The city is known for its blue deep waters of the Mediterranean. Near Sarandë are the remains of the ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In recent years, Saranda has seen a steady increase in tourists, many of them coming by cruise ship. Visitors are attracted by the natural environment of Saranda and its archaeological sites. Sarandë has a large Greek population and is considered one of the two centers of the Greek minority in Albania.
Saranda is from the name of the Byzantine monastery of the Agioi Saranda (Greek: Άγιοι Σαράντα), meaning the "Forty Saints", in honor of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. Under Ottoman rule, the town in the Turkish language became known as 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 Italian occupation of Albania 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 (modern-day Finiq).
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 abandoned, 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 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. In May 1914, negotiations were started in Sarandë between representative of the provisional government of Northern Epirus and that of Albania which continued in nearby Corfu and ended up with the recognition of the Northern Epirote autonomy inside the newly established Albanian state.
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 9 October 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 allies of the Greek resistance 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.
The present municipality was formed at the 2015 local government reform by the merger of the former municipalities Ksamil and Sarandë, that became municipal units. The seat of the municipality is the town Sarandë.
The district of Saranda lies in the most southern extremity of Albania. It is bordered with Vlora to the north, Delvina and Gjirokastër to the east and with Greece to the south of Ionian Sea. Saranda is a place in the most southern part of Albania. It lies between the hills that descend and reach the Ionian Sea. The district of Saranda has a plain relief which is composed of southern seashore mountains that lie from Borsh to the bay of Ftelia, Vrina Fields and the hills of Saranda, Lëkurësi, Ksamil, Butrint and Konispol. All these units make up the southern part of the Albanian Riviera where the eye catches the countless bays, beaches, the rocky coastline, hills with olives and citrus, mountains that surround the landscape. Saranda is traversed by Kalasa, Bistrica and Pavlla rivers which flow in the Ionian Sea. In Saranda's hydrograph belongs even Butrinti Lake which is one of the biggest sea lakes in Albania. The Butrint Lake is very rich in sea species and in their waters now are being growing mussels. Its relief, geographical location and subtropical climate create favorable conditions for planting citrus trees and olives.
Sarandë has a typical Mediterranean climate and has over 300 sunny days a year. During the summer, temperatures may rise as high as 30 degrees Celsius. However, a refreshing sea breeze constantly blows. Winters are mild and subzero temperatures are uncommon. The wettest months of the year are November and December. Summers are very dry.
The total population is 20,227 (2011 census), in a total area of 58.96 km2. The population of the former municipality at the 2011 census was 17,233, however the population according to the civil offices is 41,173 (2013 estimate).
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 Sarandë did not belong to the "minority areas". In fieldwork undertaken by Greek scholar Leonidas Kallivretakis in the area during 1992 noted that Saranda’s mixed ethno-linguistic composition (total population in 1992: 17,555) consisted of 8,055 Muslim Albanians, 6,500 Greeks and an Orthodox Albanian population of 3,000. In the early 1990s, the local Orthodox Albanian population mainly voted for political parties of the Greek minority based in the Saranda area.
Since the 1990s the population of Sarandë has nearly doubled. According to official estimation in 2013, the population of the city is 41,173. 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.
Given its coastal access and Mediterranean climate, Sarandë has become an important tourist attraction since the fall of communism in Albania. 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.
Tourism is the main driver of the economy of Sarandë. It is a significant tourist destination on the Ionian Sea, and by far one of the most popular destination in Albania.
It's a prosperous region with varied attractions, plants and mountains, rivers and lakes, springs and virgin beaches, citrus plantations, olive groves and vineyards, pastures and woods, fish and shellfish farming, desirable hunting places. In short, the right place for the development of tourism. Saranda's stony beaches are quite decent and there are plenty of sights in and around town, including the mesmerising ancient archaeological site of Butrint and the hypnotic Blue Eye Spring. Between Saranda and Butrint, the lovely beaches and islands of Ksamil are perfect for a dip after a day of exploring.
Italian singers Albano and Romina Power dedicated a song to Saranda entitled Saranda Okinawa.