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A brige in Port Durres Albania

Durres, Albania

For many years, Durrës was best known to travelers as the humble port where they could catch the ferry to Italy. Nearly three decades after the fall of Communism, however, Albania’s second-largest city has been given an all-around makeover, including a major new port with fine seafront promenades. 

Durrës's history stretches back long before these recent developments. It was founded as the Illyrian capital in 627 B.C.E., before falling to the Romans who built the famous Via Egnatia, the ancient Roman road to Byzantium. That past is still alive today in ruins and monuments found at every turn, such as the ancient city wall close to the harbor.

Albania’s more recent Islamic heritage is reflected in Durrës’s early-16th-century Fatih Mosque, located close to the water and near the old Roman amphitheater (the largest in the Balkans). The narrow streets down in the old town are the place to dip into small restaurants to sample some Albanian gjellë meat stew, try the chilled yogurt and cucumber drink called tarator, and smack your lips on some honey and nut baklava pastry.