Saranda bay during the Ottoman-Venetian period (15th-18th centuries)
Located in southern Albania, the bay of Saranda overlooks one of the most important trade routes in the central Mediterranean, the strait of Corfu. The bay is surrounded by high hills where two important constructions lay: the Monastery of 40 Saints and the fortress of Lëkurësi with its adjacent village. After the abandonment in late antiquity, little is known about the bay in middle ages. In the 11th century, Ana Komnena does not mention it in her book, whereas Benedict of Peterborough at the end of the 12th century marks the old ruins of the ancient city but not a current harbour. Only with the beginning of 16th century, it seems that the bay
draws attention in strategic terms1. According to the historical events, 16th century marks a period of tensions and conflicts between the Venetians and Ottomans. This period, culminating with the 3rd and 4th Ottoman-Venetian Wars, was reflected on
the military architecture. The main question raised for the fortresses of this period is to know who built them. It has been previously suggested that the fortress of Lëkurësi overlooking the bay of 40 Saints was constructed in the 16th century by the ottomans. If we refer to the movement of the ottomans to Albanian territories, they had control on them by the 15th century. This means that the area was under the ottomans when the fortress of Lëkurësi was built, attributing the construction to the ottomans. On the other hand, referring to the construction technique, the Lëkurësi fortress was built with the same technique as the new fortress in Corfu, suggesting a possible Venetian phase to the fortress. Despite this, there is no historical evidence or other sources to confirm the control of the Lëkurësi fortress or the bay of the 40 Saints by the Venetians2. Consequently, we would suggest that these reconstruction or maintenance works might be more related to the techniques used in the 16th century rather than attributing them with any of the two rivals at the time, withoutany excavation. Further, it is of interest to follow the development of the fort in later phases where it interferes with a post-Byzantine church dating back to the end of 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. This church should have been out of the initial fortress’s walls (supporting the idea that the first phase is 16th century), but it could have been later included in by the expansion that Ali Pasha made to the fortress at the beginning of the 19th century. Actually, the 17th and 18th centuries mark a significant development of the Lëkurësi settlement which further evolved in its present form. This development coincides with a general economic revival of the Albanian countryside with two important political-administrative centres, Pashalic of Delvina and Pashalic of Gjirokastra. As a result, with the economic renewal of the countryside, the bay of the 40 Saints (as it continued to be called) grew as an important communication node for the Ottoman mainland, especially at a time when Butrint remained under the Venetians and harbours along the Himara region continued to be semi-independent.