Apollonia Archaeological Park
The site of Apollonia lay on the territory of the Taulanti, a cluster of Illyrian tribes that remained closely involved with the settlement for centuries and lived alongside the Greek colonists. The city was said to have originally been named Gylakeia after its founder, Gylax but the name was later changed to honor the god Apollo. This wasn’t the only city named for the god Apollo. There were 24 other cities named Apollonia, but Illyria’s Apollonia was the most important and played a major role as a trading intermediary between the Hellenists and the Illyrians. It is estimated that the city had about 60,000 inhabitants.
It is mentioned by Strabo in his Geographica as “an exceedingly well-governed city” with a fountain, gymnasium, etc. Aristotle considered Apollonia an important example of an oligarchic system, as the descendants of the Greek colonists controlled the city and helped Illyrians to learn how to govern. The city grew rich on the slave trade and local agriculture, as well as its large harbor, said to have been able to hold a hundred ships at a time. The city also benefited from the local supply of asphalt which was a valuable commodity in ancient times, for example for caulking ships. The remains of a late sixth-century temple, located just outside the city, were reported in 2006; it is only the fifth known stone temple found in present-day Albania.
Apollonia, like Dyrrachim further north, was an important port on the Illyrian coast as the most convenient link between Brundusium and northern Greece, and as one of the western starting points of the Via Egnatia leading east to Thessaloniki and Byzantium in Thrace. It had its own mint, stamping coins showing a cow suckling her calf on the obverse and a double stellate pattern on the reverse, which have been found as far away as the basin of the Danube.
The city was for a time included among the dominions of Pyrrhus of Epirus. In 229 BC, it came under the control of the Roman Repucblic, to which it was firmly loyal; it was rewarded in 168 BC with booty seized from Gentius, the defeated king of Illyria. In 148 BC, Apollonia became part of the Roman, province of Macedonia, specifically of Epirus Nova. In the Roman Civil War between Pompey and Julius Ceasar, it supported the latter, but fell to Marcus Junuis Brutus in 48 BC. The later Roman emperor Augustus studied in Apollonia in 44 BC under the tutelage of Athenodorus of Tarsus; it was there that he received news of Caesar’s murder.
Apollonia flourished under Roman rule and was noted by Cicero in his Philippicae as magna urbs et gravis, a great and important city. Christianity was established in the city at an early stage, and bishops from Apollonia were present during the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451). Its decline, however, began in the 3rd century AD, when an earthquake changed the path of the Aoos, causing the harbour to silt up and the inland area to become a malaria -ridden swamp. The city became increasingly uninhabitable as the inland swamp expanded, and the nearby settlement of Avlona (modern-day Vlora) became dominant. By the end of antiquity, the city was largely depopulated, hosting only a small Christian community. This community (which probably is part of the site of the old city) built on a nearby hill the church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, part of the Ardenica Monastery.