Fier, what to see in Albania: Ardenica, Apollonia and Bylis Monastery

Fier is certainly not one of the most beautiful cities in Albania. The reasons to visit it, however, are the three sites that are located in its vicinity and that make this city interesting as a stop during an itinerary in the Land of Eagles: Apollonia, Bylis and the Monastery of Ardenica.

Visiting the ancient archaeological site of Apollonia , that of Bylis and the Monastery of Ardenica will make you dive into the past of Albania and better understand its history. To get around by car the map of Albania is convenient (otherwise you have to buy an Albanian card and use the navigator) and obviously do not forget a guide to Albania . While if you are in Tirana and don’t have a car, there are one day guided tours to Apollonia and Ardenica.

  1. What to see in Fier
  2. The Archaeological Park of Apollonia
  3. The Monastery of Ardenica
  4. The Archaeological Park of Bylis

What to see in Fier

Fier is located about 100 kilometers from Tirana and is an important economic center of Albania, well connected with the capital as well as a central hub for the connection between the different areas of the country. Therefore, since you will most likely pass by Fier several times during a trip to Albania, it is worth getting to know the city a little better.

Fier is actually a very young city : founded in the 18th century as a small peasant village, it developed in the 19th century thanks to the construction of a stone bridge over the river. During the Communist Regime, after the Second World War, the city then underwent a strong push connected to the drainage of the Gjanica River, becoming one of the most important in the country, home to thermal power plants and fertilizer industries also thanks to the oil and gas fields. nearby, already known since the 1st century AD

In the surroundings of Fier there are three very important archaeological sites: Apollonia , Bylis and the Monastery of Ardenica, located 15 kilometers to the north. For this reason Fier can be a good base to explore them but if you stop for a few days in the area do not forget that the coasts of the Adriatic Sea are only less than 20 kilometers from the city.

If you have some time to dedicate to the city, the Historical Museum of the city and the Cathedral of Fier are worth a visit Inside the museum are preserved the archaeological finds found in the territory thanks to the excavations carried out from the 1900s to today, a sort of understanding of the long history of Fier: starting from the life of the peasants, passing through the activities of patriots, independence and finally to freedom.

The Cathedral of Fier , the “ Kisha e Shën Maria dhe Shën Luigji “, is instead a symbol of the rebirth of Albania after the collapse of the Communist regime and is dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint Louis.

Trip to Albania, the archaeological site of Apollonia
Trip to Albania, the archaeological site of Apollonia

The Archaeological Park of Apollonia

Not far from Vlora, near the city of Fier, there is one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania: The Archaeological Park of Apollonia . Going there means taking a dip in Albanian history but also discovering how much this country has to offer to travelers, beyond the wonderful beaches of Albania.

History of Apollonia

In Apollonia there are two peoples who have made the history of the Mediterranean, the Greeks and the Romans and the city is one of the largest Greek colonies in Albania which was defined by Cicero in the Philippics as ” magna urbis et gravis “. Founded in 588 BC, Apollonia became a Roman protectorate and then, in the fourth century, an episcopal center but was then abandoned and disappeared into oblivion. The site was rediscovered only in 1924 thanks to Leon Rey who found the lost city.

What to see in the Apollonia Archaeological Park

Today the excavations are not yet finished and this Archaeological Park of Albania still hides many mysteries: not to be missed during the visit of Apollonia are the Agora, the Byzantine Monastery of Shen Meri and the Archaeological Museum. If you decide to go to Apollonia by car, you will have to enter the directions for the town of Pojan in the navigator : from there you can get to Apollonia in a few minutes.

You can find more information on the visit to Apollonia by reading the dedicated article. For more information, following the links, we recommend three tourist guides: an Albania guide with different itineraries and maps, a useful guide especially for Tirana and its surroundings or the Polaris guide especially for cultural news.

The Monastery of Ardenica
The Monastery of Ardenica

The Monastery of Ardenica near Fier

The Monastery of Ardenica is about 15 kilometers from Fier and is one of the most visited places in the area . Located in the hills, at a height of about 200 meters above sea level, near the village of Kolonjë, this sacred place conveys a feeling of tranquility, surrounded by cypresses, pines and lush vegetation.

History of the Ardenica Monastery

The monastery was built in the 12th century by the Byzantine emperor, Andronicus II Palaiologos after the victory against the Angevins in the Siege of Berat in the place where once there was the chapel of San Triadhe. The chapel had been elected centuries earlier on an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis and near the building ruins of an ancient Roman road that connected to the Via Egnatia were discovered.

Forced to close and abandonment during the Communist Regime which had proclaimed Albania an atheist state, today it is the destination of many tourists who visit it to see its frescoes and the view from the top. But it is also a very famous destination among the Albanians because here, in the Trinity Chapel, the marriage between the national hero Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg and Andronika Arianiti was celebrated in 1451.

What to see in the Ardenica Monastery

The monastery is located on the top of a hill and has a characteristic arrowhead shape, defended by high walls. Over the centuries it has been a seminary for the training of Orthodox popes, a place of education and home to a large eighteenth-century Renaissance library and art gallery. Inside you will find the Maria Theotòkos Church (Mother of God), the chapel of San Triadhe (the Chapel of the Trinity) but also service buildings with the oil mill and stables for the animals. In addition to being a tourist attraction, the Monastery of Ardenica is in fact a place of worship where some monks still live.

The walls are all covered with frescoes made in 1744 by the brothers Kostandin and Athanas Zografi which describe scenes from the Old and New Testament. The scenes of the “Dormition of Mary”, of “Archangel Michael fighting with the dragon” and “The marriage of Scanderbeg” stand out, but there are also preserved ancient astronomical maps. Precisely in the monastery, the abbot Nektarios Terpos da Moscopole (i.e. coming from Moscopoli, near Korça) in 1731 painted a fresco with a prayer written in four languages: Latin, Greek, Roman and Albanian, in the first text in Albanian in a greek orthodox church.

From the top of the monastery hill you can enjoy a wonderful view over the territory of Myzeqe to the Karavasta lagoon and the Adriatic sea, with the centuries-old pines of the city of Divjakë while at the foot of the monastery there are the ruins of the ancient city inhabited since antiquity.

For an in- depth study on the history of Skanderbeg, hero of the Albanian people and “king without a crown” I suggest you read this book dedicated to him and to the Albanian national identity.

The ruins of the archaeological park of Bylis
The ruins of the archaeological park of Bylis

The Archaeological Park of Bylis

The Archaeological Park of Bylis is located on the hills of Mallakastra near the valley of the Vjosa river in the place where the ancient city of Bylis once stood, about 40 kilometers from the city of Fier and near Hekal, on an area of ​​about thirty hectares, surrounded by a massive wall.

History of Bylis

The city ​​of Bylis was one of the largest cities of Illyria, founded in the mid-fourth century BC and in the choice of its position the possibility of observing the whole valley and the roads that connected Apollonia and the coast of Illyra with Epirus and Macedonia. The city underwent ups and downs: defeated in 314 BC, together with Apollonia and Durazzo, by the Macedonian king Cassander and then taken up again by the Illyrians two years later, the city was also dominated by King Pyrrhus and his son Alexander. Taken again by the Illyrians, after the landing of the Roman troops in 229 BC the city first became occupied and then, in 198 BC, an ally of Rome and colony.

Under the protection of the Roman Empire, Bylis experienced a long period of peace and prosperity and Caesar too, around 48 BC, stopped in the city, using it as a supply base for Roman troops. However, in 184 the ancient Bylis was destroyed by the Goths during the barbarian invasions.

The ruins of the city of Bylis were discovered in the early nineteenth century by H. Holland, an English traveler and writer, who reported about these ruins in his book on Albania, Greece and Macedonia published in 1815. During the nineteenth century , a period when classical grand tours were in vogue in Europe, Bylis was visited and described by many intellectuals and diplomats who included it in their itineraries before classical Greece.

What to see in the Archaeological Park of Bylis

The first excavations at Bylis were organized in 1917 by the Austrian archaeologist C. Praschnizer who brought to light part of the wall belt, the theater and the large portico. At the end of the 1980s an excavation campaign began, conducted by the Archaeological Excavation Center of the Albanian Academy of Sciences, then continued by a team of Albanian and French archaeologists.

Today visitors can admire the remains of the imposing ancient theater, the stadium, the stoàs, the great Palo-Christian basilicas and other public and private buildings. It is a discovery of the ancient Illyrian civilization. The Archaeological Park of Bylis is easily accessible by car from the nearby Fier and can be visited within a few hours. Following some paths along the hillside, archeology enthusiasts can also reach points of interest outside the walls, such as the rock inscription dedicated to the general of the Roman imperial army, who contributed to the reconstruction of a city street.

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