Only 20 years ago, while communism was beginning to collapse throughout Eastern Europe, the idea that the isolated, totalitarian Albania could embrace the Western economic project would have been pure fantasy.
But it happened - in Butrint-, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Only 5 km from the Greek island of Corfu, Butrint it preserves the tranquility, the classic atmosphere of the 19 century, so loved by the poet Lord Byron, but also by today's tourists.
Ancient ruins lapped by water and surrounded by foliage, massive Hellenic walls, precise Roman structures, Byzantine mosaics and two Venetian castles. The local ferry is still a raft, the view is sublime and the magical sunsets.
How did Albania manage to safeguard Butrint, when much of its recent history has been turbulent with the communist dictatorship, giving way to free capitalism? The answer lies in the collaboration between local authorities, national and international bodies, and the loving care of new systems for the country. The creation of a national park, and modern legislation concerning its control, has led to the creation of a protected area, which is now supported by international institutions including the World Bank.
A charity institution based in the United Kingdom, the Butrint Foundation, is working with Albanian officials to develop the site's heritage so that it is sustainable and attractive to tourists. Archeology, conservation and management of museums, all sectors in which Albania is benefiting from Western experts.
Diana Ndrenika, director of Albanian cultural heritage, says that the national park "is not just a success story in its own right, but has set peace in the Albanian context of how such a resource should be managed. It has had a great impact on other sites in Albania and has become the model, the standard to which all those who work in this sector refer ”.
The archaeological site occupies a low wooded hill, with a view of the Ionian Sea on one side and the expanse of Lake Butrint to the others.
While legend has it that it was a Trojan refugee who founded Butrint, archeology indicates that it was occupied around the 8th century BC.
It was a local tribal center in the 4 century BC, part of the Kingdom of Pyrrhus, the inveterate enemy of the Romans. Later it became a Roman colony founded by Augustus a few years after his great victory over Antonio and Cleopatra, in Actium, a few miles south.
Subsequently the story of Butrint was turbulent, between power struggles between Byzantium and its Western enemies and from the 1912 it is part of the independent Albania.
In the last 20 years the challenges have not ended, the collapse of communism in the 1992 caused enormous damage, the civil unrest in the 1997 led to the looting of the Butrint museum, although many finds have been returned thanks to international cooperation.
The division of the old organizational structures has inevitably brought both problems and opportunities for Albania, also concerning Butrint.
There is still a lot to do on the site itself. The car parks, given the increase in the number of visitors, are inadequate. The toilets need considerable improvement. The natural preservation of the historical environment is a continuous challenge, and the increase in water level threatens mosaics and walls. But investments in the local community should help to address these issues.
Through international donations, the training of young Albanian professionals is being paid. Some are already working in other parts of the country. The projects include an archaeological training school in Butrint, run by Albanian archaeologists for both local and foreign students.
- Brian Ayers, Director of the Butrint Foundation
- Translated by Entela Shami
- Published in English on with the BBC the 3 April 2009
- Original title: Albania dusts off ancient treasures
Follow Albania News on Google News