The ruins of the ancient Illyiran city of Apollonia sit on a remote hilltop location some 12km west of the city of Fier. While definitely one of Albania’s most important ancient sites, the ruins have fairly minimal descriptions and can be quite hard to piece together, though the onsite Apollonia Museum complex is excellent, and does much to make up for the lack of context in the archeological site itself.
Set on rolling hills among olive groves, with impressive views all around, Apollonia (named after the god Apollo) was founded by Greeks from Corinth and Corfu in 588 BC and quickly grew into an important city-state, which minted its own currency and benefited from a robust slave trade. Under the Romans (from 229 BC), the city became a great cultural centre with a famous school of philosophy.
Julius Caesar rewarded Apollonia with the title ‘free city’ for supporting him against Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) during the civil war in the 1st century BC, and sent his nephew Octavius, the future Emperor Augustus, to complete his studies here. After a series of military and natural disasters (including an earthquake in the 3rd century AD that turned the river into a malarial swamp), the population moved southward into present-day Vlora, and by the 5th century AD only a small village with its own bishop remained at Apollonia.
There is far less to see at Apollonia than there is at Butrint, but there are some picturesque ruins within the 4km of city walls, including a small theatre and the elegant pillars on the restored facade of the city’s 2nd-century-AD administrative centre. You may be able to see the 3rd-century-BC House of Mosaics from a distance, though they’re often covered up with sand for protection from the elements. Inside the Museum of Apollonia complex is the Byzantine monastery and Church of St Mary, which has gargoyles on the outside pillars. The monastery itself was being renovated at the time of writing and is due to be completed in late 2017.
The Monastery of Ardenica is a precious relict monument of Albania’s cultural mosaic, inherited by a period when Catholicism as a religion and culture was dominant in the country. It is thought that this medieval monastery established in 1282 by the Byzantine Emperor Andronik II Paleolog after winning the war against Berat city.
The monastery was built in the ruins of an old pagan temple which was constructed to honor Goddess Artemisa. But the monastery itself was named after the Goddess which was thought to protect the agricultural activity of the land, known as Maria Hyjlindi.
In the northeast of the monastery, tourists can visit the old statue of Saint Triada Hat and the church of Saint Maria. It is characterized by byzantine-orthodox architecture with wood roofs and flat ceilings. The first restoration of this monastery was made in 1743 by the Berat city bishop, Metodi.
The old building is surrounded by other old constructions which are thought to have been part of a small city center. It is of a huge importance for the history of Albania since it was chosen by Albanians’ national hero Scanderbeg to hold his matrimonial ceremony on April 21st, 1451 in the presence of Albanian Princes and ambassadors of Napoli, Venedic, Raguza,ect.
Situated only 10 kilometers from Fier southern city in the Ardenica hills and 237 m above the sea level, this monastery is a mosaic of history, culture and religion mixed together and inherited in church icons and paintings.