Buthrotum or Butrint in Latin was an ancient Greek and later Roman city in Epirus. It is located on a hill overlooking the Vivari Channel and part of the Butrint National Park. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Buthrotum was a city of the Greek tribe of the Chaonians, later a Roman colony and a bishopric.
Butrint is accessible from Saranda, along a road first built in 1959 for a visit by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. This road was being upgraded during summer 2010. The construction project is something of an environmental catastrophe and may yet threaten Butrint’s World Heritage Site status.
The ancient city is increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination, attracting day-trippers from the nearby Greek holiday island of Corfu. In the 3rd century AD, an earthquake destroyed a large part of the town, leveling buildings in the suburbs on the Vrina Plain and in the forum of the city centre.
Excavations have revealed that city had already been in decline. However, the settlement survived into the late antique era, becoming a major port in the province of Old Epirus. The town of late antiquity included the grand Triconch Palace, the house of a major local notable that was built around 425.
The Republic of Venice purchased the area including Corfu from the Angevins in 1386; however, the Venetian merchants were principally interested in Corfu and Buthrotum once again declined. By 1572 the wars between Venice and the Ottoman Empire had left Buthrotum ruinous and at the order of Domenico Foscarini, the Venetian commander of Corfu, the administration of Buthrotum and its environs was shifted to a small triangular fortress associated with the extensive fish weirs.
The area was lightly settled afterwards, occasionally being seized by the Ottoman Turks, in 1655 and 1718, before being recaptured by the Venetians. In the palaeo-Christian period, two basilicas and a baptistry were built; its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved, first, in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and then in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. Subterranean infiltration of water forced the inhabitants to flee, and the abandoned city was covered by mud and vegetation.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that systematic excavations were carried out by Italian archaeologists; following the liberation of Albania in 1944, Albanian archaeologists undertook more ambitious excavations.
The mud and vegetation that covered Butrint had protected it from the natural and human ravages of time, and the entire city was revealed almost intact. The area around the antique town of Butrint in southern Albania is not only home to several globally threatened species, but has also a rich cultural history, justifying its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The National Park comprises a high diversity of natural, semi-natural and artificial habitats, such as freshwater marshes, reed beds, Mediterranean forests and maquis, arable lands and fruit-tree terraces, as well as coastal waters with rocky and sandy coast, open halophytic lands, etc.