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Destroyed marble column at the monumental fountain at the ancient city of Apollonia in Albania. Source: Himara

Vandals Smash Monumental Fountain in Ancient Greek City of Apollonia

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Vandals in Albania have destroyed a famous historical monument in ancient Apollonia causing “irreparable” damage. Founded in 588 BC by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth on a site where native Illyrian tribes once lived, the ancient nymphaeum (monumental fountain) of ancient Apollonia (Ἀπολλωνία) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near the town of Fier, a city and a municipality in southwest Albania.

The nymphaeum was originally a series of natural grottoes consecrated to the mythological nymphs of springs. According to a report in Greek City Times the director of the archaeological site was quoted as saying “the damage is irreparable”, as ancient marble columns were smashed and broken. The destruction of this ancient monument has sparked outrage in the Greek community of Northern Epirus as it was one of the most important of the several classical towns known collectively as Apollonia.

Monument of Agonothetes at the ancient Greek city of Apollonia, Fier County, Albania. (milosk50 / Adobe Stock)

Monument of Agonothetes at the ancient Greek city of Apollonia, Fier County, Albania. ( milosk50 / Adobe Stock)

Vandalism of UNESCO World Heritage Site

Apollonia flourished in the Roman period thanks to its renowned school of philosophy, but it began to decline in the 3rd century AD after its harbor became plugged with silt in the aftermath of an earthquake. It was finally abandoned at the end of late antiquity. Historians know this was a self-governing and independent city. For many centuries it flourished due to its rich agricultural hinterland and its role in the slave trade, until it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Epirus, and later the Kingdom of Macedonia.

The President of Albania, Ilir Meta, condemned the act of vandalism calling it “barbaric.” Meta believes that while the attack was only recently discovered, the vandalism must have occurred during the Covid-19 lockdown. According to an article in Greece High Definition , the attack might be part of a move towards “historical revisionism.”

The nymphaeum, or monumental fountain, at the ancient Greek city of Apollonia in Albania, was fed by underground water sources. (Carole Raddato/CC BY-SA 2.0) 

The nymphaeum, or monumental fountain, at the ancient Greek city of Apollonia in Albania, was fed by underground water sources. (Carole Raddato/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Making Sense of Vandalism

According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo, in his 1970 paper titled A Social Psychological Analysis of Vandalism: Making Sense Of Senseless Violence , the characteristic feature of  vandalism is the destruction of property and of life “without any apparent goal beyond the act of destruction itself.” Zimbardo continues: “Vandalism permits powerless individuals to strike out against the institutions which control them and to take charge of the situation themselves, arousing fear in others and raising their own self-esteem.”

However, this particular act of vandalism did perhaps have a specific goal beyond the act of destruction itself. Some have theorized that it was a direct strike at the established history and political structure of modern Albania. The fall of communism brought monumental changes to the country, which was for a long time the most isolated and repressed of the Eastern bloc.

According to a 2015  Human Rights Watch  report, based on investigations dating back to 1993-5, the Greek government claimed Albania was repressing the rights of ethnic Greeks who live primarily in the south, while the Albanian government claimed Greece was fomenting separatism in the region. Could this historic discord be connected to the act of vandalism seen today? According to the Greek City TImes article, a dispute still rages about the treatment of the Greek minority living in Albania.

Albanian authorities are currently investigating who was behind the destruction of the monumental fountain in ancient Apollonia, so we should soon find out if this was a simple act of vandalism carried out by a gang of bored youths, or perhaps someting more contrived.

Top image: Destroyed marble column at the monumental fountain at the ancient city of Apollonia in Albania. Source: Himara

Editors Note: This article was edited on 19-6-2020 to remove an incorrect quotation attributed to Vittorio Sgarbi. We apologise to Mr Sgarbi and to our readers for the misinformation. We also acknowlege the date of information from a Human Rights Watch report.

By Ashley Cowie

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