One of the most popular destinations in Albania is the Durrës Amphitheatre.
This ancient Roman amphitheater was built in the 2nd AD during Roman Emperor Trajan’s celebrated reign as one of his many expansive building projects. The largest of its kind in the Balkans, the amphitheater at Durrës could once seat over 20,000 people. As with other Roman amphitheaters, it was often used for public games and performances until an earthquake limited its capacity in this regard during the mid-4th century.
Nevertheless, Durrës Amphitheatre was still used and construction continued on the site well into Medieval times. An early Christian chapel was completed following the earthquake. Initially decorated with frescoes, the chapel was later decorated with mosaics in the sixth century. A medieval chapel expanded on the early one, also complete with frescoes and mosaics.
Unfortunately, following Ottoman occupation, the amphitheater was buried in order to construct a wall around the city of Durrës. The amphitheater remained buried and forgotten for almost five centuries until it was partially uncovered in the 1960s by Lida Miraj, an Albanian professor specializing in ancient architecture. Further efforts in the 80s continued excavation. However, excavation eventually halted and for the following two decades the amphitheater fell into disrepair.
Strangely, sections of the arena have modern houses built on top of the amphitheater. This odd situation, combined with the rapid decay of the frescoes and mosaics in the amphitheater and chapel, have caused the Durrës Amphiteathre to be listed as one of the most endangered cultural heritage sites in Europe. There is currently a project attempting to restore the ancient monument, and the city of Durrës has plans to remove the houses in the future.