Recording Inscriptions on Tower Houses
Gjirokastra, Albania – October 2008
In Albania, the AiP team found a country pulsing with activity, with people taking full advantage of the new era of free enterprise. Somewhat to our dismay – as conservators – we also found new construction overtaking historic buildings at every turn.
Residents of the old city, quite understandably, can’t wait to move from deteriorating old houses into new apartments. But as first-time observers, AiP’s group saw a potential goldmine for heritage tourism being either demolished or left to collapse. This issue was a frequent topic of discussion while in the World Heritage City of Gjirokastra as we talked to a number of Albanians about how they saw their futures unfolding, and what ideas they had for generating income in smaller communities needing an economic boost.
With volunteers from Denmark, Germany, Slovenia, Portugal, the U.S. and Albania, the discussions drew upon a broad range of experiences and were quite animated.
Our plans to begin masonry restoration work on an Ottoman tower house, soon met the daunting reality of bureaucracy – even after two years of advance planning. We quickly moved to Plan B, taking on a project the city had hoped to complete. Our goal was to document all inscriptions found on walls and gates of many historic houses and shops throughout the old town.
AiP volunteers divided into four teams, each with a digital camera, a map and a notebook. We spent two weeks exploring neighborhoods along steep cobblestone streets and even more intimidating alleys and paths to record inscriptions and document their locations. The urgency of our task became apparent as we found inscriptions painted over, being plastered over, or left to disintegrate as buildings collapse.
The final product of 560 hours of volunteer effort was an impressive document including photographs and the mapped location of each of the 102 inscriptions we located. The document was presented to the Gjirokastra Office of Administration and Coordination and also sent to the Oriental Institute in Chicago for research purposes and translation of any Arabic or Ottoman text.
As AiP volunteers searched for inscriptions, they were invited into many homes for tea; these invitations inevitably included a tour of the house led by owners proud to show their heritage regardless of the level of deterioration. Volunteers fell in love with the stone houses, rich with beautiful wall paintings and decorative wooden ceilings, and vowed to return to help save these fantastic tower houses.
Further afield, the group also explored the archaeological wonders of Butrint, the ancient decoratively painted Kisha e Laboves se Kryqit church, and much more along the way.
Several of our volunteers were so inspired by Gjirokastra, and touched by the need, that they indeed returned to work on AiP’s subsequent project at the Babameto tower house.