With miles of coast and its proximity to Tirana, Durrës should be a seaside resort par excellence. In reality it’s dirty and polluted, and you can’t swim without risking skin infections. It’s a sad reminder of how far the country has slipped since the beach resorts were built here in communist times.
However, the city has an ancient history, the remnants of which make for a fascinating visit. If you believe the sign in the museum it was founded by ‘Greek colons’ in 627 BC and named Epidamnos. Local political unrest played a part in sparking the Peloponnesian war that pitted the Greek states against each other from 431 to 404 BC. For a brief period it became part of an Illyrian kingdom before being taken by the Romans in 228 BC and renamed Dyrrachium. War once again touched it in 48 BC when Julius Caesar and Pompey did battle nearby during the Roman Civil War.
Despite all the bloodshed, the town itself was sacred to Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love, whose images fill the museum. Since Aphrodite’s decline, Durrës has changed hands between the Bulgarians, Byzantines, Argevins, Serbs, Venetians, Ottomans and German Prince Wilhelm of Weld, before briefly becoming the capital of an independent Albania between 1918 and 1920.