Early in the morning, I hopped on a bus in Tiranë and headed to the city of Fier (pronounced “fear”), paying 300 lek. There is absolutely nothing to see in Fier, but my target was the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Apollonia. They sit just 8km from the city center.
The bus was supposed to take two hours but it ended up taking over three. Once in Fier, I was dropped off in the city center and walked around for a bit to look for a furgon to Pojan, the village where Apollonia is located. No luck, so I went to the nearest taxi stand and asked to hire someone to take me there and back. I had researched this earlier and I saw quotes between 2500 and 3000 lek. Thankfully, I met Selim, who quoted me at an incredible 2000 lek.
Selim was a funny guy who loved to threw out a few words of English here and there, and he was very excited to learn that I live in Istanbul. He drove me to the ruins, pointing out a few bunkers from Enver Hoxha’s time along the way, and gave me an hour to explore on my own.
I paid the 700 lek entrance fee – the highest admission I paid anywhere in Albania – and began with a branch of the Byzantine Ardenica Monastery that sits adjacent to the ruins. It was built by Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Paleologos in 1282. Albanian national hero Skënderbej was married there in 1451. It was closed by the Communists in 1969 and reopened in 1992. There was an interesting little church with a few frescoes and some nice stone work, although it wasn’t the main attraction of the monastery.
Next up were the ruins. Apollonia was founded by ancient Greek colonists from Corfu in 588 BC. The Romans took control in 229 BC. Future Roman emperor Augustus was studying at Apollonia in 44 BC when he learned of Julius Caesar’s murder. It was also one of the most important ports on the Adriatic Sea until its harbor silted up in the 3rd century AD. The city was later abandoned.
When I looked at the map at the gate, it looked as if there was a lot to see. For what was such a great city in antiquity, the archaeological site ended up being quite disappointing. Aside from a badly reconstructed temple, a small odeon, a library, and a few other ruins that make up the “port of 17 niches” (whatever that is), there really wasn’t much to see. A lot has yet to be excavated.
Once you pass up the “port of 17 niches”, you’ve pretty much reached the end. It isn’t worth walking down the other paths to the other ruins indicated on the map because they simply aren’t there yet. On a positive note, there was a team of German excavators reconstructing the theatre that was built into the side of the hill.
I ended up walking way further than I should have and saw nothing in the process. The most interesting thing I encountered was the agora, which is just a grassy field. At least I was rewarded for my efforts with a nice view of Fier.
The only other point of interest was the hill above the ruins that had some great views. There was also a city gate with a sign nearby that indicated a necropolis, also with some nice views of the countryside. You can relax at a restaurant inside the gates or picnic, like some local Albanians were doing.
After my one hour was up, Selim took me back through Fier to catch a furgon back to Tiranë. I paid 600 lek on the way back and it only took 90 minutes. I guess that made up for the long bus ride in the morning.
All in all, Apollonia is not worth going out of your way for. Unless you’re really into archaeology and the ancient world like me, it doesn’t make sense to pay nearly 3000 lek for transportation and a ticket to see some badly reconstructed ruins. The sight does have potential, but maybe in 20 years.