Durres was established in the year 627 B.C. by Korintha and Korkyra colonists, on the area of an ancient settlement of the Illyrian tribe Taulant.
It went under the names Epidamn, Dyrrah, and Dyrrachium, from which its present name has derived. Having a large Illyrian population and trading with other places, the city prospered. Ever since the 5th century B.C., Durres produced metals, ceramics, fabric and leather, and had shipyards for making ships. Durres was a city-state with slaves and a slave-owning class. Old coins found in the area of Durres are proof of its economical development of this period, it was the city that put the Illyrian Drachma into circulation. The arts and architecture prospered, the Bukuroshja e Durres it (The Beautiful Girl of Durres ) mosaic is one of the most popular historical figures found here. In the year 229 B.C., Durres fell under Rome, but it retained a semi-autonomy. It was turned into a Roman colony during the rule of Augustus, around the year 20 B.C. The Illyrian population gained political power and rose high in administrative positions, as is shown by many Illyrian names found on inscriptions. Durres developed during the period between the 1st to the 3rd centuries A.D., it became a major trading center and the main port on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Craftsmanship developed, roads, libraries, aqueducts and odeons were built, as was the Amphitheater of Durres . At the end of the 3rd century, Durres became the center of the province of New Epirus. At the 4th century A.D., in spite of the crisis in the Roman Empire, Durres still remained a developed trading center. And during the 5th and 6th centuries, Durres was an important city of the western part of the Byzantine Empire, despite the attacks of the Ostrogoths and other barbarians. Under the rule of Anastas, who was born in Durres , many new buildings rose, such as the hippodrome, two surrounding city walls, and the Basilica of Arapajt. It was also an episcopal center. During the 10th and 11th centuries suffered several attacks (it was attacked by the Bulgarians from 989-1005; by the Normans, 1082-1083, and it was set ablaze by them in 1185; by Venice in 1205, which formed the Duke of Durres ; by Carl of the Anzuins in 1272, which established the Kingdom of Arbria and Durres as its capital; and by the Serbs in the beginning of the 14th century.) In the 14th century, Durres was Albania's largest city, with around 25,000 inhabitants. In 1368, it was taken by Karl Topia, and it became the center of the Principality of Arbria. In 1392, the Ottoman Turks reached the city, which was left under the control of Venice by Gjergj Topia, and remained in their control until 1508. Skenderbeg and his troops surrounded the city in 1447. The city was devastated after it was taken by the Ottomans, most of the population fled, turning Durres into a village. It redeveloped in the 17th century, once again became a trading center and port of middle Albania. Durres was severely damaged by earthquakes, in 1372, 1905, and 1926.
During and after the 1870s, the city grew slowly, and branches of foreign shipping companies were opened here. The citizens of Durres participated in the Albanian national liberation movement, during the years 1878-1881, and 1910-1912. On November 21st, 1912, Ismajl Qemali came to Durres and on November 26th, 1912, the Albanian flag of independence was risen at Durres , but the city was captured by the Serbs three days later. The Serbs remained until May, 1913. On March 7th, 1913, Durres became the capital of Albania. After the fall of Wilhelm Wied, the Austrian prince appointed King of Albania by the European powers, Durres was the scene of many uprisings. In 1916 it was captured by the forces of Austria-Hungary, and in 1918 by Italian forces. During the past nine centuries, Durres has changed hands from one ruler to another 33 times. After World War I, in December, 1918, a national congress was held in Durres , a temporary administration of Durres was appointed, which fell in January, 1920, after the Congress of Lushnje. The citizens of Durres participated in the War of Vlora, and in the democratic movements of the years 1921-1924. During the rule of Zog, Italian capital went through Durres , and many factories were built, such as those for producing flour, cigarettes, and pasta. After the damages of the earthquake of December of 1926, wider roads were built, and the city gained an appearance, especially near the port, similar to that of its present appearance. During the 1930s, Durres marked a slow development, from 4700 inhabitants it had in 1923, grew to 10,500 in 1938.
During 1939, Durres was the center of resistance to the Italian Fascist forces, which had occupied the country. Many demonstrations and strikes were held in the city, and in 1942 the National Liberation Council was formed here. In August, 1943, the city was taken by the Germans, which blew up the port in 1944.
After World War II, Durres was transformed into an industrial city, and an important cultural and educational center. The main fields of production in today's Durres are the industries of mechanics, chemicals, electronics, furniture, plastic, rubber, and food. Durres produces wine, cigarettes, fish, high tonnage ships, train cars, electric motors, radio and television sets, plastic and rubber articles, etc.
Durres was the scene of many demonstrations during the democratic movement of 1990-1991.
Aside from the main library, The Cultural Center with the "Aleksander Moisiu" theater, Durres has the Estrada Theater, the Puppet Theater, the Philharmonic orchestra, the artistic Ensemble "Durres i," and many other artistic groups. The museums that have been built are the Archeological Museum, Museum of History, and the house of Aleksander Moisiu's family has been turned into a museum. Durres has many scientific associations and the branch of the Artists and Writers Association is active here.
The city has expanded on the north and the east, whilst many new public and residential buildings have been built, monuments of the ancient city have been preserved. The main industrial zone is at the entrance of the city from the east, at the Shkozeti quarters. Durres has many parks and flower gardens, and the outdoor theater has been built on the hills of the city. The main recreational areas of Durres are the Beach of Durres and the Beach of Currilave, where citizens and tourists enjoy the sandy beaches and the clear seawater of the Adriatic.