|Tirana’s iconic pyramid faces demolition | Photo by : Besar Likmeta|
Government plans to demolish the pyramid-like structure erected in honour of Albania’s late Communist dictator have sown discord among urban activists who see the monument as part of Albania’s history, rather than as a symbol of the former regime.
The mausoleum of Enver Hoxha, who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly half-a-century, is located in one of the few parks that have survived the chaotic urban development that Albania’s capital has experienced in the past two decades.
After the Communist regime collapsed in 1991, the building was first transformed into a cultural centre, hosting fine art exhibitions, concerts, beauty pageants, book fairs and other events.
The structure now hosts the National Children’s Cultural Centre and an International Cultural Centre, apart from the offices of the popular commercial TV station, Top-Channel.
Erected in 1988, three years after Hoxha’s death, the former museum is a concrete and glass building clad with slabs of marble that some liken to a cross between an Aztec pyramid and a spaceship.
Because its architectural value, three years ago it was declared a cultural monument.
But after years of neglect and a mishandled attempts to transform the building into a theatre and a library, the structure, built at an exorbitant cost for the then cash-strapped Communist regime, lies in ruin.
Stripped of its Carrara marble slabs, with a leaking roof that allows the water to drip in and half demolished by the attempts to restore it that were never completed, it awaits demolition.
Despite its poor state, a group of architects and activists have risen in its defence, arguing that the plan to demolish the building to make space for the new parliament is based on purely ideological arguments.
Some 6,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the pyramid’s demolition, while several rallies have been held in support of its preservation.
Artan Shkreli, former director of the Institute of Monuments, says that the ideological arguments for the demolition of the building are absurd.
“The [architectural] values of the pyramid cannot be wiped out,” he said, adding that Albania’s rulers “were ignoring the calls of public opinion”.
Maks Velo, an architect and former political prisoner agreed, underlining that there was no need to demolish the pyramid in order to erase painful memories of the Hoxha regime.
“The pyramid is not property of the Hoxha family and he cannot be used as an argument for its demolition,” Velo said.
“It was built with the people’s money and our elected government should do all it can to protect it as part of the country’s cultural heritage,” he concluded.
The pyramid was constructed from 1985 to 1988 at a cost of 3 million euro.
According to Klement Kolaneci, Hoxha’s son-in law and the chief architect of the museum, the same structure today would cost about 60 million euro.
In the past five years the centre-right government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, has drawn and re-draw plans to change the building’s fate, spending millions in the process.
After being elected in 2005 Berisha first proposed to transform the pyramid into the national library, because the building housing the latter was in poor shape.
A year later the pyramid was transformed into the International Cultural Centre Pjeter Arbnori, named after the late parliamentary speaker and political prisoner who died that year. The plan to transform it into a library was wiped from the drawing board.
“The government then allocated a fund for its reconstruction and one year later declared it a protected cultural monument,” Artan Lame, director of the Forum for the Protection of the Historic Heritage of Albania, recalls.
However, in 2008 Berisha changed his mind and asked the Ministry of Culture to transform the building into a pantheon that would host a theatre, a music auditorium, an art gallery, an underground library and a youth centre.
New projects were drawn up for the centre and tenders for the architectural firm were held, but later that year the Prime Minister changed his mind once more and asked the ministry to transform the building into a national theatre.
In January 2009 the authorities mulled an idea to construct an obelisk in remembrance of the victims of the Communist regime in front of the pyramid but this never realized.
In November 2010, in another twist, Berisha decided “that in order to exorcise the ghost of the dictator, it had to be demolished from the ground up,” and a new parliament built on the site.
For the premier, the Hoxha pyramid was now only millions of euro wasted on “Hoxha nostalgia,” and its fate was sealed.
Although Albania’s assembly is better known for unseemly brawls rather than for adoption of top-quality laws, speaker Jozefina Topalli has insisted that the existing parliament is not good enough for MPs.
The complex, sited close to the palace of former King Zog I, and built in 1952, “does not match the standards of parliaments in EU countries, or those in the region,” she declared, although the building had received a million-euro facelift just one year before.
Although the pyramid’s fate now seems sealed, Aldo Merkoci, an activist from Mjaft, a local NGO, says that even if it is flattened, its architectural and social legacy will remain.
“The pyramid is a historical and cultural monument of Tirana, is part of the historic memory of every citizen of Tirana and will remain part of that memory for long time in future,” he said.
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.