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Durrës is the secondlargest city of Albaniamarker. It is the most ancient and one of the most economically important cities of Albania. It is located on the central Albanian coast, about west of the capital Tiranamarker. It is situated at one of the narrower points of the Adriatic Seamarker, opposite the Italianmarker ports of Barimarker ( away) and Brindisimarker ( away). It has a population of around 114,000 ( estimate). The city of Durrës is home to Albania's newest public university, the Aleksander Moisiu University.


In the past few decades, the Albanian name of the city, Durrës (Durrësi), has gradually replaced the widespread use of the Italian name Durazzo.

The city has been known by many other names in different languages due to its varied colorful history, including the Greek names Epidamnos (Επίδαμνος) and Dyrrhachion (Δυρράχιον), the Latin Dyrr(h)achium, the Bulgarian and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian Drach or Drač (Драч), the Ottoman Turkish Dıraç and the Italian Durazzo.

For other names by which Durrës is known, see other names of Durrës.



As one of the oldest cities in Europe, the city was founded as Epidamnos in the ancient region of Illyria in 627 BC by Greek colonists from Corinthmarker and Corcyramarker. Its geographical position was highly advantageous, being situated around a natural rocky harbour which was surrounded by inland swamps and high cliffs on the seaward side, making the city very difficult to attack from either land or sea. Epidamnos was noted for being a politically advanced society, prompting the ancient philosopher Aristotle to praise its political system in handling the barbarians. However, Corinthmarker and Corcyramarker quarrelled over the city, helping to precipitate the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC.Epidamnos was seized by Glaukias, a Illyrian king, in 312 BC with the help of the Greek oligarchy. Later Queen Teuta of Issa attacked Epidamnus but withdrew when the Romans arrived the same year 229 BC and expelled the Illyrian garrison from the city including it thereafter in their protectorate. The Romans setup a Greek, Demetrius of Pharos to rule over Teuta's kingdom but as client of Rome. He lost his kingdom in 219 BC at the Second Illyrian War including Epidamnus to the Romans.In the Third Illyrian War Epidamnus was attacked by Gentius but he was defeated by the Romans at the same year.The general vicinity of Epidamus was called Epidamnia.

Roman and Byzantine rule

Durrës Harbor
After the Illyrian Wars with the Roman Republic in 229 BC ended in a decisive defeat for the Illyrians the city passed to Roman rule, under which it was developed as a major military and naval base. The Romans renamed it Dyrrachium (Greek: Δυρράχιον / Dyrrhachion). They considered the name Epidamnos to be inauspicious because of its wholly coincidental similarities with the Latin word damnum, meaning "loss" or "harm". The meaning of Dyrrachium ("bad spine" or "difficult ridge" in Greek) is unclear but it has been suggested that it refers to the imposing cliffs near the city. Julius Caesar's rival Pompey made a stand there in 48 BC before fleeing south to Greecemarker. Under Roman rule, Dyrrachium prospered; it became the western end of the Via Egnatia, the great Roman road that led to Thessalonicamarker and on to Constantinoplemarker. Another lesser road led south to the city of Buthrotum, the modern Butrintmarker. The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus made the city a colony for veterans of his legions following the Battle of Actiummarker, proclaiming it a civitas libera (free town).

In the 4th century AD, Dyrrachium was made the capital of the Roman province of Epirus nova. It was the birthplace of the emperor Anastasius I in circa 430. Some time later that century, Dyrrachium was struck by a powerful earthquake which destroyed the city's defences. Anastasius I rebuilt and strengthened the city walls, thus creating the strongest fortifications in the western Balkans. The 12m (36 ft)-high walls were so thick that, according to the Byzantine historian Anna Komnene, four horsemen could ride abreast on them. Significant portions of the ancient city defences still remain, although they have been much reduced over the centuries.

Like much of the rest of the Balkans, Dyrrachium and the surrounding Dyrraciensis provinciae suffered considerably from barbarian incursions during the Migrations Period. It was besieged in 481 by Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, and in subsequent centuries had to fend off frequent attacks by the Bulgarians. Unaffected by the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city continued under the Byzantine Empire as an important port and a major link between the Empire and western Europe.

Middle Ages

Durrës in 1573
The First Bulgarian Empire under Simeon the Great captured the city, together with most of what is today Albania, in the early 10th century, but the Byzantines reconquered it around the middle of the century, when Bulgaria was under Peter I. The very end of the century saw another period of Bulgarian control, when under Samuel the empire conquered the city and held it until 1018. Dyrrachium (then known as Драч, Drach in Bulgarian) remained as one of the last Bulgarian fortresses as the Byzantine Empire subjugated Bulgaria.

Dyrrachium was lost in February 1082 by the emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who was defeated at the hands of the Normans (Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund (see Battle of Dyrrhachium marker). Byzantine control was restored the following century following the defeat of Bohemund in 1107 but the city was lost again in 1185, this time to the Norman King William II of Sicily. In 1202, during the Fourth Crusade, the city was transferred to the rule of the Republic of Venicemarker. It passed into the hands of Manfred of Sicily and then Charles I of Sicily (Charles of Anjou) in 1268.

Five years later, in ca. 1273, it was wrecked by a devastating earthquake (according to George Pachymeres; R. Elsie, Early Albania (2003), p. 12), but soon recovered and became an independent duchy under the rule of Charles' grandson John of Anjou. It later came under the rule of Philip I of Taranto. In 1333 it was annexed to the Frankish Principality of Achaea before falling to the Serbianmarker Tsar Stefan Dušan in 1336. When Dušan died in 1355, the city passed into the hands of the Albanian family of Thopias.

The Republic of Venicemarker regained control in 1392 and retained the city, known as Durazzo in those years, as part of the Albania Veneta. It fended off a siege by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1466 but fell to Ottoman forces in 1501.

Durrës became a Christian city quite early on; its bishopric was created around AD 58 and was raised to the status of an archbishopric in 449. It is also the seat of a Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop. Under Turkish rule, many of its inhabitants converted to Islam and many mosques were erected. This city was renamed as Dıraç, the city did not prosper under the Ottomans and its importance declined greatly. By the mid-19th century, its population was said to have been only about 1,000 people living in some 200 households. Its decrepitude was noted by foreign observers in the early 20th century: "The walls are dilapidated; plane-trees grow on the gigantic ruins of its old Byzantine citadel; and its harbour, once equally commodious and safe, is gradually becoming silted up." It was a sanjak centre in İşkodra Vilayet before 1912.

20th century

Durrës was an active city in the Albanian national liberation movement in the periods 1878-1881 and 1910-1912. Ismail Qemali raised the Albanian flag on November 26, 1912 but the city was captured by the Serbs three days later during the First Balkan War. The city became Albaniamarker's first national capital on March 7, 1913 under the brief rule of Prince William of Wied.

During the First World War, the city was occupied by Italymarker in 1915 and by Austria-Hungary in 1916-1918. It was captured by the Allies in October 1918. Restored to Albanian sovereignty, Durrës became the country's temporary capital between 1918 and March 1920. It experienced an economic boom due to Italian investments and developed into a major seaport under the rule of King Zog, with a modern harbour being constructed in 1927.

An earthquake in 1926 damaged some of the city and the rebuilding that followed gave the city its more modern appearance. During the 1930s, the Bank of Athens had a branch in the city.

The Second World War saw Durrës (called Durazzo again in Italian) and the rest of Albania being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy between 1939-1943, then occupied by Nazi Germany until 1944. Durrës's strategic value as a seaport made it a high-profile military target for both sides. It was the site of the initial Italian landings on 7 April 1939 as well as the launch point for the ill-fated Italian invasion of Greece. The city was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during the war and the port installations were blown up by the retreating Germans in 1944.

The Communist regime of Enver Hoxha rapidly rebuilt the city following the war, establishing a variety of heavy industries in the area and expanding the port. It became the terminus of Albania's first railway, begun in 1947. In the late 1980s the city was briefly renamed Durrës-Enver Hoxha.

Following the collapse of communist rule in 1990, Durrës became the focus of mass emigrations from Albania with ships being hijacked in the harbour and sailed at gunpoint to Italy. In one month alone, August 1991, over 20,000 people migrated to Italy in this fashion. Italy intervened militarily, putting the port area under its control, and the city became the centre of the European Community's "Operation Pelican", a food-aid programme.

In 1997, Albania slid into anarchy following the collapse of a massive pyramid scheme which devastated the national economy. An Italian-led peacekeeping force was controversially deployed to Durrës and other Albanian cities to restore order, although there were widespread suggestions that the real purpose of "Operation Alba" was to prevent economic refugees continuing to use Albania's ports as a route to migrate to Italy.

During the 1999 Kosovo War the city hosted some 110,000 Deportees from Kosovomarker and became a base of operations for much of the refugee response by aid agencies in Albania.


Durrës is still an important link to Western Europe due to its port and its proximity to the Italian port cities, notably Bari, to which daily ferries run. As well as the dockyard, it also possess an important shipyard and manufacturing industries, notably producing leather, plastic and tobacco products. The neighbouring district also produces wine and a variety of foodstuffs.


A Mosque in Durrës
Some important buildings in Durrës include the main library, the cultural center with the Aleksander Moisiu theater, the Estrada Theater, the puppet theater, the philharmonic orchestra, etc. There are also several museums such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of History.

The city's beaches are also a popular destination for many foreign and local tourists, with an estimated 600,000 tourists visiting annually. Many Albanians from Tirana spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Durrës.

Due to the recent construction of a modern highway linking Tirana and Durrës, the travel time is only approximately 30 minutes. You can also make the journey by train, for the token charge of 50 leke (about US$ 0.40). There are roughly ten trains a day from Tirana.

As in other parts of Albania, numerous concrete bunkers built under the old dictatorship are situated in and around Durrës. They can be found every along the city's beach. They were built to defend the country from a supposed foreign attack from either the West or the Warsaw Pact which never happened; Albania now has an estimated 700,000 bunkers.

The largest amphitheatremarker in the Balkans is located in the city close to the harbour. This 1st Century construction is currently under consideration for inscription as a UNESCOmarker World Heritage site.


Durrës has a generally Mediterranean climate. The average temperature varies from a low of in January to a high of in July and August. The driest months are June, July and August, each with less than 1 cm of precipitation on average, while the rest of the year sees monthly precipitation over 2 cm.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

See also


  1. Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, ISBN 0631198075, page 96,"From Bouthoe to Epidamnus, a Greek city, the ..."
  2. Aristot. Pol. 2.1267b
  3. A History of the Classical Greek World, 478 - 323 BC (Blackwell History of the Ancient World) by P. J. Rhodes, 2005, page 82: "... expelled the oligarchs, and the oligarchs joined with the neighbouring Taulantians in attacking Epidamnus, ..."
  4. "The ruler of Pharos was a Greek, Demetrius",Lectures on Ancient History: From the Earliest Times to the Taking of ... - Page 353, by Barthold Georg Niebuhr
  5. Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 120, ISBN 0631198075, page 161, "... Gulf of Kotor. The Romans decided that enough had been achieved and hostilities ceased. The consuls handed over Illyria to Demetrius and withdrew the fleet and army to Epidamnus , ..."
  6. Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Chronological Compendium of 667 Battles to 31Bc, from the Historians of the Ancient World (Greenhill Historic Series) by John Drogo Montagu, ISBN 1853673897, 2000, page 47
  7. The History of the Manners and Customs of Ancient Greece: Volume 3 by James Augustus St. John, 2003, ISBN 1402154410, page 275
  8. D/DU/DURAZZO.htm - LoveToKnow 1911
  9. L'amphithéâtre de Durres - UNESCO World Heritage Centre

External links

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