|Bouleuterion (Monument of the Agnostics)|
So what did we find? At best, the "new and improved" road was paved and passable. The approach to the park was through rolling hills filled with grazing herds of sheep. We were granted complementary admission to the park because we were "American diplomats". We would have gladly paid the 700 Lek admission fee but the gate attendant refused to accept our money.
The park itself was impressive with well marked ruins. It many respects, it was very "un-Albanian". Paths were well marked, trash receptacles were plentiful, and litter was at a minimum. Apparently less than ten percent of the ruins have been discovered. We were provided with a map that laid out the ruins that had been uncovered, and more importantly, the guide was in English, thus allowing us to really understand what we were seeing. Unlike many ancient sites where you are kept at arms length from the artifacts, no such barriers existed at Apollonia. This may someday work against its preservation but in the meantime, Sidney thoroughly enjoyed running, climbing, and playing within the numerous ruins. We spent several hours exploring the site of the library, various temples, theaters, storehouses, and cisterns before settling in for a traditional Albanian lunch.
|The main monastery building|
We know we only explored a mere fraction of what the park has to offer. Apollonia is certainly not Rome nor is it Athens but it gives me hope for what Albania could be. Since the park was established in 2006, the number of annual visitors has continued to increase. According to the Ministry of Tourism, 35,000 visitors explored the park in 2010. If our visit on a Saturday in late March was any indication, visitors- both foreigners and Albanians alike, are visiting the site. In addition to the elderly Albanians we saw sitting on benches throughout the grounds we saw large groups of youth and a surprisingly high number of Chinese tourists exploring the ruins. Apollonia is one of Albania's remaining wonders that could serve as an anchor in their ongoing attempt to become a tourist destination. I think it is probably one of the coolest places we've been in Albania to date and we will definitely be going back.