The Artisan Centre

Opened in May 2007, the Artisan Centre is the result of a partnership between the GCDO and the Albanian Handicrafts Confederation.  A historic building in the Bazaar Quarter of Gjirokastra was renovated to house a shop for the sale of handmade Albanian crafts.  Artisans receive eighty percent of the price charged for their goods.  This project encapsulates the GCDO’s strategy for conservation and development in Gjirokastra:  renovation of historic structures that are then put to practical economic purpose to benefit the local community.

Vodafone Project:Reconnecting Youth with Heritage through Iso-polyphonic Singing

The ancient tradition of iso-polyphonic singing is deeply intertwined with Albanian national identity, particularly in Southern Albania, and is still performed at significant social and community occasions. Iso-polyphonic Singing has been recognized as an Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO. Therefore, Albania has an obligation towards the world community to safeguard this tradition.


The Tourist Information Centre

In March 2007 the first Tourist Information Centre (TIC) opened in Gjirokastra situated some doors down from the Artisan Centre on the Castle Road.  This project is the result of an unprecedented collaboration with a private entrepreneur who renovated an old, almost derelict house.  The TIC is open 7 days a week and offers free information such as brochures and maps for tourists. In addition it acts as a centre for data collection and tourism development surveys.  The TIC works to promote Gjirokastra as a tourist centre sending leaflets and information to events such as the World Tourism Fair in Berlin.  The TIC has also facilitated Business to Business meetings with Tourist agencies held in Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia.

“Gjirokastra - A Way Forward”

In the summer of 2006, the GCDO commissioned Prince Research Consultants (PRC) to create a conservation and economic revitalisation strategy for the historic city of Gjirokastra which would provide the foundation for the GCDO’s future fundraising and project development plans.

Renovation of the Bazaar

An ongoing project to renovate the Bazaar Quarter began in the summer of 2006.   Thanks to the cooperation of local institutions, stone walls have been cleaned, building facades painted, and the streets washed. Finishing touches such as hanging baskets of flowers give traders a renewed pride in the area and make it an attractive place to shop.

The National Armaments Museum

It is hoped that funding can be won to establish a new museum in Gjirokastra over the coming years.  Until this major project is finished the existing museum will house collections.  In 2006, in a combined effort to make it a more enjoyable place to visit, the GCDO worked with other local organisations to repair the electrical system and replace broken windows.  After studying and cataloguing the museum’s collection of arms and equipment, the GCDO suggested a plan for reorganising the display.  The aim is to present the objects in a more attractive way as well as provide a more informative exhibit.

The Board of Gjirokastra

In cooperation with the Institute of Monuments in Tirana, GCDO created the Gjirokastra Board.  The purpose of the Board is to provide a round table for discussion on how to save and revitalise the historic town, as well as a forum for initiating projects. The Board held its inaugural meeting on 20th September 2006 in Tirana and the MP for Gjirokastra and Minister of Economy, Genc Ruli was elected as Chairman.  The Albanian Government has recently donated 1 million Euros to UNESCO for conservation and development in Gjirokastra.

The Tourist Map Panel 

As a first step toward establishing a comprehensive network of tourist signs, in June 2006 the GCDO, working with the Municipality, the local branch of the Albanian Institute of Cultural Monuments and local community members, erected a large panel showing a map of Gjirokastra.  The map is situated in the main square of the Old Town and shows the locations of the most popular and useful destinations.

The District Art Gallery

In coordination with the Municipality, which co-funded half of the project, the District Art Gallery was reopened in the heart of the Castle after having closed some 15 years before. It was inaugurated in the Castle on 18 May 2006.

Road Repair  

In May 2006, the GCDO contributed a third of the cost of the repair of the cobblestone street that leads to Gjirokastra Castle.  The road is now open and repaired to conservation standards.  A similar grant was made in 2004 for the repair of a cobbled street in the upper Varosh Quarter of Gjirokastra.

MA in Urban Planning for Developing Countries

There is an urgent need for expertise in urban planning in Albania.  In September 2004, Viola Sherifi a native of Gjirokastra who has worked for the Gjirokastra Municipality and for the GCDO, was awarded a place on a MA degree course in Urban Planning for Developing Countries at Oxford Brooks University, UK. A grant from the GCDO made her studies possible.  After graduation Viola returned to Albanian to take up a position in the Planning Department of the Albanian Ministry of Transport and Territory Regulation.

UNESCO Day and the inauguration of the Zekate House.

On 30th September 2005 the Deputy-General of UNESCO visited Gjirokastra, unveiling a plaque recording its inclusion as a World Heritage Site.  The occasion was also a celebration of the completion of the Zekate House renovation project.

Zekate House Phase Two:  The Interior

In spring 2005 work began on the conservation of the interior of the Zekate House, led by two teams of specialists from the Institute of Monuments in Tirana.  The wall-paintings and fireplace in the great hall were conserved, as well as the decorative and painted woodwork in the rooms of the upper floors. In addition local skilled craftsmen replaced wooden elements in the windows and ceilings and specialists also restored the elaborate stained glass windows. The work was completed in September 2005.

Hiking Trails

During September and October 2004 two Irish archaeologists, Benen Hayden and Jerry O’Dwyer, were commissioned by the GCDO to undertake a survey of archaeological sites in southern Albania and to identify a network of hiking trails in the region. In July 2005 the GCDO published a book on their work: Benen Hayden, Trekking Through Southern Albania.  The book can be purchase through the Gjirokastra Tourist Information Centre.

Emin Riza Monograph

The new edition of Emin Riza’s monograph on the architecture of Gjirokastra (“Qyteti-Muze e Gjirokastres”) was published with GCDO funding in September 2004.

Cultural Heritage Day: 29th September 2004

Cultural Heritage Day for Albania coincided with the first day of the Gjirokastra National Folk Festival.  At the Round Table conference held to mark both occasions (attended by several governmental ministers, amongst them the Minister of Culture), the work of the GCDO was held up as an example to others of co-operation with the authorities and the local community.  On the same day a book on the Folk Festival and cultural heritage of Albania (Festivali Folklorik Kombëtar i Gjirokastrës) was published, made possible by a grant from the GCDO.

Zekate House Phase One:  the Exterior

In May 2004 a full study and record of the architecture and distinctive features of the Zekate House was undertaken by Richard Andrews.  Professor Emin Riza (Institute of Monuments, Tirana),  Albania’s greatest authority on the houses of Gjirokastra, subsequently  designed a project  for the first phase of conservation of the Zekate House,  namely the conservation of the great stone roof, the windows  and the basic structure of the building. The work on the house began in June 2004 and was completed in spring 2005.

Seven Fountains Park

In September 2003 the GCDO began a project to restore the historic Seven Fountains area of the town. This project has transformed what had essentially been an unofficial town rubbish dump into a small park and restored the Seven Fountains and Haman within it. The work was undertaken by the local atelier of the Institute of Monuments and was supervised by Reshat Gega and Richard Andrews. The project was completed in April 2004.

Conservation Seminar

In September 2003 a highly successful seminar on architectural conservation of historic homes was held by the GCDO in Gjirokastra, led by Professor Emin Riza, Reshat Gega (Institute of Monuments) and Richard Andrews (consultant architect) for students from several Albanian universities.

Museum Grants

In 2003 the GCDO gave grants to the Castle Museum to build and equip a new storeroom for their collection of weapons from antiquity, and to the Ethnographic Museum for new gates and doors, carved in a traditional style by local craftsmen.

Management Plan for Gjirokastra

In late spring 2002 the GCDO brought Princes Research Consultancy to Gjirokastra.  Assisted by the local atelier of the Institute of Monuments, a comprehensive report was written entitled “The Conservation and Development of Gjirokastra” (2002). This document, which exists in both English and Albanian, subsequently formed the backbone of the dossier presented to UNESCO in Gjirokastra’s bid for the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 2005. Their report is illustrated with photographs by Tony Lumb, an internationally known photographer who has now made several visits to Gjirokastra at the invitation of the GCDO.

Tourism, the Lunxheria Survey and Travel Companies

The GCDO began a long-term project in 2002 to encourage sustainable tourism in Gjirokastra and the surrounding region. As part of this an intensive three-week study was undertaken in April 2002 in the villages of the Lunxheria and a report on ecotourism in the region was produced. Subsequently, the GCDO encouraged a small independent travel company to bring tours to Gjirokastra, and two such tours were arranged and co-ordinated through the GCDO in April and September 2002.