ALBANIA’S forthcoming elections are proving perilous for the great Classical city of Apollonia, which lies near the country’s Adriatic coastline not far from the city of Fier.
A new road — intended to speed access to still pristine beaches for an electorate rapidly becoming used to Western leisure activities after half a century of drab communism — threatens to destroy important and unexplored parts of Apollonia even as Albania starts to promote archaeo-tourism as a euro-earner.
Today, Apollonia lies several miles inland from the Adriatic, but when it was founded as a colony of Corinth in the sixth century BC it was a major port, competing with Dyrrhachium (modern Durrës) for trade.
“Its zenith was in Hellenistic and perhaps Republican times, when this prominent walled hilltop was packed with monumental buildings and, in the valleys to the south, a great cemetery of tumuli was created,” says Professor Richard Hodges of the University of East Anglia.
Professor Hodges has been working at Butrint, probably Albania’s most famed Classical site and one of its first archaeological parks, and is concerned that establishment of a similar park at Apollonia, promulgated in the 2003 National Heritage Act, will be spoilt by the threatened road. Italian government funds have been promised, and their scheme would put the hitherto isolated site and the proposed park right beside the highway as it leads to the Adriatic coast at Vlorë.
“The proposed line, it is fairly certain, passes directly through the waterside limits of the ancient city as well as one of its Roman cemeteries,” he says in Current World Archaeology.
The International Centre for Albanian Archaeology, headed by Lorenc Bejko, has fielded survey teams to make a detailed study of the proposed route, and some Albanian government officials are anxious to help, but the aid funds are insufficient to divert the road a kilometre or more away from the ancient city.
“Everyone reckons the road should be diverted. No one truly believes the cumbersome state bureaucracy can be moved to achieve this,” Professor Hodges says. “The Apollonia crisis will come to a head this summer: I predict that we will get caught up in a protracted rescue excavation that could have been avoided. The Italians are not indifferent . . . but are tied to their funding, which has been slow to materialise.”