Days: 509 (16 November 2015)
Total distance travelled: 130,920.8 kilometres (81,317.27 miles)
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…
Roughly half an hour from the Albanian capital sits the port city of Durrës, and a short bus ride had as there by mid morning.
We’d actually come not for the beach, despite the sunny day before us, but rather what lies, or rather what once lay beneath.
Almost fifty years ago, an ancient Roman amphitheater was discovered beneath the town and it was this we sought.
The only thing was, we didn’t know exactly where it was.
But surely a Colosseum type structure that could once house fifteen to eighteen thousand people wouldn’t be difficult to find… would it?
We wandered aimlessly in the area we reckoned it to be, obvious signs of the Roman city of the past in abundance.
Random columns, ancient mosaics, thick sections of the original city wall, but an eighteen thousand seat stadium.
Inevitably we found ourselves at the waterfront, which was both modern and decrepit all at once.
From afar, it could be any coastal, resort city, but upon closer inspection you could see the flaws in the image.
Cracked concrete, crumbling brickwork and rusted metal.
Litter was strewn up and down the beach, even had the weather been warm enough, a deterrent enough to not take a dip.
It isn’t however, all doom and gloom for Durrës.
Some areas along the waterfront have certainly seen money, and much of it fresh.
There just appeared to be a long way still to go…
We strolled the waterfront, spied a large and unfortunately very dead sea turtle and even found the weather warm enough to enjoy an ice-cream for lunch!
With fresh vigour, we renewed our search for that elusive amphitheater, as we finally began to see more signs of the ancient Roman city of Dyrrachium (which is now the modern day Durrës).
Using the high and thick former city walls as our guide, we eventually began to ascend the the hillside that afforded the clustered homes sea views.
Ducking through a wide arch and up a cobbled road, we finally found our goal.
The Roman amphitheater of Durrës!
A lone attendant took a few Albanian Lek from us, and we began our explorations of this not fully excavated site.
When we cast our minds back to the many ruins we visited in Latin America, often remote locations, this felt a bit surreal.
Here we could with the completion of a three hundred and sixty degree turn, take in the majority of this second century beauty, as well as countless modern Albanian homes.
Best of all, we had the place completely to ourselves!
Well almost to ourselves, assuming we ignore the handful of chickens that roamed the grass covered floor of this once blood stained arena…
To actually get to the bottom, fortunately for the future of these ruins, we couldn’t just clamber down the crumbling sides, rather we had to descend from within, navigating our way through what remains of the labyrinthine tunnels beneath its surface.
This also allowed us the wonderful opportunity to sight some of the stunning mosaic remains that have been re-discovered.
Incredibly, this amphitheater remained hidden until fifty years ago, and given Albania’s Cold War isolation at the time, I can only assume it was even longer still, before the rest of the world even had the opportunity to learn of its existence.
Given how the country is anything but a tourist mecca, that means here we were, enjoying something spectacular, that even today is unknown to most!
We whiled away the remainder of the afternoon by taking in a little local colour, some gorgeous street art as well as a slightly quirky sculpture garden, including bronze tributes to Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and if I recall correctly, the final figure was John Lennon…
A short furgon ride later, and we were back in the capital of Tirana, ready to catch a little football that very night.
* A furgon (mini bus) from Tirana to Durrës cost 150.00 Lek per person in each direction.
* Entrance into the Roman Amphitheatre Durrës was 400.00 Lek each.