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C + 2 : Taking Shelter in Epidamnos (Durres)

Seeing that the pentacles of the European Cyclone will reach Durres this afternoon with wind speed of 45 knots, we decided to start our day early and sit out the bad weather in Durres.

Wind map this morning at 9 am

We set sail at 4 am just before dawn and had a few sunny hours. The Albanian mountains were visible in the far distance. A southern swell pushed us north.

The Dragonfly flying on its way to Durres

At around 8 am, the waves started to get bigger but the sails of our boat kept us stable. By the time we reached Durres at 10 am, weather had really changed. Wind speed increased to 20 kn/h, the water started to get choppy and the first clouds crept over the horizon.

Durres today - the commercial harbour of Albania - not the most beautiful place but safe

With not much else to do, we set out to explore the town. Durres was founded in the 7th century BC by colonists from Corinth - about at the same time other Corinthian settlers founded Syracuse. The new town was called Epidamnos and was as well known as its Sicilian sibling. Epidamnos was rich and played an important role in Greece. Internal strive actually triggered the Peloponnesian War when the towns factions appealed to other Greek States. Epidamnos was a key hub for trading with the Illyrians - but I could not find out what they actually traded.

The Roman Amphitheatre - only rediscovered in 1966 when people extended their cellars

Epidamnos eventually became part of Epirus and the Kingdom of Pyrrhus, the Greek King who intervened in Southern Italy to protect Taranto from Roman occupation. This eventually dragged Rome into Greece. The name Epidamnos was changed to Dyrrhachium. As the Romans built their Empire and with it the road network to move Legions around quickly, Dyrrhachium became the starting point of the Via Egnatia, the 1'120 km long road that linked the Adriatic coast to Constantinople. Together with Brindisium, Dyrrhachium became the busiest port in the Roman Empire. All travellers between the two capitals had to pass through. The town is thus littered with Roman artefacts. Unfortunately, they are all 5 meters below current surface and only appear with new construction projects. Communist Albania did not really take an interest in Durres' history thus all the excavations are recent.

The Venetian Sea Tower which guarded the harbour before it fell to the Ottomans in 1501

Durres or Dyrrhachium remained a Roman or Byzantine town until it came under Ottoman rule. The Turks actively supported the settlement of loyal Albanians from the mountains to replace the Greek and Venetian who had left. Not by chance Durres became the first capital of Albania in 1912 when it became an independent kingdom.

` Albania in the borders of 1912

Albania's borders were fixed after the 2nd Balkan War which the Greek and Serbians won. Both first objected to the creation of an independent, mostly Muslim Albania. They denounced it as a "sleeping agent for the Turks". Their intention was to carve it up between themselves. But Great Britain insisted. Greece and Serbia thus focused on keeping Albania as small as possible and thus created the Albanian problem in Kosovo and Macedonia that still bothers us today. A more realistic and less imperialistic drawing of the borders in 1912 would have avoided the war in Kosovo 80 years later.

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