Apollonia was one of the largest cities on the Adriatic, an important and international centre of learning and trade. Augustus Caesar was studying here, as a young man, when he heard that Julius Caesar had been assassinated. The city was originally founded in 588 BC as a Corinthian colony and was named after the god Apollo. He was obviously a popular choice because there are 23 other cities named after him in the Mediterranean world. However, this Apollonia was by far the largest and most important. Its only rival in the area was Epidamnos (Dyrrachium/ modern day Durres) to the north.
It is today situated near the modern town of Fier and offers the visitor a unique insight into the immense importance this region once held.

Apollonia was founded on a hill about a kilometre north of the Vjosa River, a significant river which flows into the Adriatic Sea. In ancient times the Vjosa was navigable up to the city making Apollonia a major sea trade port and city linking Thessalonika and Byzantium with Italy and Rome by way of the Via Egnatia. The Via Egnatia also started from Dyrrachium, the other substantial port city in the region. For almost a thousand years Apollonia was an important urban centre in the Epirus region of the south western Balkans.
It is estimated that the city had about 60,000 inhabitants, a record for ancient times. The residents were the descendants of the Greek colonists, as well as many Illyrians, as Apollonia was situated in the tribal area of Taulanti. Colonists from Italy came during the Roman era and it seems they assimilated well with the locals and Greeks.
From 229 BC, Apollonia became a Roman protectorate. In the subsequent wars against Macedonia, the city became the main base for the Romans in the Balkans. During the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, Apollonia was on Caesar's side but was conquered by Marcus Brutus in 48 BC. A little later, Marcus Antonius fortified it as a strategic base.
The city chose to support Caesar and Augustus, which reaped political benefits: Apollonia was given the status of a free city, like Dyrrachium( Durres) and paid no taxes to Rome. Apart from agriculture, the city-state economy was based on artisan / crafts such as pottery. The School of Fine Arts was famous throughout the ancient world.
However, as a trade centre, the city started to decline in the 4thCentury following a large earthquake which altered the course of the Vjosa river and Apollonia’s famous harbour silted up.
The consequences were dramatic to the city’s fortunes as its entire commercial activities were developed in connection with sea trade. The city lost its economic importance, declined economically and strategically and became instead a religious centre. The Emperor Justinian I rebuilt and strengthened the city’s fortifications, for the last time. The city was largely abandoned by the 6th century, due to the changes in its strategic importance and geography.
In the 9th Century, the monastery of St.Mary was built in the ruins of the city and in the 14th Century, the church which you see today, was built. Many important historical items have been discovered from the monastery and surrounding area during archaeological excavations. Some of this collections are on display in the national archaeological museum in Tirana. Some of it can be seen in the museum within the old monastery buildings.
Today, Apollonia is situated a few kilometers inland. Like Ephesus in Turkey, it is today so far from the sea, that it is hard to imagine that it was ever a major port. Happily, since the city’s decline was due to geographic and economic reasons, and not through war, it has been very well preserved. So far, only a tenth of the city has been discovered and archaeologists call it “The Pompey of Albania".

Apollonia was one of the largest urban centres in Illyria, home to many civil and religious buildings, large residential areas, large fortifications and many paved roads. The ramparts enclose an area four kilometres long, about 137 hectares. So far, the most significant monuments in Apollonia are:
City-states in ancient Greece called their City Council meeting room the "Bouleuterion". In Apollonia this is located in the city centre near the Agora(the central meeting and marketplace of a city). It was built in the last quarter of the 2nd Century BC, during the Roman period.
The library
Apollonia had one of the largest libraries in the Roman Empire. Here, a notable student was Octavian(later Augustus Caesar) who, as a young man, pursued his studies over the course of more than one year in the library and schools of Apollonia.
The Odeon was used for both musical and cultural events as well as for political meetings. The Odeon was built in the middle of the 2nd Century BC and the combination between Greek art style and Roman technology make it architecturally one of the most interesting buildings of Apollonia.
Temple of Diana
The temple in honour of the Roman goddess Diana was built in the last quarter of the 2nd Century BC. Archaeologists have discovered a large marble statue of Diana and assume that the goddess (Diana was goddess of the hunt, the moon, chastity and the protector of women and girls) was greatly honoured in Apollonia. In mythology, Diana was also Apollo’s twin sister.
Here was the meeting place for the authorities and the leading representatives of the City Council The west-facing facade of the building is decorated with marble columns.
A hill side was excavated showing the theatre, and an artificial dam which was created on the north western side. In late antiquity, the theatre was abandoned, and the church of Saint Mary was built in its place using stone blocks from the seats.
A large and decorated fountain, fed by an underground water source which still flows.
Built in the 6th Century BC and was used till the 3rd Century BC being rebuilt several times.
The large Stoa
The large Stoa is the best preserved monument of the classical Greek time and was used up to the second Century AD. Archaeologists claim that the Stoa was especially important in the life of Apollonia because it could look out over the whole area due to its prime location in the centre. Important philosophical debates and fierce discussions around critical issues would be held here, along with other important subjects related to the city and its residents.
Doric temple
Outside the city walls, near the south gate are the remains of the Doric temple, which was built around 480 BC, with stone blocks from Karaburun, the peninsula opposite Vlora, to the south. We cannot identify the god who was worshiped in the temple, but following excavations and studies, it is thought that it could have been Neptune, god of the sea and maritime trade.