A married couple smiles at the photographer along the sea: the day is warm and sunny, the hem of the white dress flutters in the May wind. Not even this affixed to this first postcard image upon which the eye falls upon our arrival seems to confirm what all the tour guides say: Saranda is the favorite destination of honeymoon couples.
Renowned holiday resort, located in the southern part of the country a few kilometers, just twenty-seven, from the Greek island of Corfu, it is a quiet and picturesque city, with the town arranged in a horseshoe shape, the houses that slide along the sides of the hill, boats swaying in the bay, and people walking around relaxed.
In ancient times the city was known as Onhezemi, whose foundation dates back to the first century AD
C., then entering the great community of Epirus a few centuries later. During the Middle Ages, before the Turkish conquest, it was an active Christian community, seat of the Bishopric, which maintained close relations with Rome and with the Pope.
During the 10th century the population moved towards Gjastha. It was at this time that the Forty Saints Monastery (Ayii Saranda) was founded, from which the city received its current name. In 1939, when Albania was an Italian protectorate, Saranda became Porto Edda, in honor of Mussolini's first child, a toponym abandoned at the end of World War II.
During the communist regime the city had a limited development but significantly increased the number of its inhabitants, which then stabilized on the current 12.000.
As is the case throughout the country, Saranda is also experiencing a period of construction boom, partly begun before the government approved regulatory plans to limit it and safeguard the environment: unfortunately, hotels and residential neighborhoods have sprung up a bit everywhere on both the sides of the coast, although, it must be admitted, the whole remains pleasant. The four main streets, which describe an arc around the bay, enclose are not the cultural attractions of the city, but also most of the shops and banks. The fortress of Onhezemi from the 4th century BC
C. is the most important monument: it was a grandiose pentagonal building overlooking the sea.The remains of the walls are found in the center of the city: of the twenty defensive tower, eight have remained, and, only value, a mosaic, dated 3rd century AD
C., a flowery oasis of animals, mythological and geometric figures. The city, however, remains famous for its beaches, those near the seafront are small and rocky, while in the surroundings there are Krorez and the inlet of Kakomé, of white and thin sand that overlook a crystal-clear sea, contiguous and both reachable by land.
Of rare charm are Ksamil, and the famous Blue Eye.
The first is a small archipelago of islets, detached from the mainland due to a process of erosion during the jurassic and reachable only by sea (in summer it will not be difficult to find a passage on one of the many boats that offer to transport tourists). The largest of the islands has an area of about five hectares, the others seem more than anything else to emerge from the rocks, with their jagged rocks and thick vegetation of Mediterranean scrub.
The second is a blue water pond that resembles the iris of an eye, with a capacity of six cubic meters, an unknown depth and a beautiful oak forest, ideal for picnics, which surrounds it like a garden. Just near this source is the church of Mesopotam, the only Byzantine cult preserved in the country dating back to the 13th century: a mosaic composed of alternating bricks, stones and tiles, surrounded by curious statues, the chimera, the dog, the lion, the palms alternate along the perimeter.The interiors are very suggestive: the apses and the altars are covered with murals, while the paving alternates stone slabs and mosaics. Still open for worship today, it may be difficult to visit at other times. The archaeological site of Butrinti is absolutely impossible for lovers of ancient history.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located just 15 kilometers south of Saranda, this small village contains 1500 years of history, preserving the remains of monuments dating back to many different ages, from the middle of the first millennium BC.
C. up to the Turkish domain.
The first modern archaeological excavations began in the 1928 at the behest of Mussolini, who entrusted the expedition to professor Luigi Maria Ugolini and brought to light the Roman and Hellenistic part of the city, including the Greek doors, called "Scee", in honor of the work of Homer. The work was interrupted only in the 1943 due to the war.
During communism, when foreign missions were banned, it was the Albanian Institute of Archeology that dealt with the excavations.
The Baptistery and the Basilica are testimonies of rare beauty, dating back to the early Christian age. The first consists of two adjoining rooms, both paved with 69 medallions, grouped into seven concentric circles, whose mosaics depict the flora and fauna of the area. The baptismal font is from the 6th century. The Basilica, also from the 6th century, preserves the walls of the outer perimeter, a complex system of arches and mosaic pavement.The Greek amphitheater is located in the city center, at the foot of the acropolis. The stands are still visible (eleven in all), able to accommodate around 2500 people, built using the natural slope of the site and, in the south, the stone platform, used as a stage, with the scenic backdrops. The Baths, the Agora and the Forums date back to Roman times.
Two fortresses can also be visited.
The first, medieval, is located at the entrance of the ancient city and has a solid square plan, the second, beyond the river on the hill of Vivar, dates back to the end of the XVII century, with round towers placed at the four ends of the walls, about a meter and a half thick. This city is therefore the ideal destination for those who do not disdain, in addition to the rest offered by the sea, also the possibility of discovering the surroundings and their history.
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