Never has the rise and fall of kingdoms been more evident than at the site of the ancient city of Apollonia. This ancient hilltop metropolis is surrounded now by a few rustic homes where chickens and dogs outnumber residents.
If you like relatively undiscovered treasures, you will love visiting Apollonia.
Where is Apollonia?
Apollonia is located in Albania, approximately 20 minutes drive from the city of Fier.
How Do You Get to Apollonia Archaeological Park?
There aren’t reliable public transit links to Apollonia, so you will want to either rent a car, or take a tour. We rented a car because we were driving around the country anyway. If you are able to self-drive, you won’t regret being able to experience Apollonia with just the birds and the breeze!
You could also take a taxi to Apollonia from nearby Fier, which is not typically expensive in Albania, but ask for a price up front.
Why is Apollonia Important?
Just to clear things up, there were more than 30 cities bearing the name “Apollonia” in antiquity, because they were dedicated to the important god Apollo. However, UNESCO says that this particular one was mentioned more times than any other. So you may well encounter other ruins in your travels, but these are the big ones!
(Sozopol, near Burgas in Bulgaria, is actually another ancient Apollonia!)
The city was founded in the 6th century BC and was thriving well into the 4th century AD, having seen both Greek and Roman influence.
Most interesting, Apollonia – now far from the sea – used to be a port city! The river diverted after an earthquake in 234 AD and signalled the end of its grandeur.
Touring the Apollonia Archaeological Park
Your visit begins in the parking lot down the hill from Apollonia. From here you will follow the road up to the park. There are shortcuts over literal goat paths, if you so desire.
As of 2023 you can still drive up the road to the gate and original parking lot, so feel free to attempt. We didn’t realize there was more parking up the road as well. They may be planning to close the road in the future.
Tickets for Apollonia & Hours of Operation
Adults: 600 Leke
Under 18: 180 Leke
Seniors/Persons with Disabilities: 300 Leke
Entry is paid in cash. (Which you will have of course, because how far can you get without it in Albania?)
We were actually waved through the gate by the security guard and paid upon exit. So if there is nobody at the ticket booth, don’t bother looking around for a way to pay.
Check for recent reviews before you visit to double check hours. During the summer the park is supposed to be open from 9 am to 6 pm, and in the winter from 9 am to 4 pm. However many things in Albania can be unpredictable.
Visiting the Medieval Monastery of Saint Mary
The first area you will come across when you enter the park, is the monastery complex of Saint Mary. In the center courtyard of the walls is the church.
This whole area is the newest of the park. The church and monastery that stand today, are said to date back to the 13th century AD, but others have argued that parts could be as old as 9th century.
Regardless, it’s old! Photos are not allowed inside the church. The style is pretty typical of the Byzantine Empire.
Exploring the Museum Inside the Monastery
The museum inside the monastery at Apollonia park is full of excavated treasures from Roman and Greek times. You can see remnants from tombs, pottery, statues, and more.
Ruins of the Temple of Diana
The most famous ruin at Apollonia is that of an ancient temple. While there was once a temple devoted to Artemis and another to Apollo, from what I can tell the temple that remains standing is actually devoted to the goddess Diana.
Signage was at a minimum, so we just try to do our best!
This “newer” temple, still dates back to the 3rd to 4th century BC.
Ancient Theatre at Apollonia
The temple at Apollonia is often mistaken for an ancient theatre. That actually does exist here, but only in the form of seats:
The Roman Agora
The remains of the long Agora at Apollonia aren’t fully excavated, so the structure just peeks over the top of the soil. This would have been the central social space in functioning times of Apollonia city.
Apollonia’s Nymphaeum (Fountain of the Nymphs)
We made a big ‘ol oopsie, and didn’t even see the Nymphaeum at Apollonia. We decided to go after seeing the archaeological park on a map, and just missed this part entirely.
That’s a plus 1 for going with a guide, or even in high season when you should *hopefully* get a brochure.
Regardless, somewhere down a hill at the park is a large fountain dedicated to the nymphs, surrounded by several sets of stairs. When we go back I will be sure to find it, AND get some pictures!
Unexplored Areas at Apollonia Archaeological Park
A HUGE amount of the area in the park has yet to be excavated. It’s a little bit sad to look around at the empty field and think about all the things that are unlikely to be uncovered in our lifetime.
Ancient Cistern and Grain Stores
It’s not the most interesting area, but there is also an ancient grain storage area and cistern at the park.
Restaurants at Apollonia
There are actually two restaurants on the grounds of the park, but unfortunately they were closed when we visited.
Restaurant Apollonia currently has a Google rating of 3.3. The food was generally good, but service can take some time.
Bar Restoraunt Leon Ray currently has a Google rating of 4.1. The location is a stone house, tucked into the trees at the top of the park.
Is the Ancient City of Apollonia Worth Visiting?
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Apollonia! It isn’t quite as big as Butrint, and there isn’t as much to do as Plovdiv in Bulgaria, but it still has some of the world’s best ruins!
You can easily add this stop if you find yourself driving from Tirana to the seaside.
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