In the second half of the 19th century, Albania was still referred to as the “unknown country of the Skipetares” or Shqiptarët, as the inhabitants of the country in the southernmost part of the Balkans call themselves; even in the early 1990s, it was brokered as Europe’s last secret, because in fact almost no-one was permitted to enter. Even today, the transmission of knowledge about the country has not risen much above tourist literature. To this, we wish to add a mosaic stone regarding the culture of building. Albania came into being at the beginning of the 20th century as an independent, albeit in the beginning, very heterogenous state; with respect to building, the time since its independence can, to put it simply, be divided into four periods: the era after the First World War until 1939, the Italian occupation until 1943 followed by the years of communist dictatorship until 1990 and then the time period up to the present day. While political context has everywhere and always been of overriding importance for the creation of architecture, this is even more so in Albania and is indeed not comparable to developments in other countries. The process of attaining independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1913 was substantially supported – not without self-interest – by the diplomacy of the Habsburg Empire. The entire body politic with its administrative, cultural and educational system and all the corresponding architectural facilities had subsequently to be slowly built up. Besides the difficult economic situation, above all, the political situation stood in the way of substantial progress: occupation by countries involved in World War I until 1919, from 1920–25 domestic political post-war turmoil and fragile instability, the monarchy of King Zog from 1925–39, who, for lack of support from the Great Powers, with the Tirana Pacts and the extensive concessions granted therein, increasingly bound the country to Fascist Italy. The real reason for the sluggish development lies in the inner conflict and in a lack of a sense of national identity: Albania had never in history been a homogenous entity. Clans, extended families and property owners held sway over political, economic and social life. The north differed from the south not only through a very divergent dialect, the coastal areas had always been a separate region and the many different religions constituted another hindrance. All these circumstances cast a different light on the completely different development mentioned above, which, moreover, had to make up for 150 years of lost time, calculated from the Age of Enlightenment or the French Revolution. Until the early 1940s, architectural development therefore remained negligible. The no more than two-storey-high residential buildings derived from the traditional Ottoman- style1 were standard, life in the country was determined by self-sufficiency and in the cities by the large markets or greater activities in the port cities. A few substantial buildings without “academic planning” are rare exceptions. In April 1940 – half a year after beginning of the Second World War – Fascist Italy marched into Albania. Although this occupation, which lasted until 1943, took place alongside the World War, it brought the country and the capital Tirana important activities with respect to architecture and urban planning. Administration, planning and city architecture came completely under Italian influence. The so-called stile littorio became the official language of form: simplified classicism, stony solidity, marble and travertine coverings, repetitively used simple elements, bas-reliefs on façades and beautification of squares with statues were hallmarks of this style. This short but intense phase was of great importance particularly for all areas of construction – from urban planning of all larger towns to architectural drafts, all the way to the actual execution of buildings – and lasted until Italy’s capitulation. The concepts created during this period, however, were to be effective for a long time. Planning and building were not to be taken up again until at least a decade after the war – under a new totalitarian regime and under completely different premises. Before Enver Hoxha, Chairman of the Albanian Communist Party, led the country into a close relationship with the Stalinist Soviet Union (1955–67 also a member of the Warsaw Pact) and he himself had become a dictator, the country until 1948 made deals with communist Yugoslavia– Albania was even supposed to become the seventh autonomous republic. But Hoxha wanted to follow his own convictions, was fascinated by Stalin after a visit in Moscow, adhered strictly to the latter’s maxims also decades after his demise and the disclosure of all deeds of darkness, and felt himself to be the only true Stalinist-Leninist left in the world. In Moscow, however, his concept of national communism was not very much cherished and was even condescendingly smiled upon, which firstly, hurt Hoxha’s feelings and in 1961, as a result of Khrushchev’s reforms, led to a break of relations. After the break, he sought, if only out of pure economic necessity, support from a relationship with the People’s Republic of China, which, however, accelerated by the international development of a political thawing of relations, came to an end already in 1977. The reforms on the way to the Socialist New Man culminated in 1967 in the campaign against religion and the declaration of the “first atheist state”. Dismissing history, Hoxha tried to shape a nation out of the fragmented country, and was willing to use virtually all means, in addition to the absolute personality cult, to achieve this aim. For decades, the country was cut off and the outside observer had no direct knowledge of the development of the country’s “own way”, as it was called in party jargon – without taxes, without private motor vehicles, without religion and above all, without the possibility of entering or leaving the country – so that there were no means by which an outside observer could acquire direct knowledge about Albania. Increasingly strict tutelage of the inhabitants (among other things, no-one could change their place of residence without permission, and travel inside the country was also prohibited) who were led to believe that the situation in Albania was the best in the world, repression in every respect2 and complete control characterized the internal situation of the country during these decades. With respect to architecture, this meant, during the first decades of the dictatorship, the adoption of Soviet models; young architects studied in Moscow, professionals came from the Soviet Union and entire factory complexes were erected. The loans enabled extensive residential building construction and the erection of party-conforming Houses of Culture in all small and larger towns. After the break, there was rather modest influence from the Middle Kingdom, or stagnation. In answer to the real shortages in all areas, the slogan “by our own effort” was coined and, using simple means on an exceedingly low technological level, almost desperate attempts were made to alleviate the situation. Housed in tents right next to the building sites, worker brigades3, which also women and children were obliged to join, built, while undergoing continuous political indoctrination, simple mass housing, not based on individual architectural plans but on standardized layouts. Slogans written on the walls of houses and proclaimed from loudspeakers, vehicles mounted with advertisements for the party including visits by high-ranking comrades to the building sites to obtain effective promotional images can be seen on a few rare surviving private photographs of participants (because such photographs were forbidden and also costly). But about 200,000 bunkers were built all over the country, motivated by paranoid fear of an attack! Urban planning was particularly well-suited to extinguish historical memory: through the destruction of entire old city districts this extinction became manifest, not only in Tirana was the typical oriental charm done away with. In Shkodër, for instance, only a small part of the old city was preserved; in 1983, most of the traditional houses in the Ottoman style with archway and garden were torn down there, the Italian villas met with a similar fate, as they practically disappeared behind a layer of new construction. After the dictator’s death in 1985, the whole extent of the desperate state of affairs came to light;4 the dictator’s pompous funeral ceremony revealed the tensions that had been building up in the background for years among the leadership and in society that even led to personal inner turmoil such as became evident in even the widow’s own emotional reaction at the open grave site.5 Alia Ramiz, Enver Hoxha’s right hand during the last years, succeeded him, but in 1990, the communist regime was overthrown, and the country was declared a parliamentary republic. One year later, the first free elections were held, the following transformation process was sluggish. In 1997, the Pyramid Crisis took place which brought on the collapse of state institutions. Since then, different reforms have been undertaken, among other things, with the goal of bringing the country into the European union, with mixed results. Since 2014, Albania has the status of an official candidate for membership. The architectural situation is in transition at present and consists of the familiar manifestations of a mixture of privatization, restitution and international investment that represent a difficult terrain for the creation of high-quality architecture. Committed rural and urban planning is being undertaken to set up a control system and create a framework which in the long term will – given the necessary political will – provide the groundwork for it.

Albanien. Bauen im politischen Kontext der Jahrzehnte [Albania. Decades of Architecture in political context]

Sotir Dhamo;Besnik Aliaj;Saimir Kristo;
2019

Abstract

In the second half of the 19th century, Albania was still referred to as the “unknown country of the Skipetares” or Shqiptarët, as the inhabitants of the country in the southernmost part of the Balkans call themselves; even in the early 1990s, it was brokered as Europe’s last secret, because in fact almost no-one was permitted to enter. Even today, the transmission of knowledge about the country has not risen much above tourist literature. To this, we wish to add a mosaic stone regarding the culture of building. Albania came into being at the beginning of the 20th century as an independent, albeit in the beginning, very heterogenous state; with respect to building, the time since its independence can, to put it simply, be divided into four periods: the era after the First World War until 1939, the Italian occupation until 1943 followed by the years of communist dictatorship until 1990 and then the time period up to the present day. While political context has everywhere and always been of overriding importance for the creation of architecture, this is even more so in Albania and is indeed not comparable to developments in other countries. The process of attaining independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1913 was substantially supported – not without self-interest – by the diplomacy of the Habsburg Empire. The entire body politic with its administrative, cultural and educational system and all the corresponding architectural facilities had subsequently to be slowly built up. Besides the difficult economic situation, above all, the political situation stood in the way of substantial progress: occupation by countries involved in World War I until 1919, from 1920–25 domestic political post-war turmoil and fragile instability, the monarchy of King Zog from 1925–39, who, for lack of support from the Great Powers, with the Tirana Pacts and the extensive concessions granted therein, increasingly bound the country to Fascist Italy. The real reason for the sluggish development lies in the inner conflict and in a lack of a sense of national identity: Albania had never in history been a homogenous entity. Clans, extended families and property owners held sway over political, economic and social life. The north differed from the south not only through a very divergent dialect, the coastal areas had always been a separate region and the many different religions constituted another hindrance. All these circumstances cast a different light on the completely different development mentioned above, which, moreover, had to make up for 150 years of lost time, calculated from the Age of Enlightenment or the French Revolution. Until the early 1940s, architectural development therefore remained negligible. The no more than two-storey-high residential buildings derived from the traditional Ottoman- style1 were standard, life in the country was determined by self-sufficiency and in the cities by the large markets or greater activities in the port cities. A few substantial buildings without “academic planning” are rare exceptions. In April 1940 – half a year after beginning of the Second World War – Fascist Italy marched into Albania. Although this occupation, which lasted until 1943, took place alongside the World War, it brought the country and the capital Tirana important activities with respect to architecture and urban planning. Administration, planning and city architecture came completely under Italian influence. The so-called stile littorio became the official language of form: simplified classicism, stony solidity, marble and travertine coverings, repetitively used simple elements, bas-reliefs on façades and beautification of squares with statues were hallmarks of this style. This short but intense phase was of great importance particularly for all areas of construction – from urban planning of all larger towns to architectural drafts, all the way to the actual execution of buildings – and lasted until Italy’s capitulation. The concepts created during this period, however, were to be effective for a long time. Planning and building were not to be taken up again until at least a decade after the war – under a new totalitarian regime and under completely different premises. Before Enver Hoxha, Chairman of the Albanian Communist Party, led the country into a close relationship with the Stalinist Soviet Union (1955–67 also a member of the Warsaw Pact) and he himself had become a dictator, the country until 1948 made deals with communist Yugoslavia– Albania was even supposed to become the seventh autonomous republic. But Hoxha wanted to follow his own convictions, was fascinated by Stalin after a visit in Moscow, adhered strictly to the latter’s maxims also decades after his demise and the disclosure of all deeds of darkness, and felt himself to be the only true Stalinist-Leninist left in the world. In Moscow, however, his concept of national communism was not very much cherished and was even condescendingly smiled upon, which firstly, hurt Hoxha’s feelings and in 1961, as a result of Khrushchev’s reforms, led to a break of relations. After the break, he sought, if only out of pure economic necessity, support from a relationship with the People’s Republic of China, which, however, accelerated by the international development of a political thawing of relations, came to an end already in 1977. The reforms on the way to the Socialist New Man culminated in 1967 in the campaign against religion and the declaration of the “first atheist state”. Dismissing history, Hoxha tried to shape a nation out of the fragmented country, and was willing to use virtually all means, in addition to the absolute personality cult, to achieve this aim. For decades, the country was cut off and the outside observer had no direct knowledge of the development of the country’s “own way”, as it was called in party jargon – without taxes, without private motor vehicles, without religion and above all, without the possibility of entering or leaving the country – so that there were no means by which an outside observer could acquire direct knowledge about Albania. Increasingly strict tutelage of the inhabitants (among other things, no-one could change their place of residence without permission, and travel inside the country was also prohibited) who were led to believe that the situation in Albania was the best in the world, repression in every respect2 and complete control characterized the internal situation of the country during these decades. With respect to architecture, this meant, during the first decades of the dictatorship, the adoption of Soviet models; young architects studied in Moscow, professionals came from the Soviet Union and entire factory complexes were erected. The loans enabled extensive residential building construction and the erection of party-conforming Houses of Culture in all small and larger towns. After the break, there was rather modest influence from the Middle Kingdom, or stagnation. In answer to the real shortages in all areas, the slogan “by our own effort” was coined and, using simple means on an exceedingly low technological level, almost desperate attempts were made to alleviate the situation. Housed in tents right next to the building sites, worker brigades3, which also women and children were obliged to join, built, while undergoing continuous political indoctrination, simple mass housing, not based on individual architectural plans but on standardized layouts. Slogans written on the walls of houses and proclaimed from loudspeakers, vehicles mounted with advertisements for the party including visits by high-ranking comrades to the building sites to obtain effective promotional images can be seen on a few rare surviving private photographs of participants (because such photographs were forbidden and also costly). But about 200,000 bunkers were built all over the country, motivated by paranoid fear of an attack! Urban planning was particularly well-suited to extinguish historical memory: through the destruction of entire old city districts this extinction became manifest, not only in Tirana was the typical oriental charm done away with. In Shkodër, for instance, only a small part of the old city was preserved; in 1983, most of the traditional houses in the Ottoman style with archway and garden were torn down there, the Italian villas met with a similar fate, as they practically disappeared behind a layer of new construction. After the dictator’s death in 1985, the whole extent of the desperate state of affairs came to light;4 the dictator’s pompous funeral ceremony revealed the tensions that had been building up in the background for years among the leadership and in society that even led to personal inner turmoil such as became evident in even the widow’s own emotional reaction at the open grave site.5 Alia Ramiz, Enver Hoxha’s right hand during the last years, succeeded him, but in 1990, the communist regime was overthrown, and the country was declared a parliamentary republic. One year later, the first free elections were held, the following transformation process was sluggish. In 1997, the Pyramid Crisis took place which brought on the collapse of state institutions. Since then, different reforms have been undertaken, among other things, with the goal of bringing the country into the European union, with mixed results. Since 2014, Albania has the status of an official candidate for membership. The architectural situation is in transition at present and consists of the familiar manifestations of a mixture of privatization, restitution and international investment that represent a difficult terrain for the creation of high-quality architecture. Committed rural and urban planning is being undertaken to set up a control system and create a framework which in the long term will – given the necessary political will – provide the groundwork for it.
978-3-99014-082-6
urban, history, Albania, architecture, analysis, memory,
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11392/2411705
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