Saving the Babameto House
Gjirokastra, Albania – September 2010
AiP volunteers in Gjirokastra learned something that left a lasting impression: each tower house contains approximately 3 million stones. Standing in the old town surrounded by these houses, it’s difficult to grasp just how many stones were used in building “the city of stone”.
Each turn on Gjirokastra’s steep, winding cobblestone streets can bring a beautiful Ottoman-era tower house into sight or, just as easily, a sad collapsed remnant. Adventures in Preservation and our project partners are working to save these massive buildings that will support sustainable economic development through heritage tourism.
AiP team members from Canada, Denmark, Australia and the US arrived to work with our partner, Cultural Heritage without Borders, on this UNESCO Category 1 building. We divided into three ten-member teams, working with architecture students from Polis University in Tirana and taking direction from CHwB experts.
In one week, the two plaster teams learned how to remove damaged plaster, how to prepare a compatible lime plaster mix, and completed the first coat of plaster in a second floor sitting room. The team working in the kitchen made a great discovery of the original decorative scheme along with old shopping notes written on the wall!
The team restoring the wooden staircase documenting all elements, removed 20th century paint, learned how to carve a hand-hewn replacement beam, and reconstructed the staircase. The three teams generated 560 hours of volunteer labor during the week, putting the Babameto house well on the road to recovery.
With heritage tourism creating desperately needed jobs, AiP and local non-profits are committed to involving community members in the preservation work that is bringing so many benefits to the city.
Many in the group joined the optional drawing classes led each afternoon by Albert Kasi, a leading Albanian sculptor and artist. All enjoyed delicious local food and lively chats with our B&B hosts, and took the opportunity to shop at the recently established artisans’ cooperative that supports the city’s traditional arts.
Field trips took us out in a landscape dotted with bunkers and a mix of beautifully painted Orthodox churches amidst the minarets of small mosques. We rode through deep river valleys, rugged mountains and along the coast visiting Albania’s other World Heritage sites: the Ottoman-era City of Berat and Butrint, the region’s premier archaeological site.
Nicolas Michelon was sponsored by his employer, Parks Canada, to travel to Albania and join the project. He said of his time in Gjirokastra:
Most of us were not new to conservation / preservation, but all of us were new to plastering a wall with the traditional techniques of Gjirokastra! … It was a great experience to be working on a historic resource (on the World Heritage list), after learning the details of its construction in the morning [lecture].