Apollonia is an ancient city in Illyria, located on the right bank of the Aous River (the modern-day Vjosë River). Its ruins are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojani.
Apollonia was founded in 588 BCE by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth, on a site initially occupied by Illyrian tribes. Apollonia flourished during the period of Roman rule and was home to a renowned school of philosophy.
The city began to decline in the 3rd century CE when its harbor began silting up as a result of an earthquake.
Cicero, the famed Roman Orator, was captivated by the beauty of Apollonia and in his Philippics, referred to it as “magna urbs et gravis,” or “great and important city.” Archaeological excavations have shown that Apollonia achieved its zenith around the 4th-3rd centuries BC.
Sources depict a flourishing culture, with a busy harbor along this active trading route.It had its own mint, stamping coins that have been found as far away as the basin of the Danube.
The city has a 4 km long wall encircling an area of 137 hectares. It has been estimated that during the peak of civilization in Apollonia as many as 70,000 inhabitants lived inside the city gates. Among the most interesting sights are the city council building with its surviving facade, the library, the triumphal arch, and the temple of Artemis.
Also noteworthy are the Odeon, which dates from the 2nd century BC and once accommodated approximately 10,000 spectators, and the two-story, 77 meter long covered walkway.
An earthquake in the 3rd century CE altered the path of the Vjosë River and caused severe infrastructure damage.
The once proud city declined until it was nearly uninhabited. It was “rediscovered” in the 1700’s, and archaeological efforts have continued intermittently throughout the 20th century.
The city seems to have been sunk with the rise of Vlora. It was “rediscovered” by European classicists in the 18th century, though it was not until the Austrian occupation of 1916–1918 that the site was investigated by archaeologists. Their work was continued by a French team during 1924–1938.
Parts of the site were damaged during the Second World War. After the war, an Albanian team undertook further work from 1948 onward, although much of the site remains undiscovered to this day. Some of the team’s archaeological discoveries are on display within the monastery, known as the Museum of Apollonia and other artifacts from Apollonia are in the capital Tirana.
Unfortunately, during the anarchy that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1990, the archaeological collection was plundered and the museum was temporarily closed. The ruins were also frequently dug up by plunderers for relics to be sold to collectors abroad.
In December 2011, a new museum opened, under the directorship of Marin Haxhimihali. It replaced an older museum dating from 1985, and was funded by UNESCO‘s MDG-F Joint Programme “Culture and Heritage for Social and Economic Development”.
Today the site can be easily accessed from the nearby city of Fier and offers both unique views of the Adriatic coastline as well as an extensive collection of historical and archaeological items of interest.
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