Saranda or Sarandë is a municipality in Vlorë County, southern Albania. It is one of the most important tourist attractions of the Albanian Riviera.
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 of Saranda has a population of about 30,000 (2001 estimate). Near Sarandë are the remains of the ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sarandë has a Greek minority and is considered one of the two centers of the Greek community in Albania.
Saranda's current name derives from the name of the Byzantine monastery of the Agioi Saranda (Greek: Άγιοι Σαράντα), meaning the "Forty Saints" and honoring the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. Under Turkish rule, this became Aya Sarandi and then Sarandoz. Owing to Venetian influence in the region, it often appeared under its Italian name Santi Quaranta on Western maps.
This usage continued even after the establishment of the Principality of Albania, owing to the first Italian occupation of the region. During the second occupation in World War II, Benito Mussolini changed the name to Porto Edda, in honor of his eldest daughter. Following the restoration of Albanian independence, the city employed its Albanian name Saranda.
In antiquity the city was known by the ancient Greek name of Onchesmos or Anchiasmos and was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. Onchesmos flourished as the port of the Chaonian capital Phoenice.
The city was probably raided by the Ostrogoths in 551 AD, while during this period it became also the target of piratic raids by Gothic ships. In a medieval chronicle of 1191 the settlement appears to be adandonded, 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.
In 1878, a Greek rebellion broke out, with revolutionaries taking control of Sarandë and Delvinë. This was suppressed by the Ottoman troops, who burned twenty villages in the region. The town was included in the newly formed Albanian state in 1913 under the terms of the Protocol of Florence.
It was occupied twice by Greece in 1913 and from 1914 to 1916, the second time by Greek insurgents from the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus. It was then occupied by Italy between 1916 and 1920 as part of the Italian Protectorate on southern Albania. Sarandë was again occupied by Italian forces in 1939 and was a strategic port during the Italian invasion of Greece. During this occupation, it was called "Porto Edda" in honor of the eldest daughter of Benito Mussolini.
During the Greco-Italian War, the city came under the control of the advancing Greek forces, on 6 December 1940. The capture of this strategic port further accelerated the Greek penetration to the north. As a result of the German invasion in Greece in April 1941, the town returned to Italian control. On October 9, 1944 the town was captured by a group of British commandos under Brigadier Tom Churchill and local partisans of LANÇ under Islam Radovicka.
The involvement of the British troops was considered problematic by LANÇ as they considered that they would use the town as their base and install their allies from Greece in the area as British documents indicate that EDES forces also joined the operation. However, the British troops soon withdrew from the region, leaving the region to the Albanian communist forces.
Given its coastal access and Mediterranean climate, Sarandë has become an important tourist attraction since the fall of communism in Albania, although visitors are almost exclusively Albanians and Greeks. Saranda as well as the rest of the Albanian Riviera, according to The Guardian, "is set to become the new 'undiscovered gem' of the overcrowded Med." Tourism is thus the major economic resource, while other resources include services, fisheries and construction. The unemployment rate according to the population census of 2008 was 8.32%.
It has been suggested that family tourism and seasonal work during the summer period help mitigate the real unemployment rate. Recently, the town has experienced an uncontrolled construction boom which may hamper the city's future tourism potential. Since 2012, the Port of Saranda is undergoing an expansion to accommodate cruise ships at its terminal. In 2014, Saranda hosted the Dea International Film Festival.
In 1912, right after the Albanian Declaration of Independence, the settlement had only 110 inhabitants. At the 1927 census, it had 810 inhabitants, but was not yet a town. In the 1930s, it had a good demographic development, and it is in this period that the first public buildings and the main roads were constructed.
In 1957, the city had 8,700 inhabitants and was made the center of a district. According to a survey by the Albanian Helsinki Committee, in 1990 Sarandë numbered 17,000 inhabitants, of whom 7,500 belonged to the Greek minority. The members of the Greek minority of the city, prior to the collapse of the socialist regime (1991), were deprived from their minority rights, since Sarande did not belong to the "minority areas".
At present, the population of Sarandë has nearly doubled. According to municipal sources, approximately 30,000(2001 estimate) inhabitants are currently living in the city. According to a survey conducted by the Albanian Committee of Helsinki, in 2001, the Albanian population numbered about 26,500, while Greeks formed the rest with about 3,400 alongside a small number of Vlachs and Roma.
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. Sarandë is considered one of the two centers of the Greek minority in Albania,Gjirokastër being the other. According to Human Rights Watch, the Greek community is large enough to warrant a Greek school, according to the local state legislation about minorities, but one still does not exist. According to the representatives of the Greek minority, 42% of the town's population belong to the local Greek community