Apollonia was a harbour for Cyrene and therefore an important part of the Pentapolis, the five cities consisting of Cyrene with its port of Apollonia, Ptolomais, Barca, Balagrae and Berenice (now Benghazi) Apollonia is said to have operated as a port from the 7th Century BC and continued to do so during the Roman period. At one point, after Diocletian, it was the seat of the Roman governors. The city, as it stands today, dates from the Byzantine era when it was known as the ‘city of churches’ and had five basilicas and 19 towers.11 However the large number of marble columns was almost certainly imported in the Roman era and reused in the Byzantine churches. In common with the other Roman cities it suffered from the devastation wreaked by the 365 AD earthquake when most of the harbour was washed into the sea and now lies underwater north of the present coastline (Plate 5.18).
The Western Church
Nearest to the entrance is the Western Church. The guide book talks of its having four green columns of Roman origin which have been reused, and four white columns which are ‘wholly Byzantine’.
Next along the coast is the Central Church. It has ‘some fine pillars adorned with Byzantine crosses’.12 There are in fact three complete cipollino columns with Corinthian capitals, 4-5 m. /13.5 to 16.8 Rf high and .40 m. /1.35 Rf to .50 m. /1.68 Rf in diameter, and two partial columns plus several fragments lying on the ground (Plate 5.19).
The Eastern Church
The Eastern Church was the most remarkable from the cipollino point of view. The guide book talks of ‘huge columns of cipolin marble (which) once divided the nave and aisles, forming transepts; many are still standing’, and wrongly attributing the marble to the island of Paros which produces only white marble. We counted 23 standing columns, not all complete, of which the majority, possibly all, are cipollino. The complete columns stand 5-6 m. /16.8 – 20.27 Rf high with diameters of .57 m. /1.92 Rf They have Corinthian capitals, stand on concave scotia and red, brick plinths (Plate 5.20) .
11 Ham, Libya, p.181.
12 Ham, Libya, p.182.
Maps and Plates
Plate 5.18 The Theatre, showing the lost harbour and present coast line, Apollonia.
Plate 5.19 Cipollino column (with cross), the Central Church, Apollonia.
Plate 5.20 14 of the 20 columns of the Eastern Church, mostly cipollino, Apollonia.