- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
Two projects financed by the World Bank aim to preserve the vernacular architecture of the villages of Albania’s Rivera - though locals doubt that such projects can rebuild a long-lost sense of community.
|Most of Vuno's houses lay abandoned awaiting restoration | Photo by Besar Likmeta|
The village of Vuno was built in the form of an amphitheater on the slopes of the Cika Mountain on the highway that connects Dhermi with the town of Himara, standing as a natural belvedere on hills filled with olive groves overlooking the Ionian Sea.
Set up 176 meters above sea level the village is a collection of stone houses, and narrow cobble stone streets that resemble a labyrinth on the slope of the mountain.
The cobblestoned alleys extend under crafty stone vaults that connect the two or three-storey houses, which the 19th century British poet and traveler Edward Lear described as having the “feeling of Venetian palazzi”
The houses in the village are nearly 200 years old, with some dating back to 1783.
Arqile Varfi, the local postman until a few months ago, before the office closed, says legends hold that the village was built after the death of Albania’s national hero Skenderbeg, who fought the invading Ottomans Turks in the 15th century and remains the pillar of the country’s national mythology.
Varfi, whose family moved to Vuno in the early Sixties, during Albania’s own version of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, takes pride in underlining that from the early 20th century the village had an intricate sewer system that is still used to this day.
“The village was built through communal work often organized with extended families and only the master masons got paid,” he says.
Vuno’s houses of thick stone walls and tall windows are some of the finest examples of the vernacular style of the villages of the Albanian Riviera.
Burned by the Nazi occupying forces during World War Two, good parts of the houses in the village lie abandoned and have not been occupied for more than a half-century.
Because most of village’s youth fought with the Partisan resistance, when the war ended they were schooled in the Eastern bloc and the village produced a large number of writers, poets, journalists and high level Communist bureaucrats, who relocated and did not return to their homes.
|The village of Vuno is a labyrinth of coble stone streets | Photo by Besar Likmeta|
Varfi recalls that before the war the village had more than 2,000 souls, but now less than 200 remain. Most of those who remained after the war, or were relocated to the village during the Communist era, migrated to neighbouring Greece after the fall the Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist regime in search of work.
Ironically, because of the scars that war, migration and politics left on Vuno as a community, a good part of its vernacular architectural legacy remains intact, as little has been built in the village for decades.
Similar stone houses are also found in the villages of Dhermi, Qeparo, Piqeras, Ilias and the old part of the town of Himara.
Now two projects from Albania’s Ministry of Public Works, financed by the World Bank, aim to invest in reconstructing these houses in order to preserve their architectural legacy and transform a part of them into Bed & Breakfasts, which would give an authentic feel to the local tourism sector.
The Roofs and Façades project is expected to finance part of the exterior construction cost of 75 houses, while 25 others will also be renovated internally through the Bed& Breakfast project.
Specialized architectural firms contracted by the Ministry of Public Works will draw up the projects, in order to assist in the roof repair works and preservation of the facades.
“Organically integrated in the landscape, the traditional villages of the region form a unique expression of vernacular architecture, distinctive for their locations and the use of local building materials,” the project’s presentation says.
“The visual features of these villages are an essential part of the attractive landscape of the area, but they are in danger of being ruined if local building traditions and materials are abandoned in favor of universal styles and modern construction materials,” it warns.
|The villages of Albania's Riviera are organically integrated in the landscape with a distinctive style of vernacular architecture | Photo by : Besar Likmeta|
Not all the houses in Vuno remain as they once were. Some houses have been rebuilt using modern construction materials, which are far cheaper to use than the traditional stonework used to erect them.
Viro Andoni, whose family has had its roots in Vuno for hundreds of years, says that if he could afford to, he would have renovated his house in the old way, but could not master it alone.
“If I’d received help from the state I would have rebuilt using stone work,” says the 63-year-old, who spent 15 years as a political prisoner in the notorious Spac prison in the northern region of Mirdita.
Imprisoned in 1972 for treason after he tried to escape to Greece, he was released in 1987 and returned home to start a family.
Andoni, who lost a leg due to his backbreaking work in the Spac copper mines, says it pains him to see his village crumbling away.
“This village has the best infrastructure on the [southern] coast, but it’s deteriorating because no one is left to maintain it,” he laments.
He recalls that in the olden days, building a house was not an individual act but a communal endeavor that involved everyone in the village, who would help with anything from putting in free labour to transporting construction materials.
“One day you work in your home and the next day on the house of your neighbour,” Andoni said, adding that “what pains him most is that this sense of community has been lost forever.”
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
The band from Bitola describe their approach to music as an irrational process of creating a ‘private folklore’ out of their impressions and dreams, and their latest album as a tonic for apathy and depression.
One needs to invest in new, strong mechanisms of content distribution.