Based on the recommendation of several folks, we took a bus to the nearby town of Butrint the following day. Now, as my teachers in high school will tell you, I have never been much of a history buff, but I was absolutely fascinated by the historical significance of this place, representing a microcosm of European civilization throughout the ages. Here’s the deal: Evidence of habitation is present as early as 6000 BC, which includes the Illyrians, the original inhabitants of the area and ancestors of the Albanians. However, you know those Greeks were great explorers with a story for everything, and they were just right next door. So, based on Greek mythology, Butrint was founded by exiles fleeing the fall of Troy (which is another whole interesting Greek story in itself), and it is actually mentioned in The Aeneid, Vigil’s epic poem. Much of the ruins were developed as a healing sanctuary dedicated to the god Asclepius. The Romans then took over the city; Julius Caesar and Augustus founded a colony at Butrint after defeating Anthony and Cleopatra nearby in 31 BC. They further developed the city until the fifth century. The Roman empire then began to decline, and without having one clear ruler several people argued amongst themselves until the empire was divided into two parts, the east and west, with the east becoming the Byzantine empire and controlled by Constantine (he was the one that renamed Istanbul Constantinople) with the spread of huge churches and Christianity. Sure enough, the biggest Baptistery with a beautiful mosaic exists at Butrint from this period. In 1081, the Normans took over Butrint, then the Venetians, and it pretty much fell to ruin until the 1800s when the Ottomans (aka the Turks with their Islam faith) took over, more out of interest for the trade and pastures, and built another castle to oversee this route. Finally in the early 1900s, the Italians came in and began refurbishing the place (like they did with Rhodes, the island with the medieval walled city in Greece) into what we see today. Did you know that all this was in Albania?? Neither did I.
Another thing we didn’t know is that we came up against a time change when we crossed over from Greece to Turkey! We actually went two days before we realized this! Then all of a sudden things fell into place. Like why the clock on the wall was an hour earlier in the information office. And why the museum was closed when we thought it should have opened 15 minutes beforehand. And why the woman was “late” getting us breakfast. And why the gentleman told us about a bus that left at 9:10 when we thought it was 9:30 and had already missed it. And finally, why we ended up waiting for 2 ½ hours for the bus back to Saranda from Butrint. That time we really got desperate and in the course of a broken English/lots of Albanian conversation involving gestures and watches, finally realized that we should have moved our clocks back an hour! It was pretty hilarious once we figured it out. We met a delightful family (two photographers, Kiwi and Dutch, and their 3-year-old) through Bob, our Irish friend, and luckily found out we weren’t the only one to be tricked by this change. Happens to the best of us.
As an aside, here’s the story of Troy: At some wedding function, the goddess of chaos threw a golden apple into the reception and said that it was for the most beautiful woman there. Hera (Zeus’ wife), Athena (goddess of war and citizenship, that Athens is named after) and Aphrodite (goddess of beauty and love) began to argue over it. They tried to involve Zeus, but being quite smart, he stayed out of the discussion and told them to go ask Paris, a goatherder who was banished to the mountains by his father, the king of Troy, because the Oracle told him that Paris would bring great trouble on his land. The Oracle proved right. Paris agreed to judge the contest (stupid boy) and each woman offered him bribes if he chose them (Hera—wisdom, Athena—power, and Aphrodite—the love of the most beautiful woman in the world). Guess who he chose? Aphrodite, the winner, then brought him to Helen in Greece, made the two fall in love, and Paris brought her back with him to Troy (which is on the Turkish coast). So her husband became quite angry and got together all of his buddies, including Odysseus, and went to fight the Trojans. The battle raged for years with all sorts of excitement including Achilles and his infamous heal, but finally was won by the sneaky wooden horse trick (the Greeks hid themselves in a wooden horse and the Trojans brought it inside their town walls, thus allowing the enemy to kill them and take over). The story is in Homer’s The Iliad. As Odysseus returned back to his homeland on the island of Ithaca (which is right next to Kefalonia and some say that he is actually from there), his travel tales were made narrated in Homer’s The Odyssey. Did you remember all this from high school English? Neither did I.