2018-06-27 / Front Page

Off the Beaten Trail: Saranda of Albania

By Catherine Tsounis

We saw a beautiful rainbow at sea over the town of Saranda.
We saw a beautiful rainbow at sea over the town of Saranda. “Our home in the city of Saranta in Northern Epirus is near the harbor,” said Billy Litos, my electrician and part of my network of confidants. “Our city is beautiful. We spoke only Greek at home, because we are Greek. Our dream was to immigrate to free Greece. Our city has many restaurants.” Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace, which was Greek Orthodox in character 100 years ago, was carved up by global interests into non-Greek Orthodox states. Population exchanges, during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, eliminated the indigenous populations. This process continues in 2018 with the problem over the name “Macedonia” by Greece and FYROM.       

One afternoon “Pyrrhic Victory”  was echoed for two hours by a radio talk show over Saranda, Albania.
Saranda, Albania. American politics.  A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has also taken a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement.1Who was Pyrrhus ? He was the King of Epirus during the 300’s B.C, that is shared b y Greece and Albania. He was the second cousin of Alexander the Great and one of the greatest generals in History.2

Alexandros Goudas and Anna Gouda proprietors of Elite Pastries Cafe at 47-36 Bell Boulevard, Bayside, NY, Eleni Soulioti and staff are from Saranta and neighboring village of Episkopi. They have told me stories of the beauty of their land. “We are 100% Greek and are related to journalist Demetrios Tsakas .” Mr. Tsakas is a former Mathematics educator from Argyrocastro - Gjirokastër, Albany. His writings are read in the United States and internationally. “Write about your travels to Northern Epirus,” he said. “ Northern Epirus is Greek. You must write about our land.”

Impressive remains of a 5th or 6th century AD synagogue.
Impressive remains of a 5th or 6th century AD synagogue. I travelled with a Danish/German group from Corfu by boat to Saranta, Albania. Hara Armeni of Charitos Tours in cooperation with Natasha of Joy Cruises arranged the trip with the assistance of their colleagues Katerina and Chrysa last May.  The 22 miles from Corfu to Saranta was a beautiful, spiritual experience. It was raining, yet we saw a beautiful rainbow at sea over the town of Saranda. Archaeological excavations of the ancient town were present.

We passed the impressive remains of a 5th or 6th century AD synagogue. “During the 5th Century AD there was a large and wealthy Jewish community that lived in Saranda (Ancient name: Oncheasmos); the only remains of this can be found at the Synagogue Complex in the center of Saranda, just near the city hall. These old ruins represent what was once a community center and old school used for bible studies. During the 6th Century the buildings were converted into a basilica but later destroyed either by an earthquake or by Slavic invasion.

Initial excavations to the the site were conducted in 1984 when Albania was under Communist rule. Later, further excavations were made by the Hebrew University Institute of Archaelogy and the Albanian Academy of Sciences.

Many different mosaics and other different Jewish symbols can be found at the site even Saranta coast.
Saranta coast. today, noticeably the seven-branched candelabrum surrounded by citrons (lemons) and a ram’s horn. These can be seen on the two mosaic pavements. Other mosiacs which can be seen include animals, trees, religious characters and a structure/shrine.3Modern multin floor apartment buildings, Tirana Banks buildings, excellent landscaping, Saranta is from the name of the Byzantine monastery of the Agioi Saranda  meaning the "Forty Saints", in honor of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. They were a group of Roman soldiers in the Legio XII Fulminata (Armed with Lightning) whose martyrdom in 320 for the Christian faith is recounted in traditional martyrologies. They were killed near the city of Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey), in Lesser Armenia, victims of the persecutions of Licinius, who after 316, persecuted the Christians of the East. In antiquity the city was known by the ancient Greek name of Onchesmos or Anchiasmos[6][7][8] and was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. In a medieval chronicle of 1191 the settlement appears to be abandoned, while its former medieval name (Anchiasmos) isn't mentioned any more. From that year, the toponym borrows the name of the nearby Orthodox basilica church of Agioi Saranta, erected in the 6th century, ca. 1 km (0.6 mi) southeast of the modern town
Group members and Erdano Bar staff.
Group members and Erdano Bar staff. Geographically, it is situated on an open sea gulf of the Ionian Sea in the central Mediterranean, about 14 km (8.7 mi) east of the north end of the Greek island of Corfu. The city is known for its blue deep waters of the Mediterranean. The city, according to the Albanian Committee of Helsinki, has lost more than half of its ethnic Greeks from 1991 to 2001, because of heavy emigration to Greece.4

Our Corfu tour showed us a modern city with new buildings, clean streets, without homeless persons. We stopped at the Erdano Bar for lunch. My tour guides Hara and Natasha arranged a salt- free lunch that was delicious. The prices were compatible to Greece. This was a trip from Corfu that everyone should take to see this strategic city.

Klaudjan Baxhija, my former university student, who was the son of a university professor Erdano Bar lunch
Erdano Bar lunch and military general, wrote in a paper  that “Albania is the ‘Land of the Eagles’ or Shqiperia. Illyria is the historical and cultural roots of Albanians. Illyria’s borders were always living mixed population of Albanians and Greeks. They lived next to each other and sometimes one could not even put a border line between them. There is never enough to tell about Albania.”

Erdano Bar lunchErdano Bar lunchThe Corfu excursion through Saranta to Butrin was in “the footsteps of Byzantium.”

Byzantine culture is alive in the countries’ history it touched today in 2018.


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