Durres honors ‘father’ of Albanian archaeology

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 19, 2017 17:05

Durres honors ‘father’ of Albanian archaeology

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  • The country's second largest city and the traditional most popular destination in Albania, owes much of its archaeological heritage to Vangjel Toçi, who dedicated all his life to excavating ancient ruins dating back to ancient Rome. In addition to the landmark Durres amphitheater discovery, the largest in the Balkans, Toçi who passed away at the age of 77 in 1999, is also known for discovering the "Beauty of Durres" mosaic and the Roman thermal baths.

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The 4th Century B.C. "Beauty of Durres" mosaic redescovered by Vangjel Toçi

The 4th Century B.C. “Beauty of Durres” mosaic rediscovered by Vangjel Toçi

TIRANA, April 19 – Durres has honored Vangjel Toçi, known as the father of Albania archaeology, by naming after him a street close to the ancient Roman amphitheater which he discovered in the mid-1960s.

The street naming came this week on the International Day for Monuments and Sites and amid debates over a controversial project the Durres Municipality is carrying out following the discovery of some ancient ruins raising questions marks over the construction of a luxury veil-like square.

The country’s second largest city and the traditional most popular destination in Albania, owes much of its archaeological heritage to Vangjel Toçi, who dedicated all his life to excavating ancient ruins dating back to ancient Rome. In addition to the landmark Durres amphitheater discovery, the largest in the Balkans, Toçi who passed away at the age of 77 in 1999, is also known for discovering the “Beauty of Durres” mosaic and the Roman thermal baths. He is also known as one of the founders of the Durres library, the local archaeological museum and the Anti-fascist national liberation museum, currently known as the Martyrs’ Museum.

“Vangjel Toçi is one of the most renowned personalities not only in Durres but the whole national heritage and due to his dedication in the great archaeological discoveries, he brought added value to Durres, bringing to light great works visited by all tourists to Durres,” said Durres Mayor Vangjush Dako, adding that the decision to name the street after Vangjel Toçi was unanimously approved by all municipal councilors.

Socialist Party mayor Dako, now in his third consecutive term as head of Durres municipality, has recently come under fire by cultural heritage experts and activists for the controversial “Veliera” project after the discovery of some ruins, leading to the partial suspension of works.  The 6-million euro government-funded “Veliera” project will be a 12,000 m2 square with a giant 2,000 m2 veil and is expected to be inaugurated ahead of the upcoming June general elections.

A court has ordered the partial suspension of construction works over the controversial project to build a luxury veil-like square in front of the country’s biggest port of Durres that risks burying ancient ruins in concrete next to the landmark Durres castle and Venetian tower until a final decision by the National Archaeology Council.

Boasting 3,000 years of history, Durres is known for its cultural moments from the Roman and Venetian periods, in particular fortifications and an amphitheater, the largest of its kind in the Balkans, which dates from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138).

According to Vangjel Toçi, the amphitheater was built under Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.), when a library was also built in the city. These works were part of an Imperial urban master plan which on the one hand catered to the entertainment needs of the populace and, on the other, enhanced the cultural status of the city. Italian archaeologists of the University of Parma who conducted research at the amphitheater for about a decade until 2015 say the amphitheater was apparently abandoned in the second half of the fourth century A.D. due to a ban on gladiator sports, but perhaps the damage caused by the earthquake in 346 A.D. is a more plausible reason.

The amphitheater was well known, and perhaps also partly visible, as far back as 1508 as mentioned by late Middle Ages Albanian writer Marin Barleti a contemporary with the country’s national hero Skanderbeg on whom he also penned a biography.

Back in 2013, the Durres amphitheater was shortlisted by leading European heritage organization Europa Nostra for the ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ programme.

“The discovery of this magnificent early 2nd century amphitheatre, which remained unknown to the world until the 1960’s, put the ancient city of Durrës back on the map of historic sites in Europe. It also poses a major challenge to ensure a successful integration of the site into the urban fabric and local community of Durrës,” says Europa Nostra.

The new bigger municipality of Durres following the 2015 administrative reform has a resident population of 175,000 people and includes five former coastal municipalities and communes.

The city’s population more than doubles in summer with dozens of thousands of local and foreign holidaymakers.

Founded in the 7th century BC under the name Epidamnos, Durres has been continuously inhabited for 27 centuries and is one of the oldest cities in Albania.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 19, 2017 17:05