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Archaeological Investigations and Excavations of Ancient Urbanity


Investigations in Apollonia (Albania)

Apollonia belongs among the most important cities along the Adriatic Sea. Its favourable geographical location established the city’s prosperity as found in written sources as well as in monuments and in material remains. Archaeological investigation of the city began already a hundred years ago. Since 1992 a French-Albanian equipe invesitgates parts of the upper town, publishing the »Atlas d’Apollonia« in 2007. It contains the plan of a re-investigated municipal area and summarises the investigations performed so far. 

German-Albanian Investigations in Apollonia

A German-Albanian cooperation founded in 2006 under the lead of Henner von Hesberg and Bashkim Lahi, concentrated on the exploration of the theatre that was exposed in the 1960ies but never concluded and published. Reconstruction and history of this building was at the centre of the investigations, still questions emerged regarding the way in which the city was founded and expanded and also regarding some individual monuments.

The exploration of a neighbouring settlement near Babunjë led to the conclusion that the colonisation of the east coasts of the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea must have been a multi-layered process that besides the big colonies also included smaller settlements in order to consolidate the colonial structures.

For the Lower Town from the Classic period, geophysical investigations in Apollonia account for an extraordinary generous structure with Insulae of 59 x 153,5 meter; they contrast with the narrow allies and Insulae in the upper town from the Archaic period, that can also be identified in Babunjë.

In the Hellenistic period in Apollonia a new public centre was established, structured into several artificial terraces at the foot of the Acropolis. Subsequent excavations at a Stoa and the investigation of a so-called Amphora-Wall were able to date this expansion phase into the third century BC.

The Theatre of Apollonia

During that time, in the middle of the third century BC, one of the largest theatres in the Greek northwest region was built in the city’s centre. Like a hinge this building fits into the street system between Lower and Upper Town: with this theatre-axis there was reference to the Upper Town, the width of the porticus post scaenam was incorporated into two neighbouring streets of the Lower Town. The theatre occupied a natural recess at the city’s western slopes which were extensively changed by earth-works in order to obtain a regular auditorium. Older residential buildings had to give way to the new public building. In addition, a drainage system was installed, since spring water and surface water represented a danger to the building’s stability.

The Construction Phases

Excavations performed between 2006 and 2016 stated six construction phases. Phase 1 encompasses the construction of the koilon with the circumference of 120 m. The floor plan of the stage building can be reconstructed mainly from the robber trenches. In the east the proskenion was placed. In Phase 2, a porticus post scaenam was added to the stage building (fig. 5). Its 77 m width protruded well beyond the width of the skene. The porticus facade, combined with the huge auditorium probably had an extraordinary effect on the viewers who approached the city from the west. The theatre was part of a cityscape expanded at the latest in the Hellenistic period.

In the Roman imperial era the building experienced two fundamental transformations allowing for gladiator competitions to take place. In Phase 3 a tall balustrade was erected between koilon and orchestra, in construction phase 4 the skene was dismantled in favour of a larger arena. Earth cellar and recesses are witnesses of temporary installations for these competitions. After a brick building was erected and changed again to replace the skene during phase 5 and 6, the theatre arena of Apollonia obviously perished following an earthquake in the middle of the third century BC. 


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St. Franz – V. Hinz, The Architecture of the Greek Theatre of Apollonia in Illyria (Albania) and its Transformation in Roman Times, in: R. Frederiksen – E. R. Gebhard – A. Sokolicek (Hrsg.), The Architecture of the Ancient Greek Theatre: Acts of an International Conference at the Danish Institute at Athens 27–30 January 2012 (Athen 2015) 335–349.

H. von Hesberg – M. Fiedler – B. Toçi, Skulpturenfragmente archaischer und klassischer Zeit aus Apollonia (Albanien), Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 133, 2018, 49–185.

M. Fiedler – G. Döhner – S.-P. Pánczél, Babunjë: eine spätarchaisch-klassische Kleinsiedlung zwischen Apollonia und Dyrrhachion (Albanien), in: L’Illyrie méridionale et l’Épire dans l’Antiquité. Actes du VIe colloque international en Musée National de Tirana 2015 (Clermont-Ferrand, 2018) 1003–1016.

M. Fiedler – E. Shehi – S.-P. Pánczél – G. Döhner, Die Kleinsiedlung Babunjë: neue Forschungen zur territorialen Siedlungsstruktur zwischen Apollonia und Epidamnos/Dyrrhachion (Albanien), Archäologischer Anzeiger 2019, 228–251.

Further Information


Project Lead

Prof. Dr. Henner von Hesberg
Universität zu Köln
Archäologisches Institut
50923 Köln

Prof. Dr. Bashkim Lahi
Qendra e Studimeve Albanologjike
Instituti Arkeologjik
Sheshi Nene Tereza


Manuel Fiedler (excavation lead), Stefan Franz, Valentina Hinz (construction research), Eduard Shehi, Brikena Shkodra-Rrugia, Klodian Velo, Gregor Döhner, Szilamér Pánczél (excavation work and find handling).