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Durrės (Italian: Durazzo; see also alternative names) is the most ancient and one of the most economically important important cities of Albania.

Contents

Geography and demographics

Durrės is located on the central Albanian coast at Template:Coor dm, about 33 km (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana. It is situated at one of the narrower points of the Adriatic Sea, only 164 km (102 miles) from the Italian port of Bari on the opposite coast. It has a population of around 114,000 (2003 estimate).

History

Roman and Byzantine rule

Durrės (Photo by Marc Morell)
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Durrės (Photo by Marc Morell)

The city was founded as Epidamnos in 627 BC by Greek colonists from Corinth and Corcyra (Corfu). Its geographical position was highly advantageous, being sited 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. However, Corinth and Corcyra quarrelled over the city, helping to precipitate the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. Epidamnos was seized by Glaucias, the king of Illyria, in 312 BC and subsequently passed to the Roman Republic in 229 BC, following which it was developed as a major Roman 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 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 Greece. Under Roman rule, Dyrrachium prospered; it became the western end of the Via Egnatia, the great Roman road that led to Thessalonica and on to Constantinople. Another lesser road led south to the city of Buthrotum, now called Butrint. The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus made the city a colony for veterans of his legions following the Battle of Actium, 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 (36ft)-high walls were so thick that, according to the Byzantine historian Anna Comnena, 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 had to fend off frequent attacks by the Bulgarians. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the city passed to the Byzantine Empire in the 8th century. It continued to be an important port and a major link between the empire and western Europe.

The Middle Ages

Dyrrachium was lost in 1082 by the emperor Alexius I Comnenus, who was defeated at the hands of the Normans (Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund (see Battle of Dyrrhachium (1081)). 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 Venice. It then passed into the hands of Charles I of Sicily (Charles of Anjou) in 1268.

Five years later, in 1273, it was wrecked by a devastating earthquake, but soon recovered and became an independent duchy under the rule of Charles' grandson John. It later came under the rule of Philip I of Taranto. In 1333 it was annexed to the Principality of Achaea before falling to the expansionist Serbian Tsar Stefan Dusan in 1336. Venice regained control in 1392 and retained the city, now known as Durrazzo, until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1501.

Durrės became a Christian city quite early on; its bishopric was created around 58 AD 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 were converted to Islam and many mosques were erected. However, the city's importance declined greatly. 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." [1] (http://65.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DU/DURAZZO.htm)

20th century

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The palace of King Zog I in Durrės (Photo by Joonas Lyytinen)

Durrės 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 was assigned to Albania in 1913 – somewhat controversially, as some Greeks argued for the annexation to Greece of what they called "Northern Epirus", including Durrės – and became the country's first national capital on March 7, 1913.

During the First World War, the city was occupied by Italy in 1915 and by Austria-Hungary in 1916-1918. Restored to Albanian sovereignty, Durrės was developed into a major seaport under the rule of King Zog. It experienced an economic boom due to Italian investments, though it lost its status as capital in 1920 when the government was moved to Tirana.

An earthquake in 1926 damaged some of the city, and the rebuilding that followed gave the city its more modern appearance. The Second World War saw Albania annexed to Fascist Italy between 1939-1943, then occupied by Nazi Germany until 1944. Durrės's strategic value as a seaport made it a high-profile military target – it was the site of the initial Italian landings in April 1939 as well as the launch point for the ill-fated Italian invasion of Greece – and the city was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during the war.

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.

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 Durrės and other Albanian cities to restore order, although there were widespread suggestions that the real purpose of "Operation Alba" was to prevent economic refugees using Albania's ports as a route to migrate to Italy.

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

Economy

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Panoramic view of the port area of Durrės

Durrės 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.

Local sights

Some important buildings in Durrės 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 visitsing annually. Many Albanians from Tirana spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Durrės. Due to the recent construction of a modern highway linking Tirana and Durrės, the travel time is only approximately 30 minutes.

Panoramic view of the beach in Durrės as seen from a paddle boat
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Panoramic view of the beach in Durrės as seen from a paddle boat


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An old military bunker close to the beach

As in other parts of Albania, numerous concrete bunkers built under the old dictatorship are situated in and around Durrės. They can be found every 100 to 150 meters 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.

See also

External links

cs:Drač de:Durrės it:Durazzo la:Dyrrachium nl:Durrės pl:Durrės sq:Durrėsi sv:Durrės fi:Durrės

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