Durrės (Photo by Marc Morell)
Durrės (Albanian: Durrės or Durrėsi) is the most ancient city of Albania and one of the most economically important as the biggest port city. It is located at 41.33°N, 19.45°E and has a population of around 114,000 (2003 estimate). The city and its harbour is located on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea. The beaches of Durrės are local hotspots for many Albanians and are an important part of tourism in Albania.
In ancient times it was known by the Illyrian name Epidamnos, then with the Greek name Dyrrhachion, in Roman times as Dyrrachium or Dyrrhachium, and to the Italianss as Durazzo. In Serbian language the city is called Drač (Драч) and that name is used in some other Slavic languages.
The city was founded around 627 BC as Epidamnos by Corcyrean (inhabitants of Corfu) and Corinthian (inhabitants of Corinth) colonists on the settlement of the Illyrian Taulant tribe. Epidamnos first appears on coins of the 5th century BC, and it was part of the kingdoms of Cassander and Pyrrhus. In 229 BC, the Romans seized the city and changed its name to Dyrrhachium. However, the city maintained a semi-autonomy and was turned into a Roman colony. The Romans made use of it as a base for forces in Greece and the Balkans; the Via Egnatia had a terminus here. In 48 BC Pompey was based at Dyrrachium and beat off an attack by Julius Caesar. Around 20 BC, the Illyrians gained a higher political status with several rising to the position of emperor.
Durrės was an active city in the Albanian national liberation movement in the periods 1878-1881 and 1910-1912. Ismail Qemali raised the Albanian flag on November 26, 1912 but the city was captured by the Serbs three days later. The Serbs stayed in Durrės until 1913. On March 7, 1913, Durrės became the capital of Albania, until 1920 when the capital was changed to Tirana.
During the rule of Zog, the city experienced an economic boom due to Italian capital. An earthquake in 1926 damaged some of the infrastructure that had to be rebuilt. It was during this restructuring that the city gained its more modern appearance.
After World War II the city experienced another period of growth and became more industrialized.
Some important buildings in Durrės include the main library, the cultural center with the Aleksander Moisiu theater, the Estrada Theater, the puppet theater, the philharmonic orchestra, etc. There are also several museums such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of History.
The city's beaches are also a very active point for many foreign and local tourists. Many Albanians from Tirana spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Durrės. Due to the recent construction of a highway linking Tirana and Durrės, the travel time is approximately only 30 minutes.