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.
Amantia, founded around the middle of the 5th century BC, was the historical capital of the ancient Greek tribe of the Amantes. It is located in the present day city of Ploce, 32 km northeast of Vlora. The city occupied an important defensive position above the Aoös River valley, along the road leading to the coast and to the Bay of Aulon (Vlorë).
Amantia was built on the slope of a high hill covering an area of 13 hectares. The city was protected by a 2,100m long walled enclosure equipped with three monumental gates. The settlement extended along the sides of the steep hill.
The best preserved monument is the stadium constructed on a natural terrace in the first half of the 3rd century BC. On the southern side of the city, outside the walls, stood a religious complex with a platform for a colonnaded Doric-style temple dedicated to Aphrodite. A series of monumental tombs are also to be found in the vicinity.
Amantia minted its own coins from the 3rd century BC. After the period of Greek colonisation it came under the influence of Apollonia. In 148 BC the city was included, along with Byllis, in the Roman province of Macedonia and Epirus Nova in the late 3rd century AD.
Amantia remained a small urban centre and was the seat of a bishop in early Christian times. The temple of Aphrodite was demolished and a Christian basilica was built near the ruins using its materials. It is thought that the city may have been abandoned by the end of the 6 century AD.
A significant sculpture, a relief of the God of Fertility, can bee seen in the Archaeological Museum in Tirana Museum. Additional relics from Amantia are on display in the National Museum of History. Amantia was declared an archaeological park in 2005.