The Beauty of Durrës

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The Beauty of Durrës
Albanian: Bukuroshja e Durrësit
Mosaic of The Beauty of Durrës.jpg
Year 4th century BC
Type mosaic
Dimensions 510 cm × 300 cm (200 in × 120 in)
Location National Historical Museum, Tirana, Albania

The Beauty of Durrës (also The Beautiful Maiden of Durrës or The Belle of Durrës) is a polychromatic mosaic of the 4th century BC; the most ancient and prominent mosaic discovered in Albania up to date.[1][2] The 9 m2 (97 sq ft) mosaic is elliptical in shape and depicts a woman’s head on a black background surrounded by flowers and floral elements.[2] It was discovered in 1916 in Durrës, and since 1982 has been exhibited at the National Historical Museum in Tirana.


The mosaic is realized in the second half of 4th century BC in Durrës (then Epidamnos).[2][3] It has served as the decorative floor of a private and luxurious restroom.[1] The mosaic was discovered in 1916, in the middle of the World War I, when Durrës was occupied by Austria-Hungary. During the works of the Austro-Hungarian army for the construction of a fortification, the military engineering troops ran into a mosaic, which was unearthed 3.80 m (12.5 ft) deep in the foundations of a house in the “Varosh” quarter, very close to nowadays Durrës city center. It was the distinguished Austrian archaeologist, Camillo Praschniker who took care of the mosaic layer so it could be well preserved. In his book Archaeological research in Albania and Montenegro (German: Archäologische Forschungen in Albanien und Montenegro), published in Vienna in 1919 together with A. Schober, Praschniker was the first to include a picture of the mosaic and even call it a figurative masterpiece.

Eventually, after the war, The Beauty of Durrës was covered and lost; only to be rediscovered in 1947, by the archaeologist from Durrës, Vangjel Toçi. It became widely known for the scientific world only after 1959.[4]

In 1982 the mosaic moved from Durrës and was placed in the main hall of antiquity in the National Historical Museum, where it can still be visited today.[1]

Mosaic description[edit]

The 24 centuries old mosaic of The Beauty of Durrës has an approximate surface area of 9 m2. It is elliptical in shape with the major diameter having a distance of 5.1 metres (17 ft) and the minor diameter of 3 metres (9.8 ft). The mosaic is realized using unworked colorful pebbles and is still in fairly good condition.[5] The formal expression represents a good example of art in antiquity, where the Hellenistic art is combined with the local motives of the Illyrian art. It is considered one of the world's most expressive mosaics of its genre.[6] From a stylistical point of view, the mosaic of The Beauty of Durrës resembles to its contemporary mosaics discovered in Pella (of then Ancient Macedonia).[2][5]

The woman portrait[edit]

There exist two thesis on whom the portrait of the mosaic is. The historian and archaeologist Dr. Moikom Zeqo pointed out that the woman presented in the mosaic is the same as the one of the painted amphorae’s archetypes in Puglia and South Italy, with red figures of the Hellenistic era. According to him, the Beauty of Durrës represents the Cretan goddess Eileithyia, known as the goddess of childbirth and midwifery, who assisted in the babies' healthy delivery.[1] Whereas according to the head of Durrës Archaeological Museum, archaeologist Dr. Afrim Hoti[7] the portrait of the woman is probably maiden Aura, who accompanied goddess Artemis in hunting.[5]

The woman’s head is very large in scale, with a broad face and large cheeks. She has a long straight neck, whereas her head is slightly turned left side, showing a ¾ portrait. Her image appears quiet and peaceful and her look is dreamy, almost melancholic. The woman figure is depicted with glossy red curvy lips. The painstakingly elaborated lips’ plasticity, the lusciousness of their form and their slightly open position, gives her an exceptional feminine physiognomy. A single small yellow and red pebble in her eyes' pupil creates a rare genuine look on the woman's figure.[6] Her braided crown of auburn hair is particularly well depicted and quite distinguished from the black background through the usage of a white silhouette. The plastic effect of the mosaic’s female figure in its whole integrity, represents a work of highly developed artistic craftsmanship for the time.[2]

Background design[edit]

The design surrounding the female figure is unique concerning its composition and the mosaic background is black colored. It is characterized by a strong lyricism of forms, evident in the continuity of the curvaceous lines, spontaneously harmonic design and the non rigid distribution of the elements. The female figure is surrounded by different flower species such as hyacinth, lily, bellflower, as well as floral elements like flower stalks, buds and petals.[1][2]


The Mosaic is made using the opus vermiculatum technique, thus a light outline is drawn around the shapes using tesserae, which is contrasted by the dark black background. The river pebbles of different colors are stuck with each other with a great mastery.[1] The plastic effect of the portrait is achieved by using several nuances of white pebbles, positioned in the model with an exceptional skill. Whereas the black lines are used only for modelling the portrait's main features.[6]

Coin depicting The Beauty of Durrës[edit]

In 2004, the Bank of Albania minted a coin with theme from Albanian antiquity, depicting the Beauty of Durrës and its decorative elements, both on its front and back side. It is a serrated, white coin with a denomination of 50 Lekë. The diameter of the coin is 24.25 millimetres (0.955 in), with a weight of 5.50 grams. The Bank has issued 200000 coins and their material consists of CU75 Ni25 alloy.[1]

On the coin’s front side is imprinted The Beauty of Durrës mosaic, confined with arches on its sides and stylized floral motives loaned from the mosaic. Whereas in the coin arch there are several decorative motifs such as symmetrical circles of the Illyrian period. The reverse of the coin bears a decorative creation on its center, surrounded by floral motifs taken from the original mosaic. This figure is still accompanied by circles up to the coin arch, below which there is the inscription "SHQIPËRI-ALBANIA 2004".[1]

The painter Petraq Papa realized the drawings of the coin.[1] These coins were minted by the Polish Mint (Mennica Państwowa SA) in Warsaw, Poland.[1]

The mosaic figure as part of culture and modern society[edit]

Book cover of "4 shekuj para Krishtit", by the poet Ferik Ferra, depicting The Beauty of Durrës

The Beauty of Durrës represents a symbol of beauty and it has become an iconic figure which is adopted in several forms of visual art, poetry, popular culture and commercial life especially in Durrës, the city of its origin. Examples of modern utilizations of the Beauty of Durrës are:

  • In the poetry book "4 shekuj para Krishtit" (English: 4 centuries before Christ) of the Albanian contemporary poet Ferik Ferra, the main poem of the same title deals artistically with the feminine figure of the mosaic and its era, while antiquity is the main subject of the other poems and the book title is an allusion to the time the mosaic was realized.[8]:23[9]
  • In the International SummerFest Film of Durrës, the best short film award is named “The Beauty of Durrës” or “The Beautiful Maiden of Durrës Award”.[10]
  • Association Bukuroshja e Durrësit in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism, Cultural Affairs, Youth and Sports (Albania) organizes the International Festival of Modern Dance, held from 2006 both in Durrës and Tirana.[11]
  • The Albanian artist of marble, Isa Shuaipi realized an artistic imitation of The Beauty of Durrës in June 2009. His work was done by using more than 45 thousand small marble pebbles of five different colors on a quadratic plane with dimensions 120 cm (47 in) by 80 cm (31 in).[12]
  • The scenography of the 30th edition of Festivali i Këngës (English: Song’s Festival) in 1991, consisted mainly on an imitation in a larger scale of The Beauty of Durrës, though it differed somehow from the original mosaic.
  • In the commercial sector, one of the two restaurants of the five star Adriatik hotel in Durrës bears the name of the mosaic Bukuroshja e Durrësit.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j BANK OF ALBANIA Coin with “The Beauty of Durrës”
  2. ^ a b c d e f Fjalori Enciklopedik Shqiptar, Akademia e Shkencave - Tiranë, 1984 (MOZAIKU I DURRËSIT ME PORTRETIN E NJE GRUAJE, page 726)
  3. ^ Albanian cultural heritage, page 21 - National Tourism Agency
  4. ^ ARISTOKRACIA E MOZAIKËVE TË DURRËSIT (in Albanian) March 3, 2010
  5. ^ a b c Hoti, Afrim (2003). DURRËSI, Epidamni-Dyrrahu. Cetis Tirana. p. 81. ISBN 99927-801-3-4. 
  6. ^ a b c Apollon Baçe, Aleksandër Meksi, Emin Riza, Gjerak Karaiskaj, Pirro Thomo - Historia e Arkitekturës Shqiptare (History of Albanian Architecture - pages 87-88 (in Albanian)) Publisher: Ministria e Arsimit dhe e Kulturës, Instituti i Monumenteve të Kulturës, Tirana 1980
  7. ^ Gazeta STANDARD, March 31, 2010 Dhunë arkeologjike! (in Albanian) by Artur Ajazi
  8. ^ Shehu, Qazim (25 December 2011). "Loja e imazheve në fillin e së bukurës - Shënime për librin "Katër shekuj para Krishtit" të Ferik Ferrës". Gazeta 55 15 (4785): 24. Retrieved 2012-03-21. Tek Ferik Ferra e bukura vjen si një veçori tjetër, si jehonë sugjestionuese e perceptimit kulturor të shekujve, si rezistencë e genit etnik përcjellë përmes imazheve e kontrapunktve të befasishme... Bukuroshja e Durrësit është poezia bërthamë në këtë ideshtjellim e cila manifestohet si poezi e mahnitjes poetike 
  9. ^ Ferra, Ferik (2011). 4 shekuj para Krishtit. Tirana, Albania: Naimi. p. 64. ISBN 978-9928109101. 
  10. ^ Durres International Film Summerfest – Awards 2010
  11. ^ Gëzim Kabashi (May 13, 2010). "Durrës: Suedezët e "Hap e mbyll kutitë", Në Festivalin e Dancit Modern (in Albanian)". Retrieved 21 March 2012. 
  12. ^ HERMES NEWS Bukuroshja e Durresit vjen perseri nga artisti i mermerit, Isa Shuaipi (in Albanian) June 10, 2009
  13. ^ Adriatik Hotel ***** Durrës Restaurant "Bukuroshja e Durrësit"