Antigoneia was a very short-lived city, lasting for approximately 150 years. It was founded by one of the most famous names of the ancient world, King Pyrrhus of Epirus (319-272 BC), from whom the phrase “a Pyrrhic victory” derives. At the outset of the 3rd-century BC Pyrrhus was forced to go and fight in Egypt. His abilities impressed Berenice, the wife of King Ptolemy of Egypt, who decided to offer him her daughter, Antigone, in marriage. In token of his gratitude to his mother-in-law and his first wife, Pyrrhus decided to build Antigoneia.
In 198 BC the Romans defeated the Macedonian armies of King Philip V. The inhabitants of Antigoneia had sided with the Macedonians in their war against the Roman Republic and hence when the Romans obtained total victory in 167 BC, they decided to punish the Epirots who had fought against them. The Roman Consul Aemilius Paullus looted and set fire to 70 towns in Epirus including Antigoneia. The town was never rebuilt.
From Gjirokastra to Antigonea
To get to the archaeological site of Antigonea head east out of Gjirokastra. The first landmark is the village of Asim Zeneli, which is the most populous settlement of the Antigonea Commune. This is a big and well-organized village. Under communism, the first livestock-farming cooperative in Albania was set up here. The National Park Centre of Antigonea, which was inaugurated recently, is located at the centre of the village, next to the Commune offices; guides may be found here.
At the next village of Krinë bear right through the square, past the ancient plane tree, keep to the unpaved and sometimes rough track. Eventually the road approaches the village of Saraqinishtë and there is a track signposted to the right leading to the Hill of Jermë, the location of the ancient city Antigoneia. The journey in total takes about 45 minutes.
In Saraqinishtë are two 17th-century churches, the keys for these may be found with the Antigonea Park custodian (Mr. Pilo) who is also in charge of the remains at Antigonea. His house can be identified from the colossal nut tree in the middle of its courtyard.
The Park custodian will be able to tell you in detail about the finds and discoveries at Antigonea. Some of these finds, including a bronze sphinx and a statue of Poseidon, are exhibited in Tirana. It is possible to see a number of elements of the city that have been excavated by the Albanian archaeologist Dhinosten Budina in the 1970s, and more recently by an Albanian-Greek team lead by Konstantinos Zachos from the Greek archaeological Ephoria of Ioannina. Most impressive are the city walls, demolished by the Romans, which completely encircle the hill. The most visible gate in the walls is at the south-western side of the city. In the city centre an entire street is exposed. A walk to the southern end of the city takes you passed other buildings as well as a fine section of the city walls. The wall section terminates at a small early Christian church of triconch form overlooking the dramatic cliff at this side of the hill. This chapel, built after the city was ransacked by the Romans, has an exposed mosaic floor.