The Butrint Project

Article excerpt

The World Heritage Site of Butrint (ancient Buthrotum) is situated on a promontory on the southwest coast of Albania, separated from the island of Corfu by a narrow strait (FIGURE 4, overleaf). The site has been occupied since at least the 8th century BC, although myths associated with its origins speak of the city's foundation by Trojan exiles (Ugolini 1937). By the 4th century BC a walled settlement was established and the city became a successful cult site, dedicated to Aesclepius. Augustus founded a colony at Butrint and the town seems to have remained a relatively small Roman port until the 6th century. Little is known of the site between the 7th and later 9th centuries. 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 second in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. By the early 19th century it had dwindled to a small fishing village clustered around a Venetian castle.


Archaeological investigation of the site was begun by an Italian mission in the 1920s (Ugolini 1937), and was continued under the post-war communist government of Albania. Since 1994 excavations have been undertaken by the Albanian Institute of Archaeology and the Butrint Foundation. Working closely with the Albanian Ministry of Culture and UNESCO, the Foundation has also been involved with the creation of a national park of 29 sq. km around Butrint and the expansion of the World Heritage site to cover the same area (FIGURE 4). The protection of the rich archaeological and natural landscape around Butrint is paramount to the aims of the project, although the economic need to develop the tourist potential of the Butrint region is also recognized.

The archaeological investigation of Butrint and its hinterland has involved a combination of evaluation, excavation, field survey, geomorphology, geophysical survey and archival research. The geophysical survey was of particular significance, charting the extent of the city on the plain outside the late-antique walls and doubling the size of the known archaeological area. This highlighted the necessity of expanding the boundaries of the World Heritage site. Within the walled city of Butrint, excavations have focused on a late-antique palatial dwelling known as the triconch palace, and the area around the spectacular late-antique baptistery (Hodges et al. 1997). The excavations of the 4th-5th-century triconch palace continued in 2000 and have revealed a complex archaeological sequence. …