in the 1916 by the Austro-Hungarians, it lost the status of capital of Albania when the pro-Italian government fell. The new capital became Tirana.
During the reign of King Zog (from the 1928 to the 1939), the city experienced an economic boom thanks to the investment of Italian foreign capital. The 1926 earthquake damaged it heavily. It was during the post-earthquake reconstruction that the city acquired its most modern appearance. After the Second World War the city experienced another period of growth and became more industrialized.
Today the city is an important link with Western Europe thanks to its strategic seaport and the short distance from the main Italian port cities.
Durres has about 10 km of what can be defined as 'urban' beaches, that is to say the competence of the city territory. The easiest to reach are those that flank the waterfront.
In summer, they become an anthill. In addition to the locals, the first foreigners who storm it are the Kosovar neighbors. Fun is guaranteed by multiple activities, such as table football or water sports. The beaches are full of restaurants, so there is no need to go back to the city to eat.
If in Italy there is a vendor with a cart of 'beautiful coconut' or a slice of watermelon, in Albania the street vendors are milling millions of steps slipping among the bathers (almost all on foot, some even with the donkey!) And proposing usually bananas, grapes or glasses of blackberries. It can happen to you who wants to sell you roasted corn or sunflower seeds. These, especially the latter, leave them to the Albanians. Their gut is used to it, yours too is not. You risk remembering the day at sea for reasons other than splashing in the water.
Definitely one of the greatest pieces of ancient architecture in Albania, if not in the Balkans, the Durazzo Amphitheater was built in the 100 AD by Adriano and was rediscovered only in the 60 years. It was used for around 300 years and at the time could reach 20.000 viewers. The grand staircase is part of what makes this archaeological site special, but scholars agree that it is one of the best examples of a pagan archaeological site that moved towards Christianity. In fact, inside this site there is a chapel with splendid mural mosaics of saints, which show how the amphitheater took on a religious purpose many years after its construction.
The largest archaeological museum in Albania, collects the testimonies of all the civilizations that inhabited this region of the Balkans. It is located a few steps from the waterfront and was established in the 1951, with collections covering every period of ancient Illyrian culture, through the Roman era, the Byzantine period and the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Roman objects are particularly fascinating and include miniature busts of Venus and stone sarcophagi. Even the Archaeological Museum was looted in the 1997 riots, to be completely rebuilt in the 2010. At the inauguration of the 2015, the illustrious guest of the Museum was the Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.
In the heart of Durres there is the suggestive series of Corinthian columns that made up the so-called Macellum (market) of the post-Roman era. It dates from the period between the 600 and the 800 and is paved with excavated marble stones. Once a statue was erected in the center of the square for any Byzantine emperor in power at that time. Near the market there are the Roman baths of Durazzo, which were discovered together with the amphitheater in the 60 years. What remains is a hypocaust (what was the old floor heating system) and a five-by-seven pool.
This monument, consisting of a single tower and a wall, dates back to the 400, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I who was born in this city, and is what remains of the old castle of Durres. Since its construction, the castle has undergone some important interventions, such as the fortification that the Venetians operated there before the conquest of Durazzo by the Ottomans. In the 1939 the castle was the operational base of an impromptu gathering of Albanian patriots who tried to delay the advance of the Italian army. About 360 locals remained to defend Durazzo, until the Italian armored units landed in the harbor and took the city.
One is the most famous, but in reality in Durres there would be two to see: the Fatih Mosque (Xhamia and Vogël, Small mosque or Xhamia e vjetër, Old Mosque) and Great Mosque (Xhamia e Madhe, Also called Xhamia and King New Mosque). To give you a street reference, the first is the one closest to the Venetian Tower and to the Moissi House-Museum. You can take as a reference just the street you call 'Rruga Xhamia'.
The Great Mosque is the one near the Palazzo del Comune of Durazzo, in the famous square with the floor-flush fountain with multi-colored jets.
If you use the satellite top view on Google Maps, distinguish them immediately. The Great Mosque is the one with the yellow dome or. You can't go wrong.
Alessandro Moissi House-Museum
A chalet-type house built in the second half of the 19th century, in the 30 years it was also the headquarters of the British Consulate. This building for its architectural values has been declared a "cultural monument".
After the restoration in the 1983 the "Exhibition of popular culture" was established. The artistic values of the Durazzo area and its surroundings are revealed in three exhibition halls. Two other rooms, named after Alexander Moisiu (1879-1935) are dedicated to the figure of this Albanian-born actor who completed the first cycle of studies in Durazzo and wrote his memoirs in a sketch entitled 'Ëndërr fëmijërie ' (Childhood Dream)
The Albanian monarchy, which lasted from the 1928 to the 1939, has an interesting reminder in the building on top of a hill in Durres. It is known as Villa Reale because it was built in the 1937 for King Zog I, who managed, however, to stay there only for a year. After the dissolution of the monarchy, the Villa became a large building for communist use to welcome the great political personalities of the time, such as Nikita Khrushchev and Jimmy Carter. During the civil conflicts of the 1997, the building was strongly vandalized, however, since then, it has remained unchanged in its quiet, so what you can see inside gives you the figure of what could have been Albania to times of King Zog.
Golem and Mali i Robit
About 10 km from Durres, in the direction of Kavaja, there are two of the most famous beaches in the surroundings of Durres. If the others you find below are in the name of relaxation, Golem and Mali i Robit, also for the type of tourist investment that has been made in recent years, including tourist villages, are more devoted to entertainment at 360 degrees.
Commonly known as Spiaggia del Generale, it is a sandy inlet shaped like a horseshoe surrounded by lush vegetation. Thanks to this favored position, it offers, like Spille, the possibility of having clean beaches and relaxation at full blast.
Bring binoculars. If you happen to be in the right period, you will be able to see the hatching of the eggs which makes here a rare species of sea turtle.
A few kilometers from Durres, there is this village whose beaches allow you to have a relatively 'intimate' beach holiday, in the sense that you don't find the disproportionate crowding that, unfortunately, generally characterized, the sea of Durres.
Clean beach and enough space between one umbrella and another make a day at the beach spent here truly relaxing. The top of tranquility is the pinewood that borders the beach.
Far from the noise of Durres, it is a veritable virgin cove. The advantage is above all in the fact that the beach is free, although there is some bathing establishment if you want a minimum of comfort.
Obviously, the distance from the typical crowding of Durres is also reflected on the quality of the water, which is truly transparent.
In reality we are not really in the outskirts of Durres, but considering that Durazzo is very well connected with every corner of Albania and the capital is the first stop of who goes in Albania when it doesn't make sea tourism, then we insert also in the list Tirana. You choose whether to take these 35 km away by car, bus or van. There would also be the Durres-Tirana railway, but let us choose if you want to experience the slow thrill of this adventure. Obviously, we refer you to the Tirana guide to see what you can do in the capital.
Basilica of San Michele
Located in Arapaj, a south-eastern suburb of Durres, there are the ruins of the Basilica of San Michele, an early Christian church of 400 dC The Basilica was rediscovered during an archaeological excavation in the 1974 and its highlight is the large and detailed mosaic of the church that covers 54 square meters, remained in an almost immaculate state of preservation because it was buried under the earth for hundreds of years. On the site there are also the remains of the church's naves and a fragment of a pillar with a decorative relief engraved inside it.
Castle of Capo Rodoni
It's almost an hour and a half by car, but it's worth it. A rugged headland with a beautiful beach at its feet. From a naturalistic point of view, Capo Rodoni looks more or less like this.
In reality, it is much more. Above all history, thanks to its Castle. It is located on a side of the promontory, almost at sea level. Built by Scanderberg to increase the number of coastal fortifications to defend itself against the Turkish advance, the castle failed to resist the Ottoman attacks.
In the 1466 the family of Scanderbeg used the direct view to the sea of the castle to embark towards southern Italy, towards Brindisi, when the defeat against the Ottomans became evident. They left the castle in time, which was completely destroyed by the Turks just a year later. Then the fortress was rebuilt in the 1500 by the Republic of Venice.
The castle cannot be visited directly by car. You have to use the boat provided by the nearby restaurant. In practice, you will do the opposite route that the Scanderbeg family took at the time of the escape.
Durres is a seaside town, so its cuisine is also based on fish. This especially in restaurants, which must meet the demands of tourists.
But the old Durazzo cuisine, the traditional one, is based on the products of the land and among the typical products of the city and its surroundings we can mention these below.
- Byrek with leeks and milk (the filling is prepared with scrambled leeks, milk, eggs, pepper and cheese)
- Byrek with rice (the filling is made with boiled rice)
- Tuçmaç, that is a sort of quadrucci pasta stuffed with chicken liver.
The dough is prepared with flour, eggs, water and salt. Then it is cut into square strips and stuffed with a mixture of chicken livers (sometimes also breast), previously boiled with onions and a little rice. Then it is recomposed into round or triangular shapes, lightly fried and boiled with a little chicken stock.
Festivali Ndërkombëtar i Muzikës së Dhomës
Il International Chamber Music Festival (Festivali Ndërkombëtar i Muzikës së Dhomës) It takes place every year in Durres as part of the initiatives created by the Italian-Albanian Art and Culture Association created in the 2004. More information on the site chamberfestdurres.com
Durres is also one of the stages of the DanceAlbFest, also called Albania Dance Meeting, International Festival dedicated to contemporary dance. The program, which extends over the months of October and November, can be consulted on the site dancealbfest.com
Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza is located at 35 km from Durres. On leaving the terminals, it is possible to take either one of the taxis or the buses going towards Durres.
Durres is well connected to the motorway to Tirana and all the other cities in the country.
Tirana-Durres (35 km)
Scutari-Durres (140 km)
Kukës-Durres (222 km)
Korça-Durrës (209 km)
Pogradec-Durres (168 km)
Regular bus and minibus lines (so-called boxcar) are available from early morning until late night for travelers who want to go to Durres from Tirana, Fier, Gjirokastra, Korça, Vlora, Saranda, Scutari. The main bus station is located at the exit of the port.
We remind you that while buses have a regulated timetable with stops indicated by road signs, vans do not have fixed hours and leave only once full. Keep this in mind if you would like to organize your trips using only public transport.
To move using the bus, you can consult this table, taken from the institutional website of the Municipality of Durazzo.
We will systematically check the changes, which, if you know the Albanian also in brief, you can also check the following link: durres.gov.al
The city boasts a football club in the Albanian top division, the so-called Category Top (equivalent to the Italian A series), which is called Klubi sportiv Teuta.
His website is kfteuta.com
The city sports facility is the Niko Dovana Stadium, which has a capacity of 13.000 seats.