Albania: Preservation Supports Sustainable Economy

by Adventures in Preservation (AiP)
Vetted
Building friendships - building a stronger economy
Building friendships - building a stronger economy

As you might remember, our last report highlighted the exciting – and highly visible – progress underway today in Gjirokastra; current challenges that may, unfortunately, overwhelm the progress; and ways you can help support this progress by sharing AiP’s information with university programs and with potential corporate sponsors 

The dire condition of many historic buildings in Gjirokastra was brought to the public’s attention in July 2005. At a meeting of UNESCO held in Durban, South Africa, a unanimous vote declared that Gjirokastra’s "World Cultural Heritage" was at risk. The citizens of Gjirokastra took on this challenge, deciding that development of their cultural resources and increasing tourism was a means to address the crisis 

AiP’s involvement in saving the city’s architectural heritage was a result of this determination.

We know that creating a strong relationship between cultural heritage and tourism makes destinations, such as Gjirokastra, more attractive and competitive as places to live, to visit, to invest in and to gain employment. This is the key to Gjirokastra’s very survival.

Tourism has indeed increased since concerted preservation efforts began, with official data from Gjirokastra Municipality showing that in 2009 the number of visitors was 15,894 and by 2014 numbers reached 35,000. Much more remains to be done. Many of the city’s magnificent tower houses are still in a state of near collapse, and the need for international support is much greater than the current resources invested.

In the meantime, $4,992 USD was approved by UNESCO on February 2, 2016 to be allocated for "Development of Monitoring Indicators for the "Historic Centres of Gjirokastra and Berat"". The results of this monitoring will be beneficial for planning and prioritizing future preservation work.

We are now focusing our efforts on finding one or more major funders to join us in undertaking the complete restoration of one of the many endangered tower houses. Only by identifying these sources of support will we be able to make a greater impact.

This will be our last report to you until we can announce the start of a fully funded project. We thank you for seeing the value of our work and agreeing with us that –

Preservation is a powerful tool for change.

Links:

Tower house that collapsed before intervention
Tower house that collapsed before intervention

You have supported the people of Gjirokastra for almost five years as they’ve worked to improve conditions in their community. As we start a new year, our goal is to build on recent successes –

  • three tower houses restored and opened as hostels and hotels,
  • several new restaurants serving local residents and tourists,
  • new businesses opening in the bazaar.

Although promising, obstacles may still overwhelm the progress. Here are some of the current challenges:

For every tower house that is repaired or restored, several more will collapse before intervention is possible.

The small but dedicated staff of the Regional Directorate of National Culture in Gjirokastra, AiP’s local partner, is responsible for saving, or at the very least documenting, hundreds of heritage buildings in the city of Gjirokastra and the surrounding district. Their minimal budget is too small to cover even the cost of one truck to deliver building materials to the few funded projects.

The huge exodus from Albania in the 1990s depleted the country of skilled workers and left many heritage buildings vacant and deteriorating.

Funds for building conservation in Albania are almost nonexistent, casting doubt on the possibility of continuing work on several important tower houses that have been stabilized with the hope of finding support for future conservation.

Lonely Planet named Albania it’s top choice for an affordable off-the-beaten-path destination in 2011, yet international volunteers are still uncertain about traveling here to join building conservation projects, leaving scheduled work unfinished.

Are you wondering if there’s anything you can do to help overcome these challenges? The answer is YES!

  • Contact university programs you have a connection with and tell them of the great on-site training opportunities for their students in architecture, engineering, preservation, tourism and more. AiP will customize sessions to meet the needs of specific university programs.
  • Talk to the head of Social Responsibility or Philanthropy in the business or corporation you have ties to, stressing the need for financial support of heritage building conservation.

We can’t wait to hear from you with news. Be the highlight of our next report as we share what you've done and the results. 

(All photos taken by Ilir Rizaj during May 2015 preservation session.)

Endangered orthodox church in Gjirokastra district
Endangered orthodox church in Gjirokastra district
AiP, CHwB, gov
AiP, CHwB, gov't & private interests joined forces

Links:

Travel combined with training enhances education
Travel combined with training enhances education

University students are eager to gain valuable hands-on experience in their field of study, and no better way to get this experience than volunteering at an actual job site. 

Adventures in Preservation staff is talking to students in the fields of heritage conservation, engineering, architecture, tourism and more. We are sharing information on the important work underway in Gjirokastra, and letting them know they can gain knowledge and possibly credit by joining the effort. Equally important, students will be saving the city’s architectural heritage that is bringing increasing numbers of tourists and boosting the steady growth of the economy.

Most of our student volunteers come from the US and Europe, and we are working hard to broaden our outreach. Structural engineering students can assist with structural assessment and stabilization; those studying architecture can learn about traditional building materials and methods; art conservation students can document and assess decorative wall paintings and learn cutting edge methods to maintain the pigments on lime plaster. And those studying tourism can see first hand the importance of heritage tourism as a tool for supporting economic growth.

If you’re a student, or know a student, that would benefit from experiential travel, hands-on training, or is looking for an internship option, join us and spread the word about AiP. By getting involved, students will see that preservation is a powerful tool for change!

Links:

Our hard-working team
Our hard-working team

AiP’s team returned from Gjirokastra in early June following two weeks of nonstop documentation and videography. We want to update you on the situation we found – some of it very promising and some discouraging.

From the moment of our arrival in Gjirokastra, we could tell that something had changed since our last visit: there was a bit of a preservation buzz in the city. On our way through the old bazaar, we saw three building conservation projects underway and heard there were several more nearby.

We visited two tower houses being restored by private investors, a first in town, and several Cultural Heritage without Borders stabilization projects that will save important houses for future conservation, if funding allows. It was evident that the combined efforts of the city and NGO’s such as AiP and CHwB are beginning to make an impact.

However, given there are at least 400 other Ottoman-era houses in great need of repair, you can understand the magnitude of the crisis facing this World Heritage city.

We told you in the last report that beginning stabilization of the Kabili house was the priority of our trip. This badly damaged tower house is one of Gjirokastra’s most historically significant. Unfortunately, the owners decided against AiP and Directorate of Cultural Monuments taking on the work. They opted for quick unauthorized repairs in order to rent the space, in spite of the fact that the building will not stand for many more years.

This highlights the ongoing issue of residents finding an adequate source of income. The decision between funding immediate needs and supporting the long-term economic growth of the city will hopefully lessen as heritage tourism grows, making more jobs available.

The city requested that we shift our efforts to another badly deteriorating tower house. It is the first historic monument visitors see as they take the main road to the castle. We have accepted the challenge and hope you will continue to support our efforts to boost Gjirokastra’s economy through the growth of heritage tourism.

Prep work to save the city
Prep work to save the city's unique wall paintings
Grandma Kore gives tour of house being restored
Grandma Kore gives tour of house being restored
AiP
AiP's next project!

Links:

Rooms of Kabili house tenant apartment collapse
Rooms of Kabili house tenant apartment collapse

Community members in Gjirokastra are seeing positive results from their 15-year effort to improve the economy by welcoming tourists to their amazing World Heritage city. You’ve been part of this progress, supporting projects that have saved valuable and beautiful architectural heritage. The annual arts and culture festival is currently underway and the cobblestone streets are crowded with visitors.

Even as economic conditions are beginning to improve, the very houses that draw tourists are crumbling. In the last two years, two more tower houses suffered catastrophic collapse, and Gjirokastra’s residents fear that the Kabili house will soon suffer the same fate. Even houses, such as the Kikino and Skenduli houses, which are standing strong, are losing their decorative elements to time and weather.

With this knowledge, AiP jammers (our dedicated volunteers) are heading for Albania. They’ll be traveling from Australia, the UK, Kosovo and the US to join our local partners at the Regional Directorate of National Culture in Gjirokastra, who are anxiously awaiting our arrival.

We will all work together to complete a great deal of work in two weeks. Our team will continue decorative paint documentation at the Kikino house. Saving and restoring this art form will add to the value of each heritage tourist’s visit.

We will also be photographing and inspecting the Kabili house in preparation for stabilization. This project will begin in July, if funding efforts are successful. The Kabili house was one of the city’s largest and most important tower houses, initially damaged by bombing in WWII and slowly deteriorating over time. The collapse of one corner forced one family to evacuate, leaving their belongings behind. The other tower is still occupied, as that family has no other options for lodging.

Your support will be a great help in the Kabili stabilization efforts. Once safe, the restored house will offer affordable housing units and space for a local business, as well as several rooms for a B&B to generate income to cover ongoing maintenance.

Thank you for working together with AiP and Gjirokastra’s community members to continue their progress toward an improved future.

Kabili tenants abandoned apt leaving belongings
Kabili tenants abandoned apt leaving belongings
Young local "assistants" benefit from conservation
Young local "assistants" benefit from conservation
 

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Organization Information

Adventures in Preservation (AiP)

Location: Boulder, Colorado - USA
Website: http:/​/​adventuresinpreservation.org/​
Project Leader:
Judith Broeker
Boulder, Colorado United States

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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