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Ruins of Apollonia, Albania

Apollonia, The Once Eminent Greek City


The ancient Greeks left an enduring legacy and influence the modern world to this day. Whether it be astrology, mathematics, biology, engineering, medicine or linguistics, nearly all of the information we take for granted today was first discovered by the ancient Greeks. Of course we also have many of their ruins and one of the most impressive is the ancient and abandoned city of Apollonia in southern Europe. Now an extensive archaeological park, it contains many Greek, as well as Roman and Christian remains.

The Extensive History of Apollonia

Apollonia was a city founded by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth sometime in the 6 th century BC. It was originally named after its semi-legendary founder, Gylax, but was later renamed in honor of the god Apollo and widely known as Apollonia of Illyria as this area was dominated by the war-like Illyrians at the time. In general, the Greeks and the Illyrians lived in peaceful co-existence. The city retained its Greek character and culture throughout its history and also had many Illyrian characteristics.  

Apollonia was a self-governing and independent city for many centuries until it was first incorporated into the Kingdom of Epirus, and later the Kingdom of Macedonia. It was a very well-governed city and flourished because of its rich agricultural hinterland and its role in the slave trade.

Apollonia became a renowned center of learning and the young Augustus studied philosophy in the city.  It prospered until the 3 rd century and became an important Christian bishopric until the harbor silted up, which led to a catastrophic drop-off in trade. An earthquake also badly damaged Apollonia and its population declined. The area degenerated into an unhealthy marsh and was later completely abandoned.

The city was rediscovered in the 18 th century and excavated in the 19 th century. However, during communist rule and the post-communist period in Albania, the site was looted of many historic items such as the magnificent statues.

Apollonia’s Many Sights

The city was built across two hilltops and the extensive Apollonia archaeological park expands over a hilly area with some 80 hectares enclosed by roughly two miles (three kilometers) of wall that date from the Roman era.

The sacred area of the city, known as the temenos precinct, contains the Temple of Apollo, which is a well-preserved Doric style temple from around 300 BC. The Corinthian columns of the temple have been beautifully restored. There are also two small stone sanctuaries to be found in this area. The remains of a Greek theatre and a nymphaeum (a shrine in honor of nymphs) are also located here.

Magnificent columns that once graced the Basilica of Apollonia (Guimas / Adobe Stock)

Magnificent columns that once graced the Basilica of Apollonia (Guimas / Adobe Stock)

Between the two hills lies the main public space which was particularly grand during the Roman rule from 229 BC. The beautiful mosaic floor can still be seen. Arguably, the most important building in the park, the Agonothetes, where the city council met, can also be found here. It was built in the Doric style in the 2 nd century AD, possibly during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and modeled on a Roman-style temple. It displayed the cultural influence of the Romans on the Greek-speaking city.

The military citadel of Apollonia (LevT/ Adobe Stock)

The military citadel of Apollonia (LevT/ Adobe Stock)

In this area of the park lie the remains of the Odeon. It was used for public performances and demonstrates a unique combination of Greek and Roman building styles. There are also the ruins of the Arch of Triumph.

While few remains have been found on the second hilltop, it does contain the Arx, the military citadel. Outside the city walls, private houses with more remarkable mosaics have been uncovered. Interesting burial mounds have been discovered adjacent to the ruined city and these are believed to be the final resting place of Greek settlers who adopted Illyrian manners and customs.

Interior of St Mary’s Church, Apollonia (Guilio / Adobe Stock)

Interior of St Mary’s Church, Apollonia (Guilio / Adobe Stock)

An important Byzantine-era church, St Mary’s, graces the archaeological park and in 2006 an early Greek temple was found by an international team of archaeologists.

Journey to Apollonia, Albania

The ruined city is located in Fier county in southern Albania. It is easy to reach from the Albanian capital, Tirana, by public transport or cab. An admittance fee is charged to enter the park and many amenities, such as a restaurant, are available. The park’s museum is not to be missed as it contains many fascinating artifacts that have been unearthed over the years.

Top image: Ruins of Apollonia, Albania                           Source: lic0001/ Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan


Elsie, R. (2010). Historical dictionary of Albania (Vol. 75). Scarecrow Press.

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Kyle, B., Schepartz, L. A., & Larsen, C. S. (2016). Mother city and colony. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 26(6), 1067-1077

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Lafe, O. (2005). Archaeology in Albania 2000–2004. Archaeological Reports, 51, 119-137.

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"Gylax, but was later renamed in honor of the god Apollo"

Lord or Ruler, never a God. Calling Apollo a god is an early Christian term to demonstrate to the populous how absurd previous beliefs were.

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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