In the year that marks the 10th anniversary of Gjirokastra’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the city of grey roofs became colorful. Around 30 participants from 10 different countries, representing the Western Balkans, Europe, the United States and others, were gathered for ten days in the 23rd Regional Restoration Camp, organized by the foundation Cultural Heritage without Borders Albanian branch, from September 9 – 20, 2015. CHwB Albania, currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of the foundation, also organized the 24th Regional Restoration Camp in Mitrovica, in collaboration with the organization Heritage without Borders (United Kingdom) and The City Museum of Mitrovica.
The program, which was attended by many students and professionals, intertwined theory, through lectures and presentations, with practice, through restoration interventions on the monuments. The participants studied and practiced documentation, preventive conservation of monuments and museum objects and new theories of interpretation. Each of the interventions on the monuments sought to provide new ways of understanding the values that the monuments hold, as well as to understand and revitalize them in the best way possible.
Lectures during the 23rd Regional Restoration Camp
During the Camp, the participants from neighboring countries, but also from distant countries such as Sweden and South Korea, were introduced to the values that the stone city holds. They attended several interesting lectures such as “Gjirokastra as a part of the Albanian Heritage“, “Methods of Understanding Surveying Techniques”.
“Methods of Understanding and the Importance of Cultural Heritage” and “Stone in Historical Structures” were some other lectures held by architects with an extraordinary experience in their fields. The lecturers’ aim was to incite the critical thinking and active learning of the participants. Although the presentations were academically challenging, the students considered them as crucial and quite informative for understanding cities built with stone, such as Gjirokastra.
Restoration works during the camp were organized as follows:
Xhaxhiu House (Second category Monument)
Xhaxhiu House is located in Varosh, a neighborhood known for its unique historical elements. This house, listed as a second-category monument, is close to three important first-category monuments, the Kadare, Toro and Fico houses, along the famous “Street of the Mad.” interventions that have been implemented in the area recently, giving it the attention it deserves. The participants of this group worked on the restoration of the entrance door and its roof and gained basic skills in woodworking. This included information on wood as a construction material, different types of joints and connections and how to use the appropriate tools.
Sinani House (Second category monument)
The Sinani House is a second-category monument located in Dunavat, one of the neighborhoods offering the best views of the castle and of the old town. The participants who worked on this site restored the plaster of the northern volume of the house. This part of the house still has some original decoration on its façade, which were consolidated during the intervention. The participants had the opportunity to learn about the traditional plaster and how professionals work with it.
This house was built in 1878. The intervention in this monument consisted on the reconstruction of the stone arch of the entrance gate, cleaning the existing stones and carving the new ones. The family living in the Zani house had preserved some of the stones of the collapsed arch. Two key stones were found. On one of them there was a carved cross and on the other one participants noticed the carving of two birds and an olive branch. After identifying the original stones, the restoration team began to carve the new ones that were placed in the new structure. Alongside the work done on the arch, the team also worked on the surrounding wall.
As the local community strives to use its rich cultural heritage as a resource for a better living, the Regional Restoration Camps once more lent a helping hand, as part of a larger platform of Cultural Heritage without Borders. By continuing the work done during the 21st RRC, the September camps continued the collaboration with the owners that want to use these monuments as guest houses/B&B’s, but could not do so earlier because they lacked knowledge and means to do so. A group of participants worked on several monuments to prepare and complete the documentation for the interventions needed, so that one or two rooms of each house can be utilized as for tourists. After examining each case, based on the Albanian law for the Cultural Heritage Conservation, the required interventions were proposed by respecting the peculiarity of each monument.
Interpreting Cultural Heritage
Interpretation is important to the successful restoration; for any restoration project to be sustainable, people have to listen to the story of a site, appreciate its value, and feel that it belongs to them. That is why this Camp also focused on interpreting cultural heritage to different audiences, by answering questions like: why do we preserve? What do these monuments mean to us? What stories can be assumed by this wood, plaster and stone?
The visit of Fulbright Association Members
The 23rd Regional Restoration Camp in Gjirokastra, was visited by 13 members of the US Fulbright Association, an association of people who have held Fulbright grants to teach, study and do research in various countries around the world. Besides visiting the Archaeological Parks of Apolonia, Antigonea and Butrint, and the castle in Kruja, they also helped the camp participants in restoring the traditional houses of Gjirokastra. The passion and eagerness to learn more about cultural heritage made the members of the Fulbright Association a welcome part of Gjirokastra. Later during their trip, they also engage in constructive discussion about the communist past of Albania, visiting the former prison and labor camp of Spaç.
The 24th Regional Restoration Camp in Mitrovica
Cultural Heritage without Borders – Albania in collaboration with Heritage Without Borders (United Kingdom) and the City Museum of Mitrovica organized the 24th Regional Restoration Camp in Mitrovica, Kosovo. For ten days, 12 students and professionals from Kosovo, Albania, Croatia, Romania and United Kingdom attended a rigorous program, in which lectures were combined with practical interventions on the precious objects of the City Museum of Mitrovica.
The lectures covered the most crucial and essential topics regarding the preventive conservation of the museum objects. These lectures were instructed by the Heritage without Borders’ conservators and an experienced collection officer who works for important museums in the United Kingdom. Participants learned documentation procedures, cataloging, conservation principles, deterioration mechanisms, textile conservation processes etc.
Practical exercises followed the lectures; meanwhile preventive conservation tasks were carried on more than 10 different objects of the museum collections that needed urgent intervention. The participants had to carry out a final project. For this purpose they were divided in four groups, based on the type of the object and material they had to work with: organic materials, metals, ceramics, or textile.
On the last day of the 24th Regional Restoration Camp, 15 children, from 6 to 9 years old, and their parents, took part in a heritage atelier held in the Museum of Mitrovica. The kids learned about the city museum collection, traditional costumes and enjoyed the Xhubleta booklet reading, cutting, gluing, and drawing.
Since 1996, Cultural Heritage without Borders has implemented numerous cultural heritage restoration projects in the Western Balkans, with a specific focus on Kosovo.
The main aims of the Regional Restoration Camps remain the use of cultural heritage for building sound relationships among new professionals, by providing conditions for peace and democracy and the preservation of craftwork and traditional techniques.
To express the appreciation for their commitment and excellence, the Regional Restoration Camps of Cultural Heritage without Borders – Albania, were awarded the prestigious EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2014.