"The Ancient Capital" Top 5 Page for this destination Durres by antistar

Durres Travel Guide: 65 reviews and 189 photos

Since its foundation by Greek colonists in the 7th century BC, the city has passed through the hands of every powerful empire in the region, before finally becoming the short lived capital of the first Albanian nation in 1913. The city has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Serbian Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottomans, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Even the Normans had a crack at running the town, which might explain the occasional red headed local I saw.

The city fell into decline under the Turks, who established the current capital of Tirana in the 17th century. By the start of the last century, Durres was in terminal decline, with only about a thousand people. The city was dilapidated, and its once flourishing harbour was silting up. It wasn't until its establishment as the first capital of Albania that it saw a resurgence.

Its dual status can be seen today in oddities like the central terminus of Albania's small rail network being in the city. In Albania all roads lead to Durres, which means buses leaving Tirana for Macedonia head west to Durres before heading back east to Macedonia. Then you have King Zog's palace looking out over the Adriatic from the hills which made Durres such a prime location nearly three thousand years ago.

But Durres is small. It plays second fiddle to Tirana, and it feels provincial despite its historic and modern importance to Albania. The pace is slow, the people are relaxed, the central streets near the shore are wide and not choked with traffic. It's a holiday destination for Albanians, especially from Tirana, but also Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo.

Its importance in recent years has been largely as a conduit for Albanian refugees. Over a hundred thousand Kosovan refugees ended up here at the end of the last century. Many attempted to escape here for Italy following the financial collapse of the pyramid trading scandal. And the harrowing pictures of hundreds of Albanians swimming out into the waters of Durres harbor to reach boats whose every surface were already covered in people escaping the anarchic end of Enver Hoxha's oppressive rule can be seen in the National History Museum in Tirana.

Durres is not your typical touristic destination, and unless you are fascinated by Albania or out of the way places, like me, or Albanian yourself, you might not like what you see. It's a little run down, there are few sights, and the main attraction, the beaches, wash up with sea water so polluted it caused a outbreak of skin rashes a few years back. You can see everything in a couple of hours, and be back in Tirana for tea.

It does have some great views of the harbour and Adriatic, if you can find your way up the hill to the lighthouse past King Zog's palace. If you do, you'll be such an unusual sight that you might cause a commotion with the local kids, like I did, who came running out to stare at me. It also has potential to be a major destination for sun lovers, with its 10 kilometers of sandy beaches. They just need to clean the place up a bit first.

Photo Album on Facebook (better quality).

  • Last visit to Durres: Apr 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (10)

Comments (7)

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    Fantastic little page about your adventures in Durres. In 2011 we also took a daytrip by train from Tirana to Durres and enjoyed it as much as you did.

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Jul 9, 2008 at 2:10 PM

    Nice page!

  • maykal's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2008 at 6:28 PM

    Haha, I'd forgotten about "Suffled how it gush" until seeing your photo! You're right, Durres is odd but strangely fascinating. Great page, faleminderit ;@P

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Jul 17, 2007 at 4:18 PM

    fascinating water, fascinating train, fascinating water, fascinating partisan - top page!

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Jun 9, 2007 at 10:23 PM

    Nice to get another view on a place! Next time, I will climb towards King Zog palace! Haha, I can figure an Albanian TGV! Funny photo of the Tepelene water! Actually, we always drank tap water (we have not been to Tirana this time) and it was excellent.

  • bugulma's Profile Photo
    May 22, 2007 at 9:08 PM

    it is always interesting to find some historical places like this.

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    May 16, 2007 at 9:52 AM

    Fascinating tips and beautiful photos of this little heralded Albanian city! Poor old King Zog, life is tough at the top! Thanks for the very interesting history lesson too.


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