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Antiquities & Archaeology

Lords Rothschild and Sainsbury act to protect Butrint

The British School at Rome and the Tirana Institute of Archaeology are excavating Albania’s most important site.

London

Butrint in Southern Albania is arguably that country’s most important archaeological site. Originally settled by the archaic Greeks, it has upstanding medieval, Byzantine and Roman remains. In a new project launched last August by the British School in Rome working with the Tirana Insitute of Archaeology, Butrint is to be partially excavated and then managed as an archaeological park.

The interest of Richard

Hodges, director of the British School in Rome, in Butrint was originally aroused by the British ambassador to Rome Sir Patrick Fairweather, who is also ambassador to Albania. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Richard Hodges said, “The Tirana Institute of Archaeology has a distinguished track record and Butrint has great potential for looking at later Roman and medieval phases as well as for heritage management”. The project has the support of the present prime minister of Albania, Alexander Meksi, who is a Byzantine archaeologist and historian.

Coincidentally, the joint Albanian-British project was launched at the same time as an initiative by Lords Sainsbury and Rothschild in London to preserve the Butrint area from development. Lord Rothschild has a holiday home on the northern tip of Corfu, four miles across the strait from Butrint and first visited the site after the downfall of the regime of communist president Enver Hoxha. The Butrint Foundation was established in the UK in June 1994, with the support of the Albanian government, and has provided funding of £500,000 for the excavations.

Butrint’s most famous monument is a circular sixth-century Byzantine baptistry with an intact mosaic pavement built within the walls of a Roman bath building. The Roman theatre also survives although the stage is flooded, as does a large basilica and a Justinianic palace with a tricoran dining room. The site, which is national property, managed by the Tirana Institute of Archaeology, already attracts 10,000 visitors per year and the Butrint Foundation predicts that this could rise to 100,000 by the year 2000 with a managed archaeological and conservation programme. The Foundation wants to protect this area of outstanding natural beauty, and will campaign against development on the fringes of the site. The projected development, with the refurbishment of the museum and the addition of a lecture theatre, could bring a further $4 million into what is otherwise a poor region.