Apollonia was a Greek colony with a strong Illyrian component where the settlers coexisted over the centuries with the former local culture. Its ruins are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojani, in modern-day Albania. Apollonia -taking its name from the god Apollo- is one of the country’s best-known and most important classical cities and is considered a unique combination of natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Apollonia was founded at the beginning of the 7th century BC by Greek colonists coming from Corinth and Corcyra (Corfu), with Gylax as their leader. The city was said to have been named Gylakeia after its founder but later changed to honour the god, Apollo. Apollonia stood on a hilly plateau overlooking the Aoös River (Αώος) just a few kilometres from the sea. This adventurous position commanding the surrounding fertile plain enabled communication with the coastal part of the territory. The city grew rich on the slave trade and local agriculture and raised into one of the most important economic, political and cultural centres beside Epidamnos/Dyrrachium (modern-day Durrës).
At the turn of the 4th-3rd centuries BC, four-kilometre-long ramparts were built, and the city covered an area of 81 hectares. In the two hilltops dominating the city stood the sacred ground surrounding the Temple of Apollo and the acropolis, which served as a military fortress. Between the two hilltops stood the public buildings of the ancient city where Apollonia’s most important remains have been excavated. Archaeological excavations have shown that Apollonia achieved its zenith around the 4th-3rd centuries BC, with about 60.000 inhabitants living inside the city gates.
Apollonia was seized by the king of Epirus, Pyrrhus, in 282 BC. After his death, the city strengthened its relationships with Rome, which stationed its permanent garrison nearby. During this period, the city became one of the most important gateways of the Via Egnatia, leading east to Thessaloniki and Byzantium in Thrace.
During the 1st century BC, Apollonia was visited by Cicero, the famed Roman Orator, who described it as “a great and important city” (magna urbs et gravis), and Caesar, on his campaign against Pompey (the city later became a free Roman city after it sided with Julius Caesar). Octavian and his friend Agrippa spent several months with Apollonian orators studying rhetoric. At Apollonia, the future emperor Augustus received news of Caesar’s murder.
At the beginning of the 3rd century AD, Apollonia was largely destroyed by a powerful earthquake and the city was slowly abandoned when its harbour began silting up. The city was largely depopulated in the 4th and 5th centuries AD, hosting only a small Christian community.
Systematic archaeological excavations at Apollonia began in 1924 with a French mission led by Leon Rey (1877-1954), which lasted until the Italian conquest of Albania in 1939. After the War, in 1947, the Albanian-French archaeological mission resumed systematic excavations. Today the site is an important destination for cultural tourism, offering both unique views of the Adriatic coastline and an extensive collection of historical and archaeological items of interest.
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