After a delicious lunch of kebabs and grilled vegies with a view of the valley below Ardenica, we then made our way along some bumpy and very narrow roads on our way to Apollonia. Along the way we drove through the good sized city of Fier which to this day I’m still wondering how the coach driver every made it through with as many cars double parked there as there was. There was hardly enough room for a VW bug to fit through, let alone a coach! But made it we did and before long we were in the ancient Greek ruins of Apollonia for our tour.
Founded in 588 BC, Apollonia was a significant trading port and cultural centre for about 50,000 people, many of whom settled here from nearby Corfu. In the 3rd century AD however, an earthquake hit and forced the city into decline. Nowadays it is a huge site, thought it is relatively untouched and unexcavated so there isn’t a ton of stuff to see. Worth a visit though? Yep. Worth a whole day’s visit…nah. We have an interest in that time period, but are by no means scholars, so I’d say our hour and a half visit was just about right on for us. If you’re limited on time though when visiting Albania I’d say save more time for Butrint as there is much more to see and explore there. I’ll be showing you around Butrint in a later post.
One thing I thought was really interesting was how many people you have heard of from history that have passed through Apollonia. From Julius Caesar, to the Emperor Augustus who conducted his studies in the city academy, to the current Prime Minister of Albania who was there on the day we visited! I wonder if a visit from Julius Caesar brought about the same traffic jam of chariots as we experienced with cars and coaches due to the Prime Minister’s visit.
As I mentioned there isn’t much that has been excavated yet and a walk around the ruins only covers about 2 km. If the wooden hut in front of the church is open you’ll be able to buy a map of the site, but if not you can just wander around and you’ll come across everything there is to see. We were fortunate that our guide knew lots about the area so he showed us around telling us all about the history of the site and what each of the structures and areas used to be.
So what do you get to see on a visit to Apollonia? Well let me show you around….
An ancient Greek building along the lines of a forum or citizens government, the Bouleuterion is partially original and partially rebuilt. Although the rebuilt areas were done with the original materials from the 2nd century BC when possible, it is still the cause of much controversy because of their use of concrete in the restoration.
It was here that the people were congregating to see the Prime Minister the day we visited so unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any photos without crowds of people in them. :-(
The Main Theatre
Built to accommodate about 7000 people the theatre is generally in poor condition and in need of renovation like much of the site. From here I’ve heard there is a good view of the sea in the distance but there were just too many people, and they were setting up chairs for the Prime Minister’s visit, for us to really linger and explore it.
Instead we continued our walk along the side to a boulevard of sorts that was lined with stones. This was an area that was lined with shops and people could have walked through the main walkway in front of them.
Monastery and Church of Shën Mëri (Saint Mary)
This was definitely my favourite part of the whole visit (pictured in the opening photo), but it isn’t original to the site. It was built with materials found on the site and has been modified many times over the centuries since the 13th century when it was created to be a monastery. If you visit, do pay close attention to the details on the outside and then go inside and I think you’ll enjoy the beauty in its simplicity.
Right next to the church is a museum that, although quite small, is really well done and contains many artifacts from around the site.
After wandering around for awhile it was time for us to get back on the road to head to Vlore where we would be staying for the night. Unfortunately the crowds of people now leaving from seeing the Prime Minister had other ideas and there was such a traffic jam trying to get out of the parking lot and our coach driver was even told to stay put! Even though we were delayed a little it was still great fun people watching as hundreds of people poured out of the park to find their cars, and then wildly gestured at the other drivers to let them out of their parking space because everyone thinks they should be the first to leave!
Once back on the road we made our way along more narrow lanes and we sat back and watched the scenery go by. From sheep grazing, to old bunkers still standing in someone’s yard, to colourfully decorated trains… we were never at a loss for new sights to see as we drove through Albania.
Before getting too settled in for the night our hotel our guide took us on a little walking tour of the city, which is the second largest port in Albania, and the first capital of the nation. In only two short years as a new nation, Albania was then occupied by the Italians and the capital city was eventually changed to Tirana. This poor little country just could not catch a break from being invaded and occupied by other countries over the centuries.
Walking around we visited the area called Flag Square (Sheshi i Flamurit) which is home to the Independence Monument as its centerpiece. It was on this spot that the Albanian flag was first raised over the new independent nation on November 28, 1912.
Quite close to this square is the beautiful Muradi Mosque (Xhamia i Muradies) that was built in the 16th century and features a pattern of alternating red brick and white stones making up its walls and a wavy red tile roof. It resembles an Orthodox church and is really striking. I was really hoping we’d get to go inside as I had a feeling it would be equally beautiful and unique on the inside, plus it would have been the first mosque for the kiddo and I to visit, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. Maybe we can visit on our next trip to Albania…
If you are thinking about visiting the city of Vlore on your own trip to Albania and you’re looking for a place to stay, do stay tuned as I’ll have just such a place to recommend in an upcoming post when I review the hotel where we stayed.
If you have visited Vlore before…what else should I be sure to see on my next visit? Because yep, another trip to Albania has just got to be in the cards.
To read more about our adventures on our tour around Albania, please feel free to check out these posts:
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