Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Developers Ruin Albania's Landmarks

Text by Fatmira Nikolli, photo courtesy of Pirro Thomo   
Historic buildings all across the country are in danger, as owners, real estate developers and local authorities conspire to rebuild on their sites. On August 16, the people of the southern Albanian town of Korca woke up to an unpleasant surprise. Overnight, one of the city’s most important landmarks, a villa known as the “Flag House,” had been flattened.

In the same house in 1916, while Albania was being fought over by competing foreign armies, a group of local patriots declared the autonomous region of Korca, also known as the “Republic of Korca” (on the picture above).

In mid-September two other historic buildings in Korca were illegally torn down. Police are still investigating the actions.

Jorida Namcka, head of the Institute of Monuments in Korca, says that despite their dilapidated condition the three houses did not crumble away on their own, but were torn down illegally.

According to the Institute of Monuments, Albania has lost hundreds of historic sites and monuments in the last decade to a real estate boom.

From 1997 to 2006, the Institute estimates that 17 per cent of the country’s 2,564 listed monuments were totally destroyed and another 37 per cent were damaged or ruined.

In the latter case, owners either entirely abandoned the properties, or carried out renovation without reference to the integrity of the original architecture.

In many other cases, unsympathetic development has destroyed the sites’ overall architectural milieu.
Pressure from developers, coupled with weak state institutions, a lack of funds for conservation and corruption, threaten to overwhelm halting efforts to protect cultural heritage.

The destruction of cultural monuments is not a phenomenon confined to Korca.

Two years ago, a historic building in the northern city of Shkodra, known as the “Pioneers’ House” was demolished and the culprits where never arrested. After it was flattened, the house was de-listed as a protected cultural monument.

In 2008, two historic buildings in the capital, Tirana, were destroyed after being engulfed by fire. Few heritage experts believe that a malfunctioning electrical circuit caused the fire, as was claimed at the time.

Emin Riza, one of Albania’s top heritage experts, who helped draw proposals for the inclusion of the cities of Berat and Gjirokstra in the UNSECO list of World Heritage Sites, says Albania is losing some its best cultural landmarks to greedy developers.

“The damage done to many buildings of extraordinary heritage value is difficult to fathom,” he said.

According to Artan Shkreli, former director of Albania’s Institute of Monuments, a lack of investment by the government in the preservation of historic homes and monuments has led many people to believe that they are of no value and might as well be flattened.

“In the last three years there is not one small or large town in Albania that hasn’t seen such buildings ending up destroyed,” he asserted.

A longer version of this article was first published by Balkan Insigh.
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.




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