Trained Wood and Stone Craftsmen of Gjirokastra

Trained Wood and Stone Craftsmen of Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra has been inscribed in the World Heritage List as a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. It features more than 1,200 historic buildings, among them over 600 monumental family houses built of solid stone, with an uppermost floor which is a wooden construction with plastered walls. The roofs again are covered with stone slates supported by wooden beams, giving the city its unique and unmistakable appearance.

It was the stone and wood craftsmen of the town who have created this extraordinary built heritage. In the early 20th century Gjirokastra was an important crafts centre in southern Albania, with a bazaar of about 410 workshops. After having been declared a “Museum City” in 1961, 100 skilled craftsmen were employed for the continuing restoration and maintenance works needed to preserve the historic buildings.

After 1991, many craftsmen left for nearby Greece. The owners did not have the resources to maintain their houses, and built new concrete houses instead. As a result, the city lost the incentive and skills to maintain its historic buildings, and both the once bustling bazaar and most of the monumental houses were abandoned. Gjirokastra’s built heritage now faces its most serious threat in its 600-year life time.

Since inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005, tourist numbers have tripled, but much needs to be done to make this development sustainable. Primarily the historic buildings – Gjirokastra’s chief touristic resource - must be restored.

In contrast to its history and the urgent need for the restoration of hundreds of historic buildings, however, Gjirokastra has a serious lack of skilled stone and wood craftsmen. Today, only five workshops are left in the bazaar. Most restoration assignments are given to outside companies who produce only mediocre results. Such assignments should increasingly go to Gjirokastra companies in the future.

This booklet introduces ten craftsmen from Gjirokastra – the first ones who have received a professional training specialised on traditional restoration skills. They shall pilot a revitalization of the once flourishing craftsmen sector of Gjirokastra. Trainings were provided in the newly-opened Artisan Center, which sent a highly-visible message that both the historic buildings and the crafts sector have a future in Gjirokastra.

A trend for the revitalization of the historic city has recently become apparent. Owners of monumental houses are interested in putting them again to use. The obligation of the government to maintain the World Heritage amounts almost to a job guarantee for skilled stone and wood craftsmen.

We hope that this booklet will help employers and house owners find the skilled restoration craftsmen now available, thereby helping Gjirokastra, Albania and indeed the world to maintain one of its most valuable treasures.

Stephan Doempke, Project Manager