Heritage Conservation in Gjirokastra
AiP’s Long-term Project in Albania
Gjirokastra, Albania – May 2015
AiP volunteers have been working in Gjirokastra since 2008; when we arrived in May 2015, we could immediately see a change in the city. More shops in the bazaar had opened, outdoor restaurants were busier, and we saw three building conservation projects underway as we wound our way through the old town to Kotoni’s Guest House.
Our goal over the past seven years has been to support the Gjirokastra community in developing their heritage tourism sector to create economic growth. The combined efforts of the city and NGOs such as AiP have had exactly that effect and made a noticeable impact.
Inroads for Heritage Conservation in Gjirokastra
Current preservation projects, for the first time in many years, are a combination of private ventures and nonprofit projects. Investors from within Albania and from several other countries have purchased deteriorating tower houses and are restoring them for use as hotels and hostels. AiP jammers can be proud of the role they played in initiating and fueling this renewed energy and investment.
Hands-on Work and Results
The schedule for our May session was packed as we addressed three different needs. Six people arrived–from Australia, the UK and the US–to make certain we accomplished all our goals. We also received input from several doctoral candidates from the Netherlands and Italy who were in Gjirokastra to complete work for their dissertations.
Our primary task was completing the documentation of decorative paintings at the Kikino house. We worked on the third story balcony, overlooking historic tower houses and the river valley below. Fortified by the spectacular view and delicious cups of espresso and Turkish coffee, we dove into our work and completed our assessment in six days. Our report prepares the way for final conservation work to be undertaken as funding allows.
A condition assessment at the Kabili tower house was next on our list. A team of professionals from the US and Italy donated their time to prepare a preliminary assessment of this badly damaged house; key to their work was the information jammers gathered during our September 2014 session. Once known as “the palace”, the Kabili House is one of Gjirokastra’s most historically significant sites. Unfortunately, the owners decided against involving AiP and Directorate of Cultural Monuments in the project, a too frequent occurrence. They opted for quick, unauthorized repairs in order to rent the space and bring in immediate income. Without proper conservation work, however, the building will not stand for many more years. This negative outcome highlights the ongoing issue of private vs community benefit faced in many countries.
Even with this disappointment, our team moved on to our third goal, creating professional quality photographs and video footage for use by the city of Gjirokastra and by AiP. Ilir Rizaj, a professional photographer originally from Kosovo and now working in New York City, donated his services in an effort to record and, ideally, help preserve the region’s historic architecture. With his guidance and the use of his specialized drone, the team captured photos and video that will enable the Directorate to work with hard-to-reach sites. AiP will also use the materials to create a marketing and informational video, with the aim of bringing more volunteers to do heritage conservation work in Gjirokastra. It will take a great many hands are needed to save at least some of the 400 tower houses still in dire need of conservation assistance.
In these two weeks, the AiP team donated approximately 430 hours. That tally will increase as we work to create the AiP informational video.