As many Albanian cities, Saranda (Sarandë) dates back to the ancient times. It is a long history, definitely too much for one, unchanged name. Saranda used to be named otherwise, the ancient tribe of Chaonians called it with a male name Onchesmos, Onhezmus or Anchiasmos. The modern name originated in the times of the Byzantine Empire in the monastery of Άγιοι Σαράντα (Agioi Saranda), which in Greek means Forty Saints and in Italian version it is Santi Quaranta.
Because of its strategic position the city was often a target of invasion, it even got burnt in 1878. In 1913, under the provisions of The Protocol of Florence, Saranda got incorporated into the newly-created Albania, but in 1914 it was taken under the Greek occupation, and later, in 1916, Italian. It returned to Albania only in 1920. In 1939 Albania was annexed by the fascist Italy and in this way Saranda got under occupation again. Italians founded the navy base there and they changed the name of the city to Porto Edda, in commemoration of Benito Mussolini’s daughter – Edda Ciano Mussolini. On December 6th, 1940 the city was taken over by the Greeks, however they did not enjoy their booty for long, as in spring 1941 the German invasion on Greece began.
After the war Saranda became an important tourist center of the communist Albania. No wonder as in this region there are on average 300 days a year with a sunny weather and the yearly average temperature is 17°C. The city is situated by the picturesque bay, that is enclosed by the Greek isle – Corfu, which is only 2 sea miles away.
You can reach Saranda even directly from Tirana, by way of Gjirokastёr or travelling along the coast through Vlora. You can also get there from Corfu by ferry. In 2009 ferries shuttled two times a day in each direction:
Corfu -> Saranda departure times: 9:00 and 9:30,
Saranda -> Corfu departure times: 10:30 and 16:30.
One-way ticket for an adult was 19€ and for a kid 9€.
Saranda is a small town (according to the 2008 census it had 32 thousand of inhabitants). While sightseeing one can find the remnants of antique buildings (parts the old walls are visible even on the beach), a small museum, ruins of the fortress on the hill. In the city centre itself, opposite the bus stop, you may see the remnants of a synagogue, that are the evidence of the big and wealthy Jewish community that used to live here around 500 BC. The synagogue was deserted to the end of 6th century BC, probably previously destroyed by an earthquake or invasion of Slavs. The ruins got discovered only in the 80. of the 20th century, at first it was unknown they were the remains of a synagogue, as the building was constantly being redecorated and eventually served as church. When the truth was uncovered, the cooperation between the Archaeology Institute of the Albanian Academy of Sciences and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was established. A common research of 2003 by those two organizations discovered the mosaics from 5th and 6th century BC.
Some half-hour bus ride to the South there are the well-preserved ruins of the ancient city of Butrinti, registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. On visiting Saranda seeing this place is a must.
Another place that is definitely worth visiting is the Blue Eye you can find 20-minute ride away from Saranda in the direction of Gjirokastёr. It is an azure spring emerging from under the mountain, its surface covered with bubbles like that in the boiling water! The temperature of the water is really only 10°C! You may watch the spring from the special “terrace” from where there is also a beautiful view of the covered side of the mountain, reminding of the coral reef. This place is magical! In the past the region was reserved for the “communist aristocracy”, fenced off and protected round-the-clock.
Saranda is a tourist destination, so it abounds in hotels and restaurants. Within five minutes of leaving the bus we were hired on by two people sticking their business cards in our hands and persuading us it is their hotel we should stay at. We chose the GJIKA hotel with 15€ per room. The owner called her husband and after five minutes we were spared the walk with the luggage by the car that came to take us to our destination. The room might not have been very luxurious and the entrance to the bathroom was from the balcony, but it was all very clean and our hosts were very hospitable. What is more, they had a dog that knew a few tricks which amused our two-year old child a lot. If you search for something more expensive, it is enough to take a walk down the promenade by the beach and you will surely find something interesting.
If you are hungry right after the arrival, you may eat something at some fast-food restaurant situated right next to the departure place of all the long-distance buses. The place is named Quendra, it is cheap and the very nice family of the owners serve quite nice kebabs. If you have more time, you may take a walk to some of the restaurants situated next to the beach and try delicious, fresh and cheap oysters...
While strolling around Saranda we suddenly felt thirsty. I went to the kiosk and could not believe my own eyes! Libertas magazine is also issued in Albania! Our best greetings!
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