Byllis is a vast archaeological site overlooking the River Vjosa in southern Albania in the Fier County. Founded by the Illyrians in the middle of the 4th century BC, Byllis was the largest city of Southern Illyria and the capital of the League (koinon) of the Bylliones. With its fascinating ruins amid stunning views over the Vjosa valley, the ancient city of Byllis, mentioned by Caesar and Cicero, is one of the numerous hidden treasures of Albania. The remains include an impressive theatre, several Byzantine basilicas paved with outstanding mosaics, Illyrian private houses and Roman public buildings.
The Illyrian settlement of Byllis occupied a dominant position on the summit of a hill 520 meters above sea level, over the road from Apollonia to Epirus and into Macedonia. It became the headquarters of the league of the Bylliones, a Hellenized Illyrian tribe first mentioned around 380 BC by the Greek geographer Pseudo-Scylax. The Bylliones had a sophisticated system of
government, minted their own bronze coins (from around 270 BC to 167 BC when the Romans dissolved the koinon) and controlled an area of about 20km². They fortified their capital with a circuit wall around 2 km long, 3.50m thick and 8m to 9m high. Byllis adopted a fully Hellenised regular street-plan and buildings including a theatre, stoas, stadium, gymnasium and temples.
The state of the Bylliones flourished until 229 BC when the Romans landed in Apollonia, and their territory became a field of battle between the Roman and Macedonian armies for the control of Apollonia. In 49-48 BC, during Caesar’s Civil War, Byllis surrendered to Julius Caesar and became a supply base for his army. The city was later turned into a Roman colony as is shown by several Latin inscriptions found there referring to the city as Colonia Iulia Augusta which became part of the province of Epirus Nova. The city walls were rebuilt, the theatre and stoas were reconstructed and other monuments were erected.
Byllis was attacked and sacked by the Visigoths towards the end of the 4th century AD, but the city was reconstructed under Theodosius II (408-450 AD). The city suffered another attacked by the Sclaveni (a South Slavic tribe) and was again reconstructed under Emperor Justinian I (483-565). During Justinian’s reign, Byllis became an important religious centre and the seat of a bishopric. Several large Palaeo-Christian basilicas were built, all of them featuring lavishly decorated mosaics. Sadly for the visitors, all the mosaics are kept covered with protective layers of sand and are not visible. In 586 AD, Byllis was sacked by foreign invaders and was abandoned. The seat of the bisphoric was moved to Ballsh, preserving the name of the old city.
Hadrianopolis is a Roman city lying in the region of ancient Epirus (in what is now modern-day Albania, south of Gjirokastra) originally inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The city was founded by the emperor Hadrian – who visited the area in AD 125 – on the site of an earlier Hellenistic settlement.
In the 1970s a landslide revealed the remains of an ancient theatre in the Drinos Valley, near the village of Sofratikë. Ancient sources mentioned a city built during the reign of Hadrian called Hadrianopolis and located between Apollonia and Nicopolis according to the Tabula Peutingeriana. It was not until 2002 when subsequent excavations and geophysical research were carried out that archaeologists realised they had uncovered Hadrianopolis.
The city occupied a square area ca. 400m x 400m in size (about 16 hectares) and was planned following a regular grid pattern with streets crossing each other at right angles. The most prominent archaeological remains excavated so far are the Roman theatre and a large public building which included a bath complex with hot and cold rooms.
Hadrianopolis enjoyed continuous habitation until at least the end of the 5th century AD. During the 6th century AD the Byzantine emperor Justinian I fortified several outposts throughout the region and is known to have re-founded Hadrianopolis as Justinianopolis.