Limited funds and negligence of institutions are leading to the disappearance of hundreds of cultural heritage monuments. Although in the list of cultural assets in Albania there are over 2 thousand monuments of category I and II, only 206 of them have received a protected status, leaving at the mercy of fate 90% of the Albanian cultural heritage sites, which risk disappearing.
Authors: Gjergj Figuri, Maringlen Bita and Edjola Kasa
Known as the most beautiful building of Lezha, the house of Zekaj has turned into a ruin. Declared a cultural monument and taken under state protection since 1963, in January 2016, the characteristic house of Sali Bajram Zeka, in the old neighborhood of Varosh in Lezha, completely collapsed. Even today, although it is finally considered lost, it has not been removed from the list of monuments.
This museum house had undergone major interventions in 1984. This rare property could not be saved.
“It was abandoned by the family, then the rains started, leading to the degradation of the interior, the collapse of the verandas, the stairs, everything in turn and consequently the masonry collapsed. It has finally been lost as an object and as a monument.”
– Ded Margjoni tells INA MEDIA, a cultural heritage specialist in the Shkodra region, who was unclear as to the reasons why we lost such wealth.
In the time of monism, this building was turned into a museum house and the owners were compensated with houses inside the city. In 1990 the family emigrated abroad, where they currently live, and, despite the return of their property, they never maintained it; but the Ministry of Culture also gave up on it, which led to its total collapse.
The degradation of cultural monuments in our country occurs with the “blessing” of the Ministry of Culture, which has the duty to protect and preserve them. The Regional Directorate of Cultural Heritage in Shkodra delegates responsibility for its demolition to the Ministry of Culture.
“In the Municipality of Lezha, we have identified the Zekaj house for years, as an abandoned building and very damaged. DRTK, Shkodër has referred to the ministry periodically, because for the degree of degradation is required intervention of great value, which DRTK, Shkodër with annual funds is impossible to realize, but we have never received a response “, – explains for INA MEDIA the Regional Directorate of Cultural Heritage in Shkodra.
The House of Zakas
The house of the Mlikaj family, a cultural monument of the first category, where the Ethnographic Museum of Lezha was once housed, did not escape collapse either. Built in 1910 even this rare cultural heritage site is being lost. It is still standing, but is not accessible due to the damage.
“It is somehow in good condition, but if it is not intervened and left in its current state, then it will go towards complete degradation,” historian Paulin Zefi told INA MEDIA .
House of Mlikaj
Historian Paulin Zefi, who has been in charge of Cultural Heritage for Lezha during the period 2014-2015, accuses that as a result of the negligence of the Ministry of Culture dozens of objects no longer exist in reality, but only on paper.
“The ministry better not declare monuments, than to declare them and leave them out of attention. There are many objects that are out of all attention, as a result most of them almost do not exist,
but appear in documents. ” They should either be deprived of their status or taken into consideration,” Zefi sharply criticized.
The Skanderbeg Cemetery Memorial is the only cultural heritage site in the Municipality of Lezha worth visiting, as it is the only one that has been maintained.
Dozens of other fortunes have been left at the mercy of fate, collapsing, damaged or even alienated.
The walls of the castle of Lezha also have a sad appearance. The entrance bridge to the castle is rotten. Numerous requests of specialists in Lezha have fallen on deaf ears and the Ministry of Culture did not approve the fund for the rehabilitation intervention of this bridge.
Entrance bridge to the castle of Lezha
In the medieval castle of Lissus the last intervention was made in 2004 and affected a small part. The fund was extremely minimal, only 32,000 euros, for the large area of this castle.
“There is no serious intervention, there is no feasibility study, in order to make a serious project and intervene quickly. “If we continue to leave it at the mercy of fate, landslides will continue and this could lead to the collapse of part of the northern wall, endangering the lives of the inhabitants below,” explains Paulin Zefi.
With 34 cultural assets, 10 of which are protected by the National Inspectorate of Cultural Heritage (NICH), the “forgetfulness” of institutions to this property is reflected in the available budget.
“During 2019 , 1,139,647 lekë were spent, while for the years 2020-2021, due to the situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic, there were no projects implemented in the Municipality of Lezha. Meanwhile, during 2022, it is planned to implement a conservation project on the ancient walls, the hilly part of ancient Lissus, worth 714,857 lekë “, – says in a response to INA MEDIA, the Regional Directorate of Cultural Heritage for Shkodra, which specifies that “the funds spent belong to the item maintenance and are mainly focused on conservation, restoration, vegetation cleaning ” .
As a result of this anemic budget, DRTK, Shkodra has no opportunity to make any intervention, except for one side of the castle wall, while for other facilities there is no penny to be spent.
The walls of the castle of Lezha
The situation is so urgent that even the few interventions that have been carried out have been made by private individuals, as has been the case mainly with churches.
“Some interventions have been made in cultural monuments, but they are all through donations, such as the church of St. Friday in Balldren, that of St. Barbulla in Plana, the church of St. Llezhdri in Pruell or the house of the national poet, Father Gjergj Fishta” , – confirms
the situation also the former specialist, Paulin Zefi.
Pruell Church, built by the inhabitants
The Balldren Church, which preserves frescoes of international value , was privately reconstructed in 2019.
“This cult object has the fresco of the Last Supper according to the same point of view that was reflected by Leonardo da Vinci , but which was actually realized 200 years before it was reflected by the great Italian painter. In 2020, the church of Plana intervened, improving this cult object with many values. There are many other objects that fortunately are still standing or have traces of frescoes, such as the church of St. Nicholas in Zejmen, which belongs to the XII century “, – says Don Nik Ukgjini.
While Don Nika hoped Zejmen’s church would be protected, the opposite happened. The rains and winds of January this year collapsed most of it.
“Unfortunately, the roof was damaged and it affected the subsequent collapse of the walls. The side walls have already fallen off completely. If the ministry does not intervene immediately, then everything will disappear”, – says Padër Landi Jaku.
The ruined church of Zejmen
There are 26 cultural monuments in Lezha, which are of the first category and the second category, but due to lack of funds most of them are in danger of extinction and only two are in good condition.
“The other 24 deserve to be on the list of monuments, but their state is grave. We have two of them in ruins,” said Paulin Zefi
The house of Father Gjergj Fishta in the village of Fishta, a cultural monument of the second category, is the most concrete fact that there is no strategy for the development of cultural heritage sites. It was reconstructed with a private donation of 5.9 million ALL and in October 2020 it was inaugurated with the presence of the Prime Minister of the country, but unfortunately this house never became functional.
Differently known as “Fishtian Traces”, referring to the data reflected in the report of 2020 by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, this project “ate” a full 52 million ALL, but paradoxically managed to reconstruct only the house, but not to open, as there is nothing to expose.
Father Gjergj Fishta’s house, closed
Visitors who cannot enter to visit the house of Father Gjergj Fishta
After 3 decades of degradation and neglect, specialists, experts and historians know full well that they cannot wait for the ministry to intervene.
“The only solution is to deal with donations and not wait for the Ministry of Culture. “If we continue to expect from this institution, just as their help has not come for 30 years, it will also not come for another 30 years”, – says Zefi disappointed .
Fier, attention to both parks, but not to other monuments
The Margellic Castle was discovered as an archeological site by two Austrian researchers, but only in 1982 did archaeologist Neritan Ceka found the surrounding walls and various items, such as pottery; the most famous statue of Aphrodite of Margellic or, as they called her, “Margellic’s Daughter”. The stones found were taken by area residents to make perimeter walls in their homes.
Completely abandoned, residents claim that by chance, digging to make an extra floor, a wall with four rows of stone blocks came out, but no one cared about them.
The Kraps dam until 5 months ago was between thorns and bushes, but, as the person in charge of Cultural Monuments for Fier, Thoma Tyto, together with two employees performs the cleaning of the territory around this cultural monument, but which still needs investment.
It is located very close to the Gjanica valley among thorns, and must have been one of the famous dams of Antiquity.
But, unlike these archeological sites, Bylis and Apollonia swim in funds provided by the government and the European Union.
Ornela Durmishi, director of Archaeological Parks, Bylis and Apoloni, admits that for these two parks there has been increased attention of institutions and other investments are expected.
“Now we are in the phase of intervention in the park of Bylis and the project will be 4 years old, while Apolonia will have more investments from the state budget”, – explains Ornela Durmishi.
But experts in the field are skeptical of the huge funds thrown at Apollonia. Apollon Baçe, archaeologist and former director of the Institute of Cultural Heritage Monuments, accuses that everything is left in the hands of amateurs.
“They have made a fire-fighting system and they have made it very ugly, even once the fire broke out, the firefighters came, because what they are not working. The Apollonia Archaeological Park needs maintenance workers. The Ministry of Culture is the Ministry of Anti-Culture”, – said Professor Baçe.
Even the report of the Supreme State Audit, ” Effectiveness of policies in the preservation and administration of archaeological sites, for the period 2016-2019 “, is not so optimistic about investments in these parks. It finds many cracks in the way of management, which is thought to affect their performance.
Despite the millions received, these two national parks still do not have a concrete development plan, while they do not even have the capacity to protect them from various vandalization acts.
“In the Archaeological Parks Administration and Coordination Offices, Apollonia and Bylis, the heads of the park sectors and the maintenance staff perform routine tasks, but without a plan with concrete measures or a short-term and long-term development plan, and there are no systematic programs for the preservation of the cultural immovable value and concrete measures for the implementation of the plan in accordance with a strategy “, – notes the report of The SSA, dated April 30, 2022.
The Church of St. Mary, where Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu crowned his marriage with Mamicë, located inside the Ardenica Monastery, one of the most special complexes in Albania, officially returned to the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania in 1996. Since then it has been the church, which has taken care of this monastery, while the funds have been dripping.
Almost closed for the most part and at risk of irreparable degradation, the specialists of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage conducted an inspection in this monastery in 2021, in order to assess the condition and pathologies of the building, but have not yet emerged in a concrete report, aimed at drafting restoration projects.
The only investment that has been made to date for this cultural monument is the paving of the Ardenica road, which was completed in May 2022.
The director of the Museum, Lushnja, Niko Ferro, talking about the importance of this investment, admits that very little has been done in terms of cultural monuments in Lushnja.
“The church of St. Todri is 200 years old and retains its musky character, but it is closed, it needs intervention and restoration. Executives say there is a project but no funding for its implementation. I hope that the competent bodies will intervene, because if they do not, it will be useless later, because everything will be destroyed,” he said.
But, while the degradation of monuments continues, when asked about this problem, the Deputy Mayor of Fier, Enkelejda Peshkëpia, has stated that the municipality does not have a special fund for their maintenance or restoration, as they depend on the Ministry of Culture.
The Fier region, which according to IKTK has 45 cultural monuments, due to high temperatures in summer, bad weather in winter, and lack of investment in restoration, has made cultural monuments become “victims”, going towards destruction.
Elbasan , 133 monuments in 7 municipalities
The walls of the Elbasan castle, except for the western part, which enjoys the status of archaeological zone A, one of the most important cultural heritage sites in the country, are almost dilapidated.
The castle longs for investments, but about a year ago it was Prime Minister Rama himself, who during an electoral meeting stated that “now are the ideal conditions to invest and turn into reality the project of the Renaissance of Elbasan Castle”.
Such a project is also in the strategic documents of the Municipality of Elbasan, approved in 2016, but has not yet seen the light of investment.
Even for this castle the money was not lacking, but the money was not used efficiently.
“It could have been recreated from scratch, but in fact it was not. The ideal would be that, since the Zaranika stream passes there, the canal could be recreated, which was once supplied by the waters of Zaranika, as it brought a height of the walls, about 7-8 meters in height and three meters in depth,” said Baçe, where, according to him, this recreation would completely transform the appearance of the castle.
The last intervention in this castle was made in 2007, with a fund of 4 million dollars, financed by the World Bank. It is now expected that the promise of Prime Minister Rama, made in February 2021, to come to life, to save this rare monument from demolition.
Guri Castle in the village of Lleshan of Gjinari, which is located 20 km from Elbasan , a monument of the first category, not only has never known investment, but also cannot be visited, as there is only one footpath and cannot be crossed by any means. Regarding this castle, archeologist Ermelinda Agolli says that this happened due to the lack of a study.
Elbasan County counts about 30 castles in the list of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage as monuments of Category I, for which proper inspections have been carried out, but the lack of funds has left them at the mercy of fate and they have been basically abandoned.
The Kamara Bridge of Roman origin is one of the “prides” of Librazhd. In 2018, cultural monument experts inspected the area, but no intervention was made.
Elbasan region counts 133 objects with the status of Cultural Monument, category I and category II. According to the verifications carried out in the budgets of the respective municipalities, it turns out that, for both 2020 and 2021, these municipalities did not have any funds for investments in cultural heritage monuments.
Ministry of Culture, powerless for funding
After the `90s, Albania has lost one third of its cultural heritage values. Neritan Ceka, archaeologist, points the finger at mismanagement.
“The state of cultural and material heritage is catastrophic and this has been caused by mismanagement through a primitive and partisan system,” Ceka accuses.
“Only because of mismanagement have we lost about a third of our values in the last three decades and continue to lose every day. In the frescoes of post-Byzantine churches, where we have lost hundreds of square meters; in the constructions of folk architecture, where less than half is left, etc.”, – archaeologist Ceka lists some of the losses.
The degradation of cultural monuments due to limited budgets is also accepted by the Ministry of Culture, so the “rescue” is seen as related to donors.
“As the state budget is limited, the Ministry of Culture is continuously committed to attract financial support in the framework of cooperation with strategic partners and important donors, such as the EU, the World Bank, religious communities, private investors, owners or possessors of cultural assets”, – explains for INA MEDIA the Ministry of Culture.
Quite different from the situation documented by Investigative Network Albania in the three regions, Lezha, Fier and Elbasan, the Ministry of Culture is optimistic about the support provided.
“Over the years in the cultural assets of the regions of Elbasan, Lezha and Fier have been carried out maintenance works and investments in their restoration and rehabilitation”, – says the ministry, listing the implemented interventions.
Facsimiles from the response of the Ministry of Culture for investments in three regions
As confirmed by the response of the Ministry of Culture, the two archeological parks of Fier, Bylisi and Apolonia, have received the largest funds, while for Elbasan and Lezha the money given has been in droplets.
The minimum support continues to be even after the earthquake of November 26, 2019, which affected a number of cultural heritage sites and IKTK was given 236.6 million ALL for the restoration/reconstruction of cultural assets in the municipalities of Tirana, Durres, Kavaja, Kruja, Kurbin, Lezha, Mirdita, Rrogozhina e Vora.
Also, 40 million euros were given by the program “EU4CULTURE”, which is funded by the European Delegation for projects of restoration and rehabilitation of cultural heritage sites, affected by the 2019 earthquake.
But despite this money, hundreds of cultural objects are disappearing. In this situation, experts think that in order to save the cultural heritage, not only money is needed, but a deep reform.
“Only a deep reform would save these monuments, if there is political will, if there is not, nothing saves them, they will disappear, just as others have disappeared, such as medieval bridges, “which are no more, they are all gone,” said Auron Tare.
“The greatest enemy of a nation is forgetting its historical events. I always appreciate and say that what the Ottoman occupation did not destroy was destroyed by the communist system and what was left of this system does not really get the attention it deserves,” said Don Nik Ukgjini.
Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.