ISSN 2330-717X

Privatizing Albanian Castles Worries Heritage Experts

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By Fatmira Nikolli

Illyrian and medieval castles in Albania could be soon turned into bars and restaurants according to a government plant to lease cultural monuments to local businessmen.

According to the plan unveiled in late January by the head of Albania’s Institute of Monuments, Apollon Bace, some 40 monuments would be leased for a period of up to 100 years, mainly because the government is unable to preserve them.

Bace says detailed plans for the use of these monuments will determine which parts of them are suitable for commercial activities and which parts should not be touched.

Rich with monuments dating back to Roman times, Albania has struggled for years to preserve them properly, as government after government failed to invest enough in restoration.

However, the proposal, which could be acted on as soon as next month, has drawn a fierce response from historians, archeologist and architects, some of whom accuse the authorities of failing to safeguard the nation’s heritage.

They point to the fact that two castles privatized under the previous Socialist government have not been preserved properly, and they argue that other monuments could have the same fate if the latest government proposal is finalized.

“The Ministry of Culture’s proposal to grant concessions for cultural heritage monuments is an awful idea,” historian Auron Tare said.

“That the state is rejecting its responsibilities for cultural heritage and transferring this responsibility to private hands is testimony to the collapse of state institutions,” he added.

Bace, from the Institute of Monuments, declined to be interviewed for this story, but Enton Derraj, an adviser to the Minister of Culture said the accusations made against the project were politically motivated.

“Any interventions in these monuments will be carried out in accordance with the international treaty on restoration of cultural monuments,” Derraj said.

The ruins of the Illyrian castle of Akrolisit, close to the town of Lezha were leased ten years ago to a local businessman, Gjovalin Kadeli, now a Socialist MP in parliament.

For the past decade the ruins have housed a number of mobile phone antennae built on a concrete platform, which preservation specialists say has damaged the site.

However, Kadeli defends his investment, arguing that what he bought was only a ruin, so talking of a “castle” makes no sense.

“I bought it lawfully and there was no castle there, just a two- metre-high wall, which they call a castle,” he said. The antennae have been put up on a hill and not on “the castle,” Kadelli added.

The medieval castle of Lekurs, close to Saranda, has also been the object of controversy after it was leased 12 years ago. The new owners restored it but also added a bar and a restaurant.

Cultural heritage specialist have complained repeatedly about the restoration of the monument, now owed by another Socialist MP, Vangjel Tavo.

Lulzim Iljazi, manager of the Lekurs castle and its bar and restaurant, dismisses complaints that the monument has not been properly preserved. The accusers just want the castle for themselves, he says.

“We have worked a lot on this castle and everything has been done to preserve its historical value,” Iljazi said.

Gjergj Frasheri, a well known Albania archeologist, says that what has happened with leased out cultural monuments in the past should serve as a lesson.

He believes transferring more monuments to private hands will be a mistake as Albanians are notorious for carrying out building work for which they have no planning permission.

“Albania is a country of [hundreds of thousand] of buildings built without permits, where neither the state nor the law punishes people who build illegally,” Frasheri noted.

“Damage to monuments damages our historical record, and it is irreparable and unrecoverable,” he added.

Auron Tare, historian and former director of the Butrint Archeological Park, agrees.

“If the authorities cannot even control two single projects, the question is how will they be able to control more monuments?” he asked.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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3 thoughts on “Privatizing Albanian Castles Worries Heritage Experts

  • February 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm
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    A very interesting article about a topic that is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, in this era, the governments of many countries are going through extreme economic difficulty and their ability to manage cultural landmarks has been seriously hindered. It appears that other sources of funding for archaeological sites is now imperative, the question is from where does the money come?

    Reply
  • February 23, 2012 at 3:33 am
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    The title of this article is misleading. 
    Under Albanian Law, historical monuments such as castles and other historical sites can not be sold to private citizens or LLC’s . 

    Using the word “Privatizing” makes the Albanian State seems as the bad guy because it is “selling” its heritage to private investors. This is not true. 

    All monuments will typically  be leased for 20-30 years so the Albanian State will always be the owner of the monuments.
    What is wrong with having a private investor spend $2,000,000 on a castle such as the one in Lezha (Lissus) and rebuild everything according to original plans and functions of the castle?
    In this castle there will be the first Museum of the State of Arber with rare archeological findings. There will be a gift shop with artifacts and products supplied by local crafters.

    Why does the author of this article not explain in details what is happening? Because she is not a specialist of this area and does not have enough information. 

    Do you think that the National Committee for the protection of monuments and the members of the National Council for approval of such projects have ignorant members? They are all of archeologist, historians, and curators. Everything is approved according to rules and regulations. 
    The Albanian public should thankful to private investors who have the vision and the cash to invest in revitalization of its heritage.
    In the case of the castle of Lezha, not the one that the article discusses but the real castle of Lezha, the investor grew up in this city and lived there for 50 years. He had the vision of turning the castle into something that this city would truly be proud of. You can not be proud of a castle, such as this one, whose walls were once used by the local villagers to build their illegal homes near the castle. 

    The underlying message of this article is that we Albanians should let our national heritage fall apart and refuse to give it to the private investors for administration. Be subjective and give true facts.

    Reply
  • February 23, 2012 at 9:36 pm
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    Leasing historic monuments in Albania is not a new practice. It began with the castle of Lekures and spread to the castle of Petrela, Preza, and the Tower of Durres. In all aspects, it has been a negative experience.
    The fault should not be put on the investors who built them, but on the Albanian Government because it gave rights to these investors by allowing them to built only restaurants. The most shameful case is the one of Petrela Castle near Tirana. The investor there even built inside the castle a cottage for chickens for God’s sake!
    Today’s government will continue to intervene but it has defined strict rules on how current monuments should be leased. These rules aim at the preservation and renovation of monuments by opening museums and other activities that will promote Albanian history and ethnography.
    The problem lies on the creators of such scandalous projects. These so-called “experts”, people such as Artan Shkreli and Gjerak Karaiskaj (and others), oppose the new rules and regulations just because these rules will bring up evidence that their projects were reckless and completely foolish.
    These “experts” do not agree on another issue: They do not like the work of others, as any work that other investors will do will prove to be bad and harmful to them.
    By the way…

    Reply

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