Amphitheater of Durrës – Durrës, Albania - Atlas Obscura

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Amphitheater of Durrës

Durrës, Albania

The largest Roman amphitheater in the Balkans once held over 20,000 people, but managed to lay hidden for hundreds of years. 


During their long history, the Romans built hundreds of amphitheaters across the large territory they controlled. Today, around 230 of them remain across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Among the ones built in the Balkan Peninsula, the largest was in the ancient city of Dyrrachium, now Durrës, in Albania.

The amphitheater in Durrës was built in this flourishing town in the early second century during the reign of Trajan. When filled, it could hold over 20,000 people. The amphitheater was used until the fourth century when a large earthquake damaged the structure. Soon after it was abandoned and a small Christian chapel decorated with frescoes and mosaics was built inside. Another chapel was built in the 13th century but when Albania was conquered by the Ottomans in the 16th century, the whole structure was covered and houses were built above the site.

In the 1960s, the Roman amphitheater was rediscovered and partially excavated. More of the structure was excavated in the 1980s, but once exposed to the elements the ancient structure was in danger of being lost forever. In 2004, a massive restoration project saved the monument by turning it into a museum. But it continues to be listed as an endangered cultural site, with many houses still really close and above the old amphitheater. The chapels and their mosaics have also been restored.

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