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13 Jan 11

Restorers Wreak Havoc on Kosovo’s Old Hamam

Four years after renovation work started on Pristina’s 15th-century baths, experts say many original features have been destroyed.

Shengjyl Osmani

Legend has that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II ordered the construction workers of perhaps Pristina’s finest building, the Fatih Mosque, to wash daily in the neighbouring public baths, the Grand Hamam.

Once central to life in Kosovo’s capital, today it lies in disrepair, despite half-a-million euro of investment over four years. The only construction workers to visit the site have been accused of causing irreparable damage in the name of restoration.

Balkan Insight has learnt that the project to restore the hamam to its former glory, devised by some of world’s foremost experts on Ottoman architecture over two years, was ignored by those implementing the scheme.
In January 2009, a board of experts approved the detailed plan, but the Municipality of Pristina, the Institute of Kosovo for Protection of Monuments and builders ignored the proposals of Mustafa Pehlivanoglu, a leading expert on this type of renovation from Istanbul Technical University.

Sali Shoshi, director of Cultural Heritage Without Borders for Kosovo, who led the team of experts, told Balkan Insight that the organisation withdrew from the project when the damage being done to the site became clear.

“Culture Heritage without Borders has not been a partner in this project since July 2009 because of the incompetence of local partners,” Shoshi told Prishtina Insight.

“For two years we tried to have the project drafted by two well known architects from Turkey and Sweden implemented, so the Great Hamam would get the infrastructure it deserved, but unfortunately local people didn’t see it as convenient for the project to be implemented according to the project proposal,” Shoshi added.

Gjejlane Hoxha, an architectural engineer who was a member of the board of experts that approved the plan, told Balkan Insight that she felt disappointed with the work that had been carried out.

“It is true that it has not been of good quality and much harm has been done to the building, which is not repairable,” Hoxha said. “Original elements have been demolished.”

Pehlivanoglu of Istanbul University condemned the project’s execution in a report in June 2009.

“On our last trip to the site in May 2009 we have seen that the construction that has been carried out has no intention of following the instructions of the accepted project for the monument,” he wrote.

According to his report, obtained by Prishtina Insight, the original 15th-century “dog-tooth” cornices, discovered during the cleaning process, were destroyed by contractors. Modern bricks were used instead of the original mortar recipe devised by Istanbul University.

“As we stated earlier, we are extremely worried about the destruction going on with the monument under the name of construction,” he concluded.

Despite these concerns, work continued on the project and a third round of renovation work is expected this year.

Mustaf Halili, from the culture department of the Municipality of Pristina, said the cultural landmark had seen a great deal of investment and he was looking forward to its completion.

“The municipality has invested around 490,000 euro in the project so far,” he noted.

Halili said that the first phase of work was led by the Agrare company, which was later replaced by another firm, Valoni, following complaints.

One option now being weighed up by the municipality is to transform the site into a gallery.

Baki Svirca, director of the Institute of Kosovo for Protection of Monuments at the time of the first renovation work declined to comment on the complaints.

Agim Gerguri, head of the Institute since July 2010, told Balkan Insight that he also did not want to comment on earlier problems.

Balkan Insight was unable to contact either construction firm involved in the renovation.

Vjollca Aliu, head of cultural heritage at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, told Prishtina Insight that the ministry had set up a committee to review all cultural heritage projects, and completing the hamam’s restoration would be a priority.

“We are in the process of evaluating all the cultural projects that will be implemented during 2011, and the hamam will be one of these,” she said.

“The process of restoration and conservation of the monument will continue through 2011 but we believe that by the end of 2011, or the beginning of 2012, the hamam will be in use,” she said.

From landmark to wreck:

Hamams, or Turkish Baths, were among the first buildings that Ottomans erected in cities throughout the Ottoman Empire.

But very few example of this remarkable form of architecture remain in the Prishtinas, or in Kosovo.

Pristina’s hamam was built in the second half of the 15th century. According to the little information and documentation available, it was built in 1461 as a facility for the Fatih Mosque and its local community.

As a public baths, the public used it for generations until its original function was only abandoned in the 1960s.

From then on, the building suffered much damage and since 1989 has received no maintenance work, despite the building’s status as one of the oldest Ottoman structures in Pristina.

The building was since used as a place to store construction materials, while the main entrance halls were turned into shops.

In 1995, the shops in the eastern part of the building burned down, causing extensive damage.

Other parts of the building continued to be used for shops until the first conservation activities started in 2007, while the other part of the building was left in ruins.

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