Archaeological discoveries

The Roman amphitheater of Durrës in Albania, the largest in the Balkans

Founded by Greek settlers from Corcyra (present-day Corfu), who called it Epidamnus, in 627 BC. and renamed Dyrrhachium (Dyrrhachium ) by the Romans, the current city of Durrës is the second most populous in Albania, located in the center of the country's Adriatic coast, and its main port.

In 1966, during construction work, the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, briefly excavated by archaeologist Vangjel Toci, were found in the center of the city. It seems that the British archaeologist Arthur Evans had unsuccessfully searched for it in 1877. A third of the monument was exposed, with Lida Miraj completing the works some 20 years later. It is the largest Roman amphitheater of all those found in the Balkan Peninsula, and the only one in Albania.

However, no restoration or conservation work was carried out, nor was housing construction limited in the vicinity, and the amphitheater slowly fell into disrepair over the next 25 years. Until in 2004 restoration work began to consolidate and save the monument.

It was built at the time of Emperor Trajan (some say already under Hadrian), at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, and had a capacity of 20,000 people. An inscription found in the place indicates that for its inauguration twelve pairs of gladiators faced each other in it.

It is elliptical in shape, measuring 132 by 113 meters in total, of which 61 by 42 correspond to sand. It was built taking advantage of the slope of a hill, inside which galleries were excavated at different levels, very close to the southwestern end of the peninsula that forms the city's port.

It has several atypical and unusual construction features. The stands of the southern part, which do not rest on the hill, were built on substructures to reach the 20-meter height of the others. The access of the gladiators and the animals to the arena was through a tunnel under the hill, 9 meters high.

And the access of the spectators was made from top to bottom in the area of ​​the hill. In addition, the vomitories that give access to the stands are irregularly distributed.

It remained in use until the 4th century, at the end of which a Christian chapel decorated with frescoes was built in it, a decoration to which mosaics were added in the 6th century (and which still stands). It was damaged and destroyed by two earthquakes, one in the year 345 and one in the 10th century.

Around the year 500 the structure was integrated into the defensive fortifications of the city, and from the 7th century it began to be used as a cemetery. Bodies were found both in the arena and in the corridors leading to it.

Since the end of Antiquity it was used as a quarry for the construction of surrounding buildings. In this way it lost most of the stone seats, so today only the mortar substructure is visible.

In the 13th century another chapel, also decorated with frescoes, was built over the amphitheater and was used until the Ottoman occupation of the city in 1501. Under Turkish rule the city was renamed Diraç and the amphitheater covered and buried under sand and earth.

Today it continues without being fully excavated. In 2013 it was included in the list of the 14 most endangered cultural heritage sites in Europe. Until 2016 there were still modern houses on part of the stands and the arena, but they were expropriated and demolished.

Today the place, where stairs and security measures have been installed, is open to tourism.