Fieri (Albanian: Fier or Fieri) is a city in southwest Albania, in the district and county of the same name. It is located at 40°43′N 19°33′E, and has a population of 82,297 (2005). Fier is 8 km (5 mi) from the ruins of the ancient Corinthian city of Apollonia.
The history of Fier is bound up with that of the oil, gas and bitumen deposits nearby. It was founded by the Vrioni family, beys of Berat, as a market town in the 18th century. The presence of asphalt and burning escapes of natural gas in the vicinity was recorded as early as the 1st century AD. Dioscorides, in Materia Medica, describes lumps of bitumen in the adjacent river Seman, and the concentrated pitch on the banks of the Vjosa river, Strabo, writing in about A.D 17th states:
” On the territory of the people of Apolonia in Illlyria there is what is called a nymphaeum. It is a rock which emits fire. Below it are springs flowing with hot water and asphalt… the asphalt is dug out of a neighboring hill: the parts excavated are replaced by fresh earth, which in time is converted to asphalt.” slm
Industry and Tourism
Fier is an important industrial city and is built by the Gjanica tributary of the Seman river, and is surrounded by marshland. With nearby Patos town, it is the centre of the oil, bitumen and chemical industries in Albania. Fier is a convenient place to stay to visit the major Classical sites at nearby Byllis and Apolonia. The population is mixed Orthodox and Muslim (typical of southern Albanian cities). Main roads from the central square lead south to Vlora (35 km/22 mi) and east to the oil and chemical town of Patos (8 km/5.0 mi). City of Fier had the first Cable Television in Albania 12.20.1995, TV AVN (Albania Video Network) with founder and president Fatos Mihali. Today in Fieri there are many other TV and radio stations. Just to mention some, there is TV KOMBI, TV APOLLON, Radio Fieri, Radio +3 and Radio Star.
Twelve km away from Fier is situated Apolonia, one of the two most important ancient Greek colonial settlements in Albania. It was founded in 588 B.C on a hill near the sea, and near what was then the course of Vjosa river by settlers from Corfu and Corinth. At the time before the changes in land formation and the Adriatic coastline caused by an earthquake in the 3 century A.D, the harbour af Apolonia could accommodate as many as 100 ships. The site is thought to be on the sothern boundary of a native Illyrian settlement, being mentioned in Periplus, a sailor’s account of the Adriatic written in the middle of 4 century B.C, as a Greek city. It was near the territory occupied by the Illyrian tribes and close to the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The colony was said to have been named Gylaceia after its Corinthian founder, Gylax, and later changed its name to that of city of the God Apollo. According to archaeological investigations for 100 years Greek and Illyrian have lived in separate communities.
The economic prosperity of Apolonia grew on the basis of trade in slaves, and the local rich pastoral agricultural. In the middle of the 5th century B.C a workshop for minting coins was set up here. Through trade and commercial transactions these coins spread throughout Illyria and beyond its boundaries. In the years 214 B.C onwards the city was involved in the war between the Illyrian Taulanti and Cassander, the king of Macedonia, and in 229 B.C came under Roman control. In 168 B.C, its loyalty to Rome was rewarded. For 200 years it was of central importance in the Roman effort to colonize the east and may have been an original terminus of the Egnatian Way. It was a vital stronghold for Caesar in the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar. In 45 and 44 B.C, Octavian, later to become the Emperor Augustus, studied for 6 months in Apolonia, which had established a high reputation as a center of Greek learning, especially the art of rhetoric. It was noted by Cicero, in the Philippics, as ‘magna urbs et gravis’ a great and important city.
Under the Empire Apolonia remained a prosperous center, but begun to decline as the Vjosa silted up and the coastline changed after the earthquake.
The Excavations and the Monuments of Apolonia
The first attempts to conduct excavations in Apolonia were made during the first World War, by Austrian archaeologists who unearthed and explored mainly the walls that encircled the city. Systematic excavations began in 1824 by a French archaeological mission directed by Leon Rey, who brought to light a complex of monuments at the center of the city. A lot of excavations have been made by Albanian archaeologists during the last 40 years. Many objects are exhibited in the museum which has been the monastery of St. Mary.
The Monument of Agonothetes
This monument decorated the center of the city. The structure had the form of a semicircle and served as an assembly place of the council of the city – the Bule. The front part of the structure was decorated in a special manner: there are 6 pillars crowned with capitals of the Corinthian style. An inscription dating from the middle of the 2nd century A.D. tells that the building was constructed by high ranking officers of the city, a monument with the purpose of commemorating the death of his soldier brother. On the day of the inauguration of the monument, a show was staged in the city with the participation of 25 couples of gladiators. On the western side, from the top of the monumental structure, the tourists can see the ruins of the small temple of Artemis (Diana). At the eastern side there is a street which passes under a triumphal arch. On the opposite side of the monument of the Agonothetes, there is a colonnade decorated with marble statues. The Library and the Odeon
This structure rises behind the colonnade. Opposite the monument of Aganothetes stands an Odeon or ‘small theatre’ for 200 spectators. The building had a stage, an orchestra and tiers. There they gave musical shows, recitals, and held oratorical and philosophical discussions. The House with Mosaics
A couple of meters away was cavated a rich Apolonian dwelling house of the 3rd century A.D.: The mosaics are of all types. There are mosaics where the main decorative motives are simple geometric figures, others have ornamental mythological figures like : hypocamposes (seahorses), accompanied by Nereids and Erotes. One of the mosaics represents a scene where Archiles holds the wounded Penthesilea, the beautiful queen of Amazones, in his arms.
The Fontana represents in itself a complex structure; it had a wall which collected the waters that sprang from the earth, and four other aqueducts.
The Museum of Apolonia
The Museum of Apollina has 7 pavilions, a gallery and 2 porticos. Here are exhibited different objects that testify to the history of Apolonia.
The Church of St. Mary
The Church of St. Mary is situated between the museum and the refectory. The church is of Byzantine style. The interiors of the church had once been painted, but today very few fragments from the mural paintings have remained. The church was built in the fourteenth century. The wall painting represents Emperor Andronicus Paleologus as the builder of the church. The refectory of the monastery was built at the same time as the church.