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Agora of Apollonia, Albania

Agora of Apollonia, Albania

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Apollonia lies in a Mediterranean landscape, - the archaeological site covers an area of 2 square kilometres and visitors can roam around a variety of impressive monuments.

What really makes the Apollonia site a signifcant resource are the high cultural , historical and architectural values arising from the fact that the site includes an associated group of buildings with original remains from various civilisations such as Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Medieval periods.

Also, holding with the great interest for the visitors to the Apollonia archaeological site are: Agonoteteve monument (antique municipal), Odeon, Library, Theater, Nimfeu, Surrounding Wall, Villa with impluvium, Roman Villa with mosaics, Temples outside the walls.

The city was dominated from a temple dedicated to Apollo , the god protector of the city . Oriented towards the rising sun, the monument had Doric columns and a Ionic frieze depicting the struggle between the Greeks and the Amazons.

Apollonia was built according to a plan which is in accordance with the octagonal system of Hippodamos. It has a straight, main and secondary road system which creates separate quarters. In the centre of the City a portico was built (agora), a theatre, a monumental fountain, gymnasium etc. The agora of Apollonia is distinguished by the development plan and solid architecture. It has two sides and a floor (70.2x10.50). The protective back wall has 17 wall niches, where the statues were positioned. The inner and exterior colonnade of the first floor has octagonal columns. In the 1st to 3rd centuries AD this city had a second period of intensive building, such as the Agonothetes temple, Odeon, library and several villas decorated with mosaics.

Along the road out of the city to the east are several monumental tumuli in which were buried many generations of the Greek settlers. The discovery of a tomb in a tumulus dating back to the age of the final Bronze demonstrates the importance of the local culture because this technique of burial was unusual for and not attested in the Corinthian world. In the Archaic period, the tombs were in modest form but from the 6th centure BC they became magnified by the descendants of the first settlers who left a lot of rich tomb gifts including vases decorated with red painted figures and precious sarcophagi.


The symbol of Apollonia is the Roman the monument of Agonothetes which would be its bouleuterion, constructed in the course of the IIth century.

City states in ancient Greece called their City Council meeting room the "Bouleuterion". In Apollonia this is located in the city centre near the Agora(the central meeting and marketplace of a city). It was built in the last quarter of the 2nd Century BC, during the Roman period.

In ancient Greece, an agonothetes was the president or superintendent of the sacred games. At first the person who instituted the games and defrayed the expenses was the Agonothetes but in the great public games, such as the Olympic Games and Pythian Games, these presidents were the representatives of different states.

The structure had the form of a semicircle and served as an assembly place of the council of the city - the Bule. The front part of the structure was decorated in a special manner: there are 6 pillars crowned with capitals of the Corinthian style. An inscription dating from the middle of the 2nd century AD tells that the building was constructed by high-ranking officers of the city, a monument with the purpose of commemorating the death of their soldier brother.

3D reconstructions by Eric Follain in "La resitution du centre monumental romain d'Apollonia d'Illyrie: l'exemple du monument des Agonothetes", Bordeaux, 2010.

Monumental Greek Ruins in Albania Destroyed by Vandals

The monumental Greek ruins of the fountain at Apollonia in southern Albania has been attacked by vandals. Lasting damage has been inflicted on the site, or nymphaeum, with stone columns broken beyond repair. This is believed to have happened in April and only been reported recently.

“Nymphaeum” essentially means a nymph shrine. Ancient Origins explains it as “originally a series of natural grottoes consecrated to the mythological nymphs of springs.” Stumbled upon in 1962 during a military tunnel dig, it took no less than seven archaeological “campaigns” to excavate.

Thought to date back to the 3rd century BC, it’s located at Northern Epirus near the city of Fieri in an archaeological park. Referring to Prof Neritan Ceka, who worked on the nymphaeum, Albanian Daily News describes it as “the only artifact of its kind in the Mediterranean ancient world.” The Greek community’s reaction in Northern Espirus has been one of outrage.

The nymphaeum, or monumental fountain, at the ancient Greek city of Apollonia in Albania. (Photo by: Carole Raddato/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Lockdown has kept people at home and left history unguarded. Aside from releasing a statement expressing dismay, the park’s director reported the terrible incident to authorities. The Greek City Times writes that “Approval has been made by the Albanian Ministry of Culture to try and restore the Ancient Greek monument.”

Damage done to the ruins by vandals. Photo from Greek City Times.

Whether the nymphaeum is actually Greek or not is up for debate in Albania. The destructive act has highlighted tensions between the country and its Greek minority population. Ongoing arguments over where their heritage comes from may have led to the vandalism, according to some. The Greek City Times notes, “historical revisionism is strong in Albania as Albanians attempt to link themselves to the ancient Illyrians with quasi-theories that are mostly rejected by the academic and historical world.”

The ruins of Apollonia. Photo by Pudelek

Meanwhile the Albanian Daily News brings up the Forum for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. They have their own view on the situation and “accused the director of the park of Apollonia for keeping the event in secret and not following the standard procedure of protection.”

Apollonia is a UNESCO World Heritage site. They state the city was founded in the 7th century BC by colonists from Corfu and Corinth. It was part of “Illyrian Taulantii” (home to the Taulantians). A collection of towns, Apollonia “achieved its zenith in the 4th – 3rd centuries BC.” Covering 137 hectares, it had around 60,000 people living within a 4 km long wall. UNSECO says “Apollonia today still boasts a magical atmosphere that was highly sought after by Roman aristocrats.”

Rocked by earthquakes in the 3rd – 4th centuries AD, it “went into a rapid decline, losing all its grandeur from the past.” The thriving port became a no go area. Ancient Origins writes “its harbor became plugged with silt”. Invasions by Goths took an additional toll on a seat of influence which for a long time “flourished due to its rich agricultural hinterland and its role in the slave trade”.

The sloped nymphaeum had an underground water supply and spread across 1,500 sq m approx. “On its highest part,” UNSECO writes, “a wall blocked the source water and sent it towards five escalating canal nozzles, 11 meters apart from each other. Through these nozzles the water was sent to the deposit.”

UNESCO call it “the biggest and the best preserved monument in Apollonia”, tragic given current circumstances! Though the site has certainly seen its fair share of calamity over the years. The nymphaeum was supposedly in operation for around a century before being wrecked by a landslide.

Aside from the fountain, Apollonia park features such sights as the Acropolis, plus a limestone Obelisk that symbolizes city namesake and deity Apollo. There are the impressive ruins of “Athena’s House” and less godly attractions like a Theater and Gymnasium.

The modern day vandals might not be found, but their upsetting actions have thrown fresh light on a controversial corner of history. Whatever their motives, it’s a stark reminder that the past can impact on the future.

Apollonia (Illyria)

There are several mistakes made by editorial members in the text and images of this article. In any case, feel free to contact me for everything you can notice.

This article addresses 16 stelae in total, which are originated from the city-colonies of Apollonia and Epidamnus-Dyrrachium, all with crafted objects in their surfaces. These stelae are exposed in different locations, such as in the National Historical Museum, in the Archaeological Museum in Tirana and in the Archaeological Museum of Durrës, in the Monastery of St. Mary and in the Archaeological Museum in Apollonia. There are at least two steles that are now kept or exposed in two foreign countries, specifically in France - in the Louvre Museum in Paris and in Austria - in Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. One last stele is lost, but fortunately some documentation is made in its time of discovery.
While the funerary steles are studied in different times from different persons, different approaches are followed and different interest is in their focus. So, there are studies which focus on the material of stele, artistic quality, in the iconography of the reliefs in general, the inscriptions, etc. What is also interesting to see in these steles is their content in sense of not only what it is shown in the surface of sculptures, but what do these selected elements really want to tell us. These objects are not just simple decorations or applications of one way of making a funerary stele from a raw material. These objects are a really good source of information on ancient times, specifically of Classical and Hellenistic Periods, as in this study.
The stelae are briefly represented here with their specific technical information and data, while the 76 objects crafted on their surface are grouped in four categories. These 16 sepulchral reliefs have been used as grave markers for important or rich people from Apollonia or Dyrrachium, this fact is based on by their sizes, quality of material and the fine work done by the engravers.
The stelae are not just gravestones. The presence of all these objects, which were very meaningful to the people who ordered their making, reflects the traditions of the society tradition of the time to which these steles belong.

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The first attempts to conduct excavations in Apollonia were made during World War I by Austrian archaeologists who unearthed and explored mainly the walls that encircled the city. Systematic excavations began in 1924 by a French archaeological mission directed by Leon Rey, who brought to light a complex of monuments at the center of the city. During the late 1920s and 1930s, Rey pressed for an archaeological museum to house the artifacts his team uncovered but lack of finance prolonged it. [2] Finally on October 8, 1936 the collection of archaeological finds at Apollonia were exhibited in the government building in Vlorë, which suffered bombardment and looting during World War II. [2] After the war, further archeological finds saw another campaign for a public museum, but in the Apollonia area. The archaeologists S. Anamali and H. Ceka successfully raised the finances needed to open a museum and finally it opened in 1958, in the village of Pojan, within the ancient site. [2] During the communist period was a considerable success. [2] A lot of excavations made by Albanian archaeologists during a 40-year period were exhibited in the museum. However, in 1991 it was looted and closed. [2]

Today 07/12/2011 the Archaeological Museum of Apollonia National Park has reopened the doors after 20 years. 688 important objects, and the large number of ancient coins make it among the richest museums in the country. The project of restoration of the archaeological museum has launched 3 years ago with a fund of 140 thousand dollars, UNESCO funding. Museum with 1 thousand square meters area, was closed in the early 90s due to the depreciation of the building. Archaeological objects since that time are stored in the Institute of monuments in the capital. While the porch was suffered after slipping crack that land still continues to be damaged.

The museum is housed in a 14th-century building which was previously the monastery of St. Mary. It is accessed via a double wooden door and a grand entrance on the west side. The museum has 7 pavilions, a gallery and 2 porticos. The bulk of the collection is housed in 6 rooms on the ground floor to the north and west of the complex. [2] An impressive collection of statues is located in a portico on the east side and number of historically important frescoes remain in the building from medieval times these are mainly housed in the refectory. [2] Fragments of inscriptions and other spolia can be found on the walls and the museum also has a collection of medieval mosaics.

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Apollonia: the Mighty Colony in Illyria

Apollonia was one of the most powerful Hellenic colonies in the Adriatic. It occupied a strategic position allowing for communication with the Illyrian, Greek, and Roman world. Thus, it led to notable economic prosperity but also put the city, on several occasions, in the midst of inter-state conflicts.

Early Development

Apollonia was founded in about 620 B.C.E., as a Corinthian colony. According to Herodotus, a contingent of soldiers from Apollonia took part in the battle of Salamis (480) against the Persians. Around 460 the Apollonians entered into a conflict with the Illyrian tribe of the Amantes, located in the interior. It seems that the colons aimed at expanding their domains south of river Aoos (modern Vjosa) and gaining the natural resources of bitumen in Nymphaeum (modern Selenica). The Apollonians emerged triumphant in this conflict and even invaded Thronion (modern Kanina), the then capital of the Amantes.

Doric column, Apollonia-Sir Henry Holland-1815

In 436, Apollonia sided with the democrats of Dyrrachium, the colony just north of it. These democrats were under blockade within the city from the opposing aristocrats. During the events that ensued, Apollonia turned as an important military base for the actions of the Corinthians, Leucadians, and Ambraciotes. These allies of Dyrrhachium’s democrats followed a land route via Apollonia to reach Dyrrachium in order to avoid the patrolling fleets of the aristocrat party and especially their ally, the Corcyraean fleet. The conflict would settle with the victory of the democrats and the defeat of the Corcyraean navy. This re-established stability in this region and transferred the conflict between the Hellenic states south, initiating the Peloponnesian War.


From 436 to 358 Apollonia would experience a period of peace and prosperity as a result of the good relations with the neighboring Illyrian kingdom of Bardylis. The rise of Philip II of Macedon that began by defeating Bardylis in the battle of the Lyncus plain forced the citizens of Apollonia to seek new allies, especially in Corinth. This is supported by the silver coins issued in the city that carried symbols copied from the Corinthian coins.

Apollonia was able to remain outside the borders of the expanded Macedonian state of Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great. The city maintained its autonomy until 314 when Macedonian forces of Cassander conquered it. The citizens were able to regain their freedom two years later with the help of the king of Illyria Glaucias, who controlled the northeastern hinterland, and the Corcyraeans. Apollonian forces repelled the following attempt of Cassander to regain the city.

Plan of the southern gate of Apollonia.

In the period following the liberation from Macedonian rule, Apollonia maintained its autonomy. However, it collaborated productively with the Illyrian kings of the hinterland, Glaucias and then his successor, Monunious. The latter even established the capital of his state in the current village of Cakran, only 25 kilometers (15.5 mi) from the city of Apollonia. In about 275 the city may have temporarily fallen under the control of Pyrrhus of Epirus. The latter may have intended to use it as a base for communicating with southern Italy.

Roman Intervention

After the fall of Pyrrhus in 272, Apollonia regained its independence and re-established connection with the Illyrian state, this time controlled by Mytilus. The Apollonians succeeded in defending their liberty against incursions from Pyrrhus’ son and successor, Alexander.

During this time, Apollonia established contacts with the Romans in attempts to find allies that would defend its autonomy. This makes Apollonia the first city east of Ionian Strait to establish official contacts with the Roman Republic. Meanwhile, the established peace allowed the city to develop and grow economically. The surrounding wall, theatre, nymphaeum, and other important public buildings were constructed. The city issued its own silver and bronze coins tailored for domestic use as well as for trading with the Illyrian hinterland.

Standing facade of the “Monument of the Agonothetes” or Bouleuterion, a public building in the Agora that served as the city council. Currently, the iconic symbol of the Archaeological Park of Apollonia.

The rising strength of the Illyrian kingdom of the Ardiaei threatened the independence of Apollonia. The Illyrians of queen Teuta, after having reduced the Epirote Republic, besieged the city in the spring of 229. The swift intervention of the Romans prevented the Illyrians from capturing Apollonia and other territories adjacent to it. This marked a turning point for the Apollonians. They had to detach themselves from their strong ties with the Greeks and learn to thrive in a Republic with imperial ambitions. In the period following the Roman intervention, Apollonia became part of the Roman protectorate created in the southwestern part of Illyria (current western lowlands of Albania).

3D Reconstruction of the Apollonia’s Bouleuterion/Monument of the Agonothetes build during late II century C.E. Twenty five pairs of gladiators fought in its opening inauguration.

Roman Rule

In the following years, Apollonia served more as a military base for Roman operations against Illyrians, Macedonians, and other states, rather than as a prosperous economic and civic center. In 214, the Apollonians along with the Romans, defeated the armies of the Macedonian king Philip V. The latter tried, without success, at least on two other occasions to capture Apollonia, in 211 and 205. In 199, the Roman consul Sulpicius launched from Apollonia his assault against the Macedonian kingdom. Sulpicius’ successor in command, Flaminius, defeated the Macedonians in the battle of the Aoos a year later. Thus, he removed the Macedonian influence from the whole region. In 148 the city of Apollonia became part of the Roman province of Macedonia and obligated to pay taxes.

During the I century renowned personalities visited Apollonia. In 84., Lucius Cornelius Sulla visited the city after travelling from Dyrrachium and also visited the nearby site of Nymphaeum. The famous Roman politician Cicero, impressed by its beauty, labelled the city “magna urbs et gravis” (“large and impressive city”). In 48 the city welcomed Caesar and supported him in his campaign against Pompey. In 44 the young Octavian Augustus studied in Apollonia accompanied by his friend Agrippa.

Apollonia, Doric column-Christopher Wordsworth-1882.

Octavian Augustus awarded Apollonia with the status of a free city exempted from taxes as a gratitude for its support for him and Caesar. Also, the citizens kept their institutions and enjoyed an expanded autonomy.


The city continued to serve as a key center of strategic importance until an earthquake of 234 C.E. This disaster caused severe destruction, ravaging most of it. It even changed the course of the river Aoos, shifting it away from the city. This made the old river port of the city obsolete and thus distanced it from the important seaborne trade. Thus, population abandoned Apollonia after this earthquake. No effort was made to rebuilt it as it was.

During the IV-V centuries Apollonia served only as a small episcopal center. In 431 the bishop Felix represented Apollonia and the nearby city of Bylis simultaneously in the Council of Ephesus. In later councils, there is no longer a mentioning of Apollonia. An inscription dated during Justinian’s reign (527 – 565) reveals a final attempt to repair the surrounding wall.

Mosaic with geometric features found at the house D.

In the following centuries Apollonia was completely abandoned. Only a church was constructed near the ruins in the first quarter of the XIII-th century in Southern Italian and Byzantine style. The monastery took its current shape during the XIV-th century, becoming a gathering point for the small Orthodox population of the nearby villages of Myzeqeja. Contemporary authors mention one such village as Pollina since the XIII-th century. This Pollina corresponds to the current village of Pojan near the ancient remnants of Apollonia.

Watch the video: Ancient City of Apollonia, Fier - Albania 4k (August 2022).