Pyrrhos, the King of the Molossans, founded Antigonea in the year 295 BC. The Molossans were one of the three tribes of Epiros (in today’s southern Albania and northern Greece), which grew to a strong state in this period. Antigonea developed as an important economic, social, cultural and political center, and at the end of the 3rd century and in the beginning of the 2nd century BC took shape as a polis (city-state) and one of most important settlements of antiquity.
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Pyrrhos called the city Antigonea after his first wife, the daughter of the Macedonian nobles Berenice and Philip. Later Berenice married Ptolemy, the King of Egypt and successor of Alexander the Great, in the court of whom Pyrrhos got acquainted with Antigone. Besides his wife, Pyrrhos honored also his mother-in-law Berenice by naming after her a city in Epiros.
When Pyrrhos was 17 years old, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, an uprising overthrew him as king. He was placed under the custody of King Demeter of Macedonia and later was sent to the court of Ptolemy. “Since Pyrrhos was artful to absorb powerful people and to hate cowards, while being kind and gentle in life”, as Plutarch wrote, he was selected among other young princes to marry Antigone. This marriage further appraised the figure and good name of Pyrrhos. Due also to the aid of his prudent wife, Pyrrhos managed to collect money and an army, and start off towards Epiros to reclaim the throne.
What to See and Do?
In the commune of Antigonea you can get in touch with all historic periods of mankind from prehistory to modern times. While the caves of Spile and Ladovishtë indicate that the area has been populated from the earliest times, the greatness of antiquity is represented by Antigonea.
Three basilicas in the neighboring villages testify to the outset of Christianity, and the monastery of Erem in Spile, with Saint Nicola Church, is evidence of the era of Byzantium. The Ottoman period has left its traces through the architecture of 17th - 18th century houses in Tranoshishtë, and the trends of the communist period can be seen in the agricultural cooperative villages named after partisans Arshi Lengo and Asim Zeneli.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. Remnants of the Fortified Wall (beginning of the 3rd cent. BC) can be seen stretching up the hill on the top of a steep slope. Its view is particularly good from the Acropolis.
2. Ancient Nymphaeum of the Acropolis (beginning of the 3rd cent. BC). A nymphaeum was a spring and the sacred dwelling place of its female spirit (nymph). It was rimmed and used to provide water.
3. Church of Shen Mëhill (Saint Michael) (6th - 9th cent. AD). Measuring 8 m x 7.3 m and composed of two sections, it was discovered in 1973 at the highest point on the hill of the Acropolis. Construction materials have been taken from the Acropolis’ defensive walls.
4. Defensive Fortification of the Acropolis (beginning of the 3rd cent. BC). The fortification is formed by three defensive belts of walls narrowing up to the peak of the hill. The exterior wall belt has been formed by defensive walls and seven reinforced towers.
5. Dwelling (Leather Workshop) (second half of 3rd cent. BC). Discovered during archaeological excavations in 1968, it is a dwelling with an irregular floor plan consisting of a corridor and five sections of various functions. Discoveries made here include ceramics, such as pithoi, kitchen dishes, bricks, bronze dishes and iron work tools which are thought to have been used for treating leather.
6. Fragments of the Surrounding Fortified Walls (beginning of 3rd cent. BC). Remnants of the northern gate with two towers.
7. Dwelling (Carriage Driver’s House) (second half of the 3rd cent. BC). Discoveries made here include a wagon wheel, coins, etc.
8. Dwelling (second half of the 3rd cent. BC). Residential house with an L-shaped floor plan, consisting of an atrium and five alcoves. The discoveries made here in 1968 have been meaningful and in large numbers: bronze dishes, work tools, bronze and silver coins, clay stamps, a mini-statuette of Poseidon (god of the ocean), voting identification cards and 14 bronze tablets with the name of the city on them. It is at this house that the mysterious bronze figurine of a harpy was found which has become the symbol of Antigonea. In Greek mythology, a harpy ("snatcher") was one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from the prophet Phineas. They were usually seen as personifications of the sapping nature of wind.
9. Dwelling with peristyle and floor covered with a mosaic (beginning of 3rd cent. BC). In Greek and Roman architecture, a peristyle is an open colonnade surrounding a court or garden inside a building. Discoveries: ceramics, bronze objects and coins.
10. Ancient old fountain head. (Date unknown)
11. Monumental tomb (3rd - 2nd cent. BC). Ancient grave of the Macedonian type consisting of two settings that are connected to each other. The walls had been plastered, the ceiling is a vault structure created with an arch. Discovered during the excavations in 2005. Discoveries made include ceramics and bronze objects.
12. Main Gate, or Great Gate, of the Ancient City with two fortified towers (3rd - 2nd cent. BC). Discoveries: Traces of the installation of two moving wings of the Great Gate.
13. Stoa with beautiful multi-cornered wall (beginning of the 3rd cent. BC). Located approximately 250 m away from the main defensive wall of the city to the South. Discoveries include ceramics and coins. There used to be a nymphaeum in the vicinity.
14. Palaeo-Christian Basilica (a triconch church) with a unique, multi-colored mosaic (5th – 6th cent. AD). The layout of the building is a triconch (having three apses on the sides of the central square area of the church), measuring 13.8 m in length and 4.6 m in width. The basilica is composed of two parts: the main hall and the altar section, which the three apses. It was discovered during the excavations of 1974.
15. The Southern Fortification System (3rd – 2nd cent. BC) is a linear structure of 800 meters, with five defensive towers and the small Southern Gate. It was the most significant defensive section of the city’s fortification system and dates back to the beginning of the 3rd century BC. The style used in its construction is “isodomic” (regular, almost quadratic stone blocks in horizontal lines). The five towers were comprised of two metallic constructions reinforced through crossbeams. They were built in the shape of rectangles more than 6 m high and wide, in a distance of 60 m from each other.
16. The Agora (market place) and Main Stoa (roofed promenade) (2nd - 3rd cent. BC) has a rectangular plan of 59.6 m by 8.6 m and had been decorated with columns in Doric style. A unique drainage channel crosses it. In1987 bronze figurines of Poseidon and a Mollos Dog, and bronze fragments of a monumental statue of an unknown horseman (Horse helmet, Horse Mane and Horseman’s Hand with a ring on its finger) have been found here.
17. Dwelling and public building (3rd - 2nd cent. BC). A dwelling of peristyle form was discovered next to the medieval church during the excavations of 1986, measuring 18 m by 8.5 m. Based on its location in the center of the town, its architecture and the lack of objects for daily use, this building is assumed to be a public building or a villa.
18. Christian church from the Byzantine Period, built between the 7th - 9th cent. AD with stones and columns from ancient houses. The medieval church of the IX-XI centuries has a single nave measuring 11 m by 3.5 m. Thirteen tombs were discovered in the cemetery next to the church, with partial inventories.
19. Large block of peristyle houses in various models. This part of the town, with its houses and channels, displays almost in full the urban development of the city. The objects in this block (all of them from the first half of the 3rd cent. AD) are an Artisan’s House, a Weaver’s House, the Measuring Stone and an above-ground drainage system. Ceramic dishes for daily use, ceramic roof tiles, artisan work tools, counterweights for loom threads, bronze coins, bronze decorative items and agricultural work tools have been found here.
The buildings of this block vary based on their type and function:
Dwellings with a rectangle peristyle, surrounded by spaces for living and economic activity.
Dwellings with a courtyard and a gate placed on either one or both sides of the courtyard.
A dwelling with a narrow hall in the middle and spaces positioned on either side.
Dwellings which have their courtyard located at one corner of the house.
The labeling of these houses is based on their function - defined through the tools and other objects found there:
The craftsman’s house, measuring 35 m x 15 m, with a surface of 335 m2, dates back to the second half of the 3rd century BC. Discoveries here include bronze dishes, iron tools such a an axe, cleaver, scythe, rusted bronze and iron, numerous coins, the bronze handle of a dish in the shape of a sphinx figurine, ceramics, etc. Because of the rusted metals and other discoveries this house was judged to be the house of a craftsman.
20. A natural cave is situated in the rocky eastern hill which in antiquity served as a natural defense, partly reinforced by a polygonal wall. According to ancient writers, the cave was used as a shelter by residents during attacks from invaders and today is considered a historical site.