Historical and Cultural Monuments to Visit While in Durres

Historical and Cultural Monuments to Visit While in Durres

TIRANA, AUGUST 30

The currently third most populous city in Albania, after the capital, Tirana and Fier, Durres is located in western-central Albania. Since its establishment around 7th century BC, Durres has witnessed the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires gone by and has been one of the most important cities of Albania throughout the centuries up to this day. A port, a coastal city and once even a capital for a brief period in the 20th century, Durres is rich with cultural monuments and historical places. Below we present you with the most interesting monuments to visit, while you are there. 

Venetian Tower 

The Venetian Tower inside the Durres Castle was built in the 15th century above the Byzantine tower. This is confirmed by the presence of blocks of the previous fence, of architectonic fragments, and ancient relief. The tower has a diameter of 16 meters and a height of 9 meters. You could get into the tower through an arch-shaped door made of bricks. The tower is equipped with 5 loopholes and 3 divisions. The perimeter above is closed with battlements. The premise inside is built with towers in the shape of domes. The climbing to the top of the tower is possible via a narrow and steep staircase.

venetian tower
Photo Credit/Flo Krass

Medieval Turkish Bath a.k.a. Medieval Hammam 

The Medieval Turkish Bath or hammam is a public building with typical architecture of the Ottoman Empire period. It was built in the 18th century, on the south-east corner of Durres. In the center, it had a spherical dome, with a height of 5.8 meters, equipped with 12 small windows for ventilation. The premises were warmed with steam, through the ceramic pipeline. The stove is at the back of the Turkish bath. It was very damaged until it was reconstructed in 1980.

turkish thermal baths
Photo Credit/Te Sheshi

The Archaeological Museum 

The Archaeological Museum of Durres was inaugurated on 13 April 2002, based on the materials of the first Archaeological Museum opened on 13 March 1951. The first saloon starts with the display of the pre-historical discoveries, in the city and the surrounding areas. On a chronologic order, it is shown the history of the city, from the archaic period, then classical and Illyrian until the 1st century BC. Furthermore, it is shown the topographic, economic, political and cultural development of Durres during the Roman Empire. In the thematic aspect, this city shows the presence of an autochthonous, Illyrian population with a rich spiritual world. Durres is displayed as a city and center, with a very developed economy and that traded mostly with the other Mediterranean cities. The Middle Ages, include the period from 5th-15th century AD and is followed by the Ottoman reigning in Albania.  

Archaeological Museum, durres
Photo Credit/Marcin Konsek

Well of Tophane 

The name tophane tells about its initial function, as a workshop for the production of gunpowder. The presence of the water resources in Varosh neighborhood enabled the construction of a well in service of its inhabitants, around the 16th century. The well was built on a stone rectangular plinth, surrounded by four reused granite columns during the Byzantine period. 

well of tophane
Photo Credit/Wikimedia

House-Turned-Museum of Alexander Moissi a.k.a. Ethnographic Museum 

The House-turned-Museum of Alexander Moissi was built in the second half of the 20th century, in honor of the Austrian actor with Albanian origin. The house during the 1930s was even a headquarter for the English consulate. This museum because of its architectural values was declared a ‘cultural monument’. After its restoration in 1983, it was placed there the ‘Traditional Culture Exhibit’. In three rooms of this exhibition are displayed the craftworks values of Durres and its surroundings. Two other rooms are dedicated to the stage actor Alexander Moissi. In Durres, he finished his elementary school, and in 1928, he wrote his memoir in form of sketches titled ‘Childhood dream’. 

Ethnographic Museum
Photo Credit/John Mariscos

Roman Thermal Baths 

The Roman Thermal baths in the center of the city (under the Alexander Moissi house-museum), were discovered almost completely in 1960. From its size and inner premises, these thermal baths were part of the gymnasium of the city. In them are saved the arches of stoves, walls, and the floors of the premises. In the entrance is the dressing room, followed by the steam room, which has under the floor the bricks for the passage of hot steam. Then, follows the room with the cold water, and in the end the swimming pool. The floor is paved with black and white, marble tiles, resembling a chess field. In the south-west of the thermal baths is the complex of the discharge channels and above it the main road of the Roman period, with northern direction (Alexander Goga Street).

roman thermal baths
Photo Credit/Ivana Dervishi

Fatih Mosque 

Fatih Mosque belongs to the period of Sultan Mehmed II (Fatih)’s reigning. It is the oldest building related to the Muslim religion in Albania. The mosque was built around 1502-1503, above the ruins of a Christian church (Basilica of 11th century).  

fatih mosque
Photo Credit/Albinfo

State Bank 

The State Bank or known today as the National Commercial Bank was built in Durres on 10 November 1928. Its foundations are above the south-east tower of Byzantine fence, called the ‘Great Bastion’. The building was projected by Italian architects and realized by the Durres masters. It belongs to the Baroque style, which was used for the first time in Albania. Above the terrace is placed a sculpture of a woman, which symbolizes the battle, resistance, and victory during the centuries and the wealth of the country. 

national trade bank, durres
Photo Credit/Martin Broz

Palace of King Zog I 

The royal palace was built in 1937. It was projected on the highest altitude (98 meters) of the hills, and has a dominant position over the city and overlooking the Adriatic Sea. From the architectural view, it belongs to the Neo-classical style, used at the beginning of the 20th century. On the front façade of the royal villa, is the character of the Albanian Hero, Skanderbeg, on a horse, with a sword in his hand.

palace of king I
Photo Credit/Joonas Lytinen

Mausoleum of Martyrs 

It is a commemorative object of the fallen martyrs during World War II, in the 20th century and Nazi concentration camps. The mausoleum was projected from the Albanian architect, Kristo Sotiri and the work for its construction started in 1947. It is the first and the only mausoleum of its kind in Albania and its complex has the shape of an arch. It consists of three main parts: the building of mausoleum, the stairs, and the lawn. The remains of the Albanian martyrs are located in special rooms, whereas for the fallen in the Nazi camps, are used only commemorative graves, without the remains. In two marble posters are carved with bronze lettering the names of the interned in Nazi concentration camps. 

mausoleum of martyrs
Photo Credit/Balkan

Basilica of Saint Michael 

Basilica of Saint Michael was constructed at the beginning of the 6th century, during the reigning of Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I. The basilica is in Arapaj, 6 km away from Durres, on the western slope of Saint Michael (Shen Mehill)’s hill. It was discovered fully and has measures of 65×28 meters. It is a basilica of three feet with three respective apses. It has two annexes in the north and south and the atrium (a courtyard with colonnades). In the south is a monumental grave, covered with a mosaic later projected in two emblems, with subject belonging to the early Christianity, with a surface of 54m2. The chosen motifs, the characters, the work technique, multi-colored stones classify this mosaic as a unique work of art, of Byzantine period of 6th century, work of masters of Durres. 

basilica of saint michael
Photo Credit/mr. bunker

Mujo Ulqinaku’s Monument 

Mujo Ulqinaku who is declared a ‘People’s Hero’ in Albania, was one of the first fighters of the armed resistance against the Italian occupation on 7 April 1939. The memorial was realized by the Albanian sculptor, Kristaq Rama. Mujo Ulqinaku was born in the Ulcinj, Montenegro to a family of fishermen and sailors. It had the rank of a non-commissioned officer, in the Albanian navy, in Durres. He was killed in the first hours of Durres’ occupation by the Italian fascists, along with other Albanian patriots and fighters. 

mujo ulqinaku memorial
Photo Credit/Xixa

City Hall 

The City Hall of the city was built in 1929, in the traditional square of Durres. It’s with three floors and basements. On the first floor, on the entrance, there are three arches, whereas the second floor has a balcony on the inside with columns. It peaks with a square clamp, on the left-hand side, where is placed the clock of the city. The facade is studded with decors in medallion-shaped reliefs, that have the symbols of a sailboat and a bunch of wheat stacks. 

city hall of durres
Photo Credit/Ich, Wikimedia

Commercial Street 

Commercial Street also is known as the Epidamn Boulevard, was built after the damages that caused the earthquake of 1926. With the opening of this street, it started the implementation of the regulatory plan of the city of Durres, with the urban standards of the European cities. On both sides of this road, were built two and three-story buildings, of the contemporary architecture, with a diverse décor. The upper floors served for housing, whereas the first floors were for commercial purposes, where the street got the name from. They are still preserved as representatives of the architectural constructions of years 30’-40’ in the 20th century.

commercial street
Photo Credit/David Dufresne

Catholic Church ‘Saint Lucia’

The Catholic Church Saint Lucia, with a bell, was constructed in 1909. It represents a cult object, with all its functions and respective premises. This church is known as an important center where the clerical and patriot, Dom Nikoll Kacorri (1862-1917) held his masses. This personality with a good reputation among the citizens and pioneer and supporter of the ideas of the patriotic movements, for teaching the Albanian language, and the independence of Albania, during the Ottoman ruling. In the premises of this church were gathered the patriots of Durres, where they took important decisions, such as the rise of the national flag in Durres, on 26 November, two days before the Independence of Albania.

catholic church 'saint lucia'
Photo Credit/Syri.net

Medieval Cistern

The cistern or the deposit of the water is a building of the Middle Ages and is located behind the Mausoleum of the Martyrs. The water was collected from the natural resources of the hilly area. It shows construction with an arched roof, covered with tiling. It has five entrances, each with a staircase and a door with an archway, above which is a circular window for ventilation. 

medieval cistern
Photo Credit/vdocuments.mx

Church of Apostol Pavel and Saint Astius

This church was built during the years 1994-2002 and was inaugurated on 3 May 2009. Apostol Pavel is known as the first preacher of the Christian faith, in Illyria. In his memory, there was built a church on the north edge of the city, called the Cape of Pavel. Whereas, Saint Austius (98-117 AD) was a bishop of the city of Durres during the reigning of the Roman emperor, Trajan and the first Albanian martyr who was sanctified in year 100 AD. 

church of saint astius
Photo Credit/Shkelzen Rexha

Great Mosque 

The construction of the Great Mosque of Durres started in 1931 and finished in 1938. The chosen topographic position facing the east completes the ensemble of the public constructions in the main square of the city. The movement against faith, religious prejudices, and the backward customs, of 6 February 1967, damaged the dome and the minaret, and transformed it into a cultural institution, name the Palace of Youth. After the 1990s, the Great Mosque returned to its initial function, as a cult object, and preserved the previous architecture. The constructions for its restoration were done between 1992-1994 and 2004-2006. 

great mosque
Photo Credit/Fabiola, Flickr

 The Old Surrounding Walls of Durres, Durres Castle 

The city of Durres, since its founding, was protected with surrounding walls built with blocks. Based on this, in the following centuries and onwards until the Illyrian and Roman periods, the walls of the city were expanded with its topographic expansion. The surrounding walls that are seen today, were built by the Byzantine emperor, Anastasius I Decorus (430-1AD), born in Durres. After the damages that caused the catastrophic earthquake of year 345, he protected the city with three rows of walls made of bricks, from which today are preserved only 500 meters in length on the south-west of the city.

durres castle
Photo Credit/Gentjan R.

The perimeter of the fence was 3.5 km, with a height of 18 meters and a width of 3.5 meters. This protecting system was reinforced by pentagon towers, 60-65m away from each other. The latter interventions were by the emperor Justinian I (527-565Charles of Anjou in the 13th century (1272) and Karl Thopia, in the 14th century (1350) also performed protective reinforcements. When Durres was under the Venetian occupation (1392-1501), for 109 years was associated with interventions in the protective system, with circular towers.

The Ottoman occupation, on 13 August 1501, downsized the city to the south-east edge (Kala neighborhood), surrounding it with an 800m long wall, 6 times smaller than during the Byzantine empire. The wall built by the Turkish had a clock tower too. The Turkish walls were reinforced with towers and battlements, and two main gates, the Big Door and the Sea Door.

Amphitheatre 

The Amphitheatre of Durres is a public monument unique in Albania. It was built near the traditional center of the city, on a field ground and partly on a hill. It is considered to be an engineering and architectonic colossus of ancient times, and work of local masters. It has the shape of an eclipse, with a diameter of 136m and height around 20m. The amphitheater was built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, during the reigning of Roman emperor Trajan (98-117AD). It could held15.000-20.000 spectators, that watched the matches between the gladiators. 

amphitheater of durres
Photo Credit/Jed Horne

The main entrance was from the north and an exit on the south, on the same axis. The eastern façade from the center of the city had two floors with arches and columns and above them a decorative structure with windows. The fights in the ancient amphitheater were prohibited by the Roman emperor Honorius in the year 404 (5th century). The discovery of the amphitheater began in 1966 until 1970. At the same time, were discovered the medieval graves in the arena area. In the following years, are carried out some expeditions have completed the documentary and architectonic data, on this historical monument.   

Chapel of the Amphitheater and the Mosaic 

After the interruptions of the fights in the amphitheater were built a chapel (small church), where were taking place the religious and funeral ceremonies of the Christian groups of Durres. In the beginning, the chapel had frescos. Its longevity suggests for later interventions (in 6th-7th century), adorning both walls, southern and western, with unique mural mosaic panels. This mosaic is dedicated to Saint Stephen, a martyr of the city of Durres. 

chapel
Photo Credit/Marcin Konsek

Also, Saint Mary is presented as Byzantine empress, surrounded by two angels, the first with an inscription above the head, and in under their feet two companions in miniature. The western wall preserves fragments of two saints, Saint Irene, and Saint Sophia. The eastern gallery served as a sheltered place for the Christian groups, adorned with frescos of Saint Gabriel. 

mosaic
Photo Credit/Carole Raddato

Byzantine Market Place 

The market place of the Byzantine period was built in the traditional square of the ancient Durres. It was in the center of the city, in rapport with the big, public and religious buildings of the Byzantine Empire. Its architectural view confirms the existence of an open, circled market place with doors. In the center of the market place are a podium and a well, above a layer of marble tiles, that cover the floor up to the colonnade with a perimeter of 40m. Around this door in the shape of a circle were the service premises. The technique of construction, the material used and the cultural layer date this monument as a coeval with the public buildings of emperors Anastasius and Justinian I, at the beginning of 4th century AD. 

byzantine market place
Photo Credit/Genti Behramaj

Source/ City Hall of Durres

Read also: Women Drivers Rule Roads in this County

Best Beaches for Kids and Families in Albania

Local Festivals You Should Attend in Albania in 2019

Beach of Durres, One of the Most Crowded Beaches in the World

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.