Albania is an ancient land full of legends: from north to south, generations have passed down the stories told by their ancestors. One of the most interesting of these legends is from Saranda, the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera, and reveals the origin of the name.
Saranda is one of the most famous destinations in Albania. The coastal town, located at the end of the Albanian Riviera, is home to some of the finest beaches in Europe and is the best place to discover the south of Albania. The town also has largest archaeological park in the Balkan Peninsula, the ancient Greek city of Butrint and many other attractions. However, most visitors don’t know that Saranda is also home to one of the oldest and most interesting legends in the country.
The Rrënojat e Manastirit të 40 Shenjtorëve, or Monastery of 40 Saints, located on the top of a hill near the Lekuresi Castle and offering dramatic views over the town and the sea, is one of the most important historic monument in Saranda. Today it is abandoned, but in the past it was an extremely significant church in the area. The monastery gave the town of Saranda its name (Saranda comes from the Greek phrase ayia saranta, which means ’40 saints,’ from which the Albanian name originates). But why did it have this name, and why did it have such a huge influence on this town?
The Christian church of the old monastery was built in the 6th century and was used as a place for Christian pilgrimage in the southern Balkans. It has a fascinating but tragic history. The most famous legend says that in the year 320, in the place where the church was built, 40 Christian legionaries were put to death by other soldiers during the religious persecutions at the time of the Emperor Licinius. The legionaries refused to abandon their Christian faith. For their defiance, they were tortured, forcibly exposed to the freezing winter temperatures and left to die in the cold. In the 6th century, locals built the church to dedicate it to the legionaries who lost their lives rather than turn away from their beliefs.
You can spend a few hours here admiring the ruins of the monastery as well as the breathtaking views from the top. The old monastery walls feature mural paintings from the Byzantine era and it has been discovered that the church was functional until the 19th century. Unfortunately, in 1944, during World War II, the monastery was used as a base by German troops and bombed by British soldiers, leading to its current state of disrepair. Despite that, the site is still today one of the most enchanting places to visit in the south of Albania.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.