Apollonia: Cicero, the famed Roman orator, was captivated by the beauty of Apollonia, and in his “Philippics”, referred to it as “magna urbs et gravis,” or “the great and important city.” The ancient city, founded in the 7th century BCE by Greek settlers from Corinth and Corcyra, is located 11 km west of the modern city of Fier. A French mission lead by Prof. Leon Rey discovered Apollonia. Archaeological excavations have shown that Apollonia reached its zenith during the 4th – 3rd century BCE.
Studies estimate that around 60,000 inhabitants lived inside the city gates. The city has a 4 km long wall encircling an area of 137 hectares. Sources depict a flourishing culture with a busy harbor along this active trading route. Among the most interesting remains are the city council building, the library, the triumphal arch and the temple of Artemis.
The odeon, from the 2nd century BCE, is also noteworthy, as it once accommodated approximately 10,000 spectators. There is also a spectacular 77 m long stoa with a covered walkway. An earthquake in the 3rd century CE, in addition to causing damage to infrastructure, altered the path of the Vjosa River and the harbor eventually silted up. This effectively changed the trading route, and the once proud city declined until it was nearly uninhabited. Apollonia was “rediscovered” in the 18th century CE, and archaeological efforts have continued intermittently throughout the 20th century CE. Today the site is easily accessible from the nearby city of Fier and it offers both unique views of the Adriatic coastline and numerous historical and archaeological items of great interest to visitors.
Byllis, established in the 3rd century BCE, once flourished as a political, economic and cultural center in the region. Being governed by a body of civil servants, the introduction of a bronze currency system and a reputation for having skilled artisans were the hallmarks of this powerful society. The surrounding wall of Byllis is very well preserved, measuring 2,250 m long, 3.5 m wide and 8 – 9 m high. It surrounds an area of 30 hectare and has a triangular shape. The theater built in the middle of the 3rd century BCE is located in the southeast corner of the agora. The theater exhibits several unique features including a sculpture display area. It was an immense construction with the ability to accommodate an estimated 7,500 spectators. Interestingly, historians believe that the design of the individual steps would allow for standing room only.
The adjacent stoa, measuring 60 x 11.4 m, remains partially preserved. The basilica located in the site measures an impressive 33 x 22.8 m. Inside are many beautiful examples of mosaics depicting a variety of subjects. To the south of the basilica lies the remains of a school, which dates back to the 3rd century BCE. This area features a series of alcoves and the rectangular footprint of the original building. The cathedral is perhaps the most impressive area within Byllis. It consists of the basilica, the baptistery and the diocese complex. The cathedral underwent several reconstructions, first in 470 CE and again in 547 CE. After each reconstruction, the cathedral increased in size. The basilica of the cathedral exhibits a much more elaborate configuration than the other basilica in Byllis. The threshold leading to the entryway is made with an extensive mosaic. Notably, it is the largest mosaic discovered in Albania to date. It displays diverse motifs and scenes reflecting the daily life of shepherds, anglers and others. The walls of this cathedral had beautiful frescoes at the time, and several depicting geometrical shapes remain.
Gurëzeza is located near the modern town of Cakran, dominating the plain of Vjosa and offering visotors a view which extends to the Karaburun peninsula and the island of Sazan in the bay of Vlora.
The partially preserved walls cover an expansive area of over 15 hectares. Settlements of the site appear divided into three distinct phases: the Protourban, Urban and Late Antiquity periods. Several important coin hoards were found in the vicinity of this site, one with about 2,000 bronze coins from Apollonia and Epirus. 200 silver coins were included in this find, forty of which belonged to the Illyrian king Monunios. Based on this find, some archaeologists and historians speculate that this may have been Monunio’s actual residence. In the town of Ballsh you may also visit the Basilica of Ballsh.
Nikaia (Klos) is an ancient city located southeast of the modern city of Fier, near Byllis. The city features a protective wall that is notable for its length, 1850 meters, dating back to 425 BCE. The use of polygonal and trapezoidal blocks for its construction is typcial. Three defensive towers guarded the single entrance to the city. Among the most important archaeological finds are a small theater, a stoa and the ruins of a stadium. The theater had a capacity of approximately 900 spectators. There are even inscriptions preserved on one of the theater walls granting citizenship to several individuals. They date back to the 3rd century BCE. The stoa (covered walkway) is partially excavated and measures 10 x 40 m. Life in Nikaia came to an abrupt end in 167 BCE when the invading armies of Paulus Aemilus ravaged the region.
The Monastery of Ardenica is a Byzantine structure occupying a surface area of about 2,500 m . This monument consists of the Saint Mary Church, the Saint Triad chapel, the konake, the oil mill, the oven and the stall. In the center is situated the Church of St. Mary, partly built with pumice stones brought from Apollonia. It occupies a large area, covered by a wooden roof and a flat ceiling. The church is composed of a naos, a narthex and a two-story exonarex, which at the one end connects with the 24 meter tall bell tower. At the southern part of the complex is an open portico built with columns and cantilevers. The naos is made of three parts, each of them divided in two lines by wooden columns. An iconostasis divides the naos from the altar. The church floor is paved with stone tiles, as are the narthex and exo-narthex. In 1743 CE, with the initiative of Berat’s bishop, Metod, the monastery, including Saint Mary’s Church, underwent restoration. The Saint Triad chapel lies at the northwest part and its dimensions are 7.5 x 3.7 m. Its entrance is situated to the west, and it has two small windows on its southern facade.
This chapel was built with pumice stones and its semicircular wall divides it from a rainwater collection tank. A stone cantilever covers the chapel’s portal. Near the eastern window is a ceramic basso relief.
The Monastery of Saint Mary in Pojan is located within the complex of the Apollonia Archaeological Park. It was built in the 13th century CE. By the end of antiquity, Apollonia was largely depopulated, hosting a small Christian community that built this monastery on a hill, probably the site of the old city. Byzantine Emperor Andronicus Paleologus the Second reconstructed it. The chapel was built in the Byzantine style. The Monastery of Saint Mary is one of the most beautiful structures of this kind in Albania.
In the region of Myzeqe you may also visit several churches in the villages of Kolkondas, Karavasta, Vanaj, Libofsha, Hoxhare, Krutje and Kadipashaj.

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