There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Albania to visit and among the very best are Butrint, Berat and Apollonia.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Albanian Cultural Places, Landmarks and Monuments, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Albania, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Albania?
Butrint is an archaeological national park in Albania and a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its ancient ruins dating back as far as the 7th century BC. In fact, classic mythology says that exiles moved to Butrint to escape following the fall of Troy.
Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians. As a result, Butrint offers a wealth of incredible archaeological structures, including a well preserved Greek theatre, fortifications which have been changed by each civilisation which occupied it, Roman public baths inside which lies a paleo-Christian baptistery and a 9th century basilica.
One of Butrint’s earliest sites is its sanctuary, which dates back to the fourth century and sits on its hill or “acropolis”. The sanctuary was named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, and was a centre of healing. Butrint was abandoned during the Ottoman era when marshes started to emerge around it, however, many of its historical treasures remain intact and attract tourist from around the globe.
The great thing about Butrint is the ability to trace the development of a succession of eras through its sites and structures, making it a microcosm of history. With so much to see, including an onsite museum exploring the site’s history, a visit to Butrint National Park usually lasts around three hours.
Berat is one of the most popular historic destinations in Albania. An ancient town that has continually been inhabited through the ages, it retains much of its historic charm.
Founded in antiquity, an early Macedonian city was built here in the third or fourth centuries BC named Antipatreia after the Macedonian general Antipater. Later forming part of the Roman Empire and subsequently the Byzantine Empire, it was at various times ruled by Bulgarians, Angevins, Serbs and Ottomans, who ruled Berat from the 15th century until the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
Today, visitors to Berat can admire a number of sights. One of the most striking is the multitude of pictureqsque houses that cover the slopes below the castle – leading to the Berat being known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’.
Among the most popular and obvious sites is Berat castle itself. Though it has been occupied since Roman times, the current structure dates back to the 13th century AD and beyond. Almost a mini-town in itself, the citadel – known as the Kala – gives great views of the area. Inside, you will find the remains of churches, mosques – including the ruins of the Xhamia e Kuqe / Red Mosque – and the Onufri Museum (located in the inner part of Saint Mary Church), housing works by the famous medieval artist. Be warned, the path up to Berat castle is steep.
Also worth visiting in Berat is the Ethnographic Museum which contains displays relating to the history and life of the local area.
Berat was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005.
Apollonia is an ancient site in Albania which was home to a succession of civilisations, but which reached its zenith in the 3rd or 4th century BC. Whilst the site of Apollonia was once inhabited by Illyrian tribes, it was in approximately 588 BC that Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth led by Gylax founded the city on the right bank of the Aous (Vjosë) River. This riverside location was vital in making Apollonia the trade and economic hub it eventually became, but also played a role in its downfall.
The Romans ruled Apollonia from around 229BC and added to its splendour. However, an earthquake in 234AD altered the riverbed of the Aous, silting up Apollonia's harbour and reducing the city's importance significantly and leading to its decline.
Today, Apollonia's 137 hectares is encircled by a 4 km long wall, housing a series of ruins including a triumphal arch, a library, a 2nd century Odeon, several temples and a city council building with a surviving facade. There is a museum housing artefacts from the site and both the museum and site have French and English translations.