Apollonia Archaeological Site
Apollonia is archaeological site situated 30 km away from Vlora, 12km to the west of the modern city of Fier, near Pojan village, some 10 km away from the Adriatic coast. The archaeological site of Apollonia includes the associated group of structures with original remains from various civilizations, such as Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Medieval. Illyrian Apollonia was founded at the beginning of the 7th century BC by the Greek colonists coming from Corinth and Corcyra /Corfu/, but the first records of their presence date from 588 BC. The city of Apollonia took its name from the God Apollo. During its first years of existence Apollonia kept close contacts with Corcyra and Corinth and played a part of a trade negotiator between Hellenians and Illyrians. In 148 BC, Apollonia became part of the Roman Province of Macedonia to succeed in maintaining its status of a large and flourishing city near Aous river (today Vjosa). The mighty River Vjosa springs in northern Greece – where it is known by its ancient name, the Aoos. After crossing the long mountain valley of Permet and turning through the spectacular Kelcyra Gorge – known in Antiquity as the Gates of Antigoneia, where the Consul Titus Flamininus first engaged the Macedonian army under King Philip V – the river passes the town of Tepelena, home of the notorious Ali Pasha. It continues through the southern mountains towards the sea, skirting the Illyrian mountain cities of Byllis and Amantia, and finally reaching the Adriatic close to the powerful Corinthian Greek colony of Apollonia. The Vjosa River in Albania is one of Europe’s last living wild rivers. Along its entire course of over 270 kilometers it is untamed and free flowing. The Vjosa river is characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches. In some areas the riverbed expands over more than 2 km in width. The abundance and diversity of fish in the Vjosa River is vital for the economy and the well-being of local fishermen. Recreational tourism on the Vjosa River and its tributaries is ever-increasing, particularly in recent years in which enthusiasts have started to enjoy activities such as rafting, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, etc.
Apollonia was an important port on the Illyrian coast as the most convenient link between Brundusium and northern Greece, and as one of the western starting points of the Via Egnatia leading east to Thessaloniki and Byzantium /nowadays Istanbul/ in Thrace. Apollonia had its own mint, stamping coins that have beed found as far away as the Danube basin. The city of Apollonia grew rich and prosperous on the slave trade and local agriculture, to which also largely contributed its vast harbor, said to have been able to hold a hundred ships at a time. Of Apollonia great interest to be visited are: The Encircling Wall, the Terraced Wall with arched gates, the monument of Agonothetes, the Library, the Odeon, the Portico, the House with mosaics, the Museum of Apollonia, the Church of Saint Mary. Entering the Apollonia site through the small iron gate, you walk towards the central group of ancient religious and mercantile buildings. In spring, this part of the Apollonia site is particularly beautiful thanks to profusion of wild flowers here. Passing the foundations of Roman houses to the left of the path you see an elegant and compact building from the Hellenism period whose facade with six marble Corinthian columns was restored in the 1960s. Archaeologists uncovered numerous statues along this colonnade that leads to the center of the Apollonia. Unfortunately, some of the statues and objects were appropriated before 1946 by other countries. Those remaining are displayed in the museum, which is housed in a 13th century monastery. The monastery courtyard encloses a Byzantine church dating back to the 14th century. A brand new motorway along the Vjosa River valley linking Tepelena with Apollonia makes access easy, and reflects the way the river valley served as a vital artery to the interior in Antiquity. This, and the highland paths to north and south, was one of the principal routes along which invading armies marched, and through which flowed the trade that enriched Apollonia, the greatest of Albania’s ancient cities.
Visitors who are interested in archaeological researches need much more time to explore the earliest traces of settlements in Albanian territory, which have been discovered in Xara (Saranda) and Gajtan (Shkoder) which date back to Palaeolithic Age, 100.000 years ago; Neolithic Age, 7000-3000 years B.C. include discoveries in Dunavec and Maliq (Korce); Iron Age, 3rd millennium B.C. Piskova (Permet), Barce (Korce), Pazhok (Elbasan). By the end of 2nd millennium and the first half of the 1st millennium BC Illyrians set up their settlements on hills encircling them with strong walls in the areas of Gajtan (Shkoder), Kalivo (Sarande), Tren (Korce). Apollonia flourished in the Roman period and was home to a renowned school of philosophy, but began to decline in the 3rd century AD when its harbor started silting up as a result of an earthquake. The St Mary Church which is the part of the Orthodox Ardenica Monastery and its wonderful frescoes and icons painted by Zografi Brothers was built on the nearby hill overlooking the neighboring plains. This is the place where Scanderbeg married his beloved Andronike in 1451. Apollonia was abandoned by the end of Late Antiquity.