Reconstruction project to turn Voskopoja into year-round destination

Reconstruction project to turn Voskopoja into year-round destination

TIRANA, June 22 – Four remaining post-Byzantine churches in Voskopoja, a present-day village in southeastern Albania that used to be Albania’s most thriving 18th century town are being restored in a bid to turn it into a year-round tourist destination.

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Besnik Mustafaj claims ‘Author of year’ award at Kosovo book fair

Besnik Mustafaj claims ‘Author of year’ award at Kosovo book fair

TIRANA, June 4 – Albanian writer Besnik Mustafaj has claimed the ‘Author of the Year’ award at the Prishtina Book Fair held last week in neighboring Kosovo. Mustafaj, a renowned Albanian writer, diplomat and politician, was awarded the book fair’s

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Regional bands join Korça Carnival festival

Regional bands join Korça Carnival festival

TIRANA, June 13 – Carnival bands from Albania and the Balkan region paraded last weekend in Korça to celebrate the tenth edition of its international carnival festival in the southeastern Albania city nicknamed “The small Paris of Albania” and the

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Heritage activists alarmed as roof collapse damages 18th century monastery

Heritage activists alarmed as roof collapse damages 18th century monastery

TIRANA, June 9 – The roof of an 18th century monastery in the southern Albanian district of Saranda has collapsed, causing severe damage to a post-Byzantine church and its frescoes, alarming experts and cultural heritage activists over the authorities’ neglect

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Students showcase radicalization, communist past works

Students showcase radicalization, communist past works

TIRANA, June 5 – Ermal Hoti and Suela Qemali have been announced the winners of a youth art contest and exhibition on dealing with the past and preventing violent extremism. The contest organized by the OSCE Presence in Albania and

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Albania commemorates father of national opera music

Albania commemorates father of national opera music

TIRANA, June 1 – Albania will commemorate one of the fathers of the country’s opera history, composer Çesk Zadeja with a concert tracing the maestro’s creativity and those who have followed in his footsteps. Bassoonist Alban Zadeja, Çesk’s son, says

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Arben Golemi opens “Alienation” exhibition

Arben Golemi opens “Alienation” exhibition

TIRANA, June 1 – One of the country’s best painters will be showcasing about a decade of creativity at a solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery this month. Arben Golemi, a veteran 62-year-old painter is featuring 67 paintings of

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Kosovo writer wins Kadare award

Kosovo writer wins Kadare award

TIRANA, May 31 – Kosovo writer Musa Ramadani has been announced the winner of this year’s Kadare award named after Albania’s internationally renowned writer Ismail Kadare, a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ramadani, a 73 year-old Kosovo-based

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Permet hosts multicultural festival

Permet hosts multicultural festival

TIRANA, May 25 – Albanian and regional folklore bands will gather in Permet, southern Albania, for three days this weekend to celebrate cultural diversity among the country’s minorities in the 15th edition of Multicultural Permet festival. The festival scheduled for

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Jutta Benzenberg, Kalo gallery showcases ‘Austrians at Heart’

Jutta Benzenberg, Kalo gallery showcases ‘Austrians at Heart’

TIRANA, May 25 – Tirana and Munich-based German photographer Jutta Benzenberg is tracing the fate of Austrian descendants in Albania from the early 1920 after Albania had declared independence with Austrian support to decades of discrimination and persecution under communism.

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 22 – Four remaining post-Byzantine churches in Voskopoja, a present-day village in southeastern Albania that used to be Albania’s most thriving 18th century town are being restored in a bid to turn it into a year-round tourist destination.

Situated outside Korça, Voskopoja is said to have had a population of 40,000 to 50,000 in the 18th century, greater than Athens, Sofia or Belgrade at the time, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 buildings, including 26 churches, a hospital, an orphanage, a library, the only Greek printing press in the Balkans (1720), which published at least 19 religious works and the so-called New Academy.

The Euro 2.8 million government funded project involves the upgrade of road infrastructure and lighting as well as restoring the four remaining churches.

"During the past four years, cultural heritage has been given a top priority not only with restoration and maintenance, but considering it as an important source of development for the local area," says Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro.

"Voskopoja is one of the important tourist destinations. The Voskopoja churches still bear the vandalism traces of until four years ago. This is no longer happening today and we are in the restoration stage and promoting tourism," she added.

The remaining churches had only seen emergency conservation in a project led by the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

In addition to interest because of historical and cultural heritage, Voskopoja turns into popular destination during winter when visitors go skiing and enjoy the local traditional dishes, the most famous of which the lakror pie.

The village is located just outside Korça, nicknamed “The small Paris of Albania” and the “City of serenades.”

The southeastern city of Korça has in the past couple of years had its old bazaar and medieval art museum restored making it more attractive to tourists.

Korça, also features a prehistoric museum, a national education museum where the first Albanian language school opened in 1878 and the Vangjush Mio house museum.

Korça is also known for its mountain and culinary tourism in the Dardhe and Boboshtice villages.

 

The churches 

Twenty-six churches were built between 1630 and 1780 at Voskopojë, situated along the trade route from Venice to Constantinople in southeastern Albania. Voskopojë became an important religious hub in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The town was a significant center of Aromanian (Macedonian-Romanian) Christianity during a time when the Ottomans ruled the Balkans. At its height, Voskopojë was home to a university and the first printing press in the region. Now, after more than two centuries of damage caused by war, earthquakes, and erosion, only five of the churches remain.

The surviving churches are named for the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Saint Athanas, Saint Nicholas, the Prophet Elijah, and the Dormition of Notre Dame. Four of the five remaining Orthodox churches are domed basilicas designed in the post-Byzantine style typical of the Balkans. The ceiling and walls of all five are covered with frescoes depicting religious and biblical scenes in vibrant color, covering 43,000 square feet (4,000 square meters) of painted surfaces.

The domes of the five remaining churches and the intricate frescoes on their interiors attest to the past prominence of Voskopojë as a cultural and religious center, says New York-based World Monuments Fund.

 

Voskopoja’s rise and fall

Now a village of few hundred residents some 24 km outside Korça, southeastern Albania, Voskopoja was founded by Vlach shepherds in the early 14th century.

By the 17th century, Voskopoja increased tremendously in size, becoming one of the largest cities in the Balkans and a flourishing center of trade and urban culture. At its zenith, before the city was pillaged for the first time in 1768, it is said to have had a population of 40,000 to 50,000, greater than Athens, Sofia or Belgrade at the time, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 buildings, including 26 churches, a hospital, an orphanage, a library, the only Greek printing press in the Balkans (1720), which published at least 19 religious works and the so-called New Academy, according to Robert Elsie, a Canadian Albanologist.

The New Academy was a center of learning founded in 1744, similar to academies known to have existed in Bucharest, Iasi, Constantinople, Metsovon, Janina, Mt. Athos and Patmos. Many Greek scholars of note came to teach at Voskopoja among the Vlachs, who made up the majority of the population, the Albanians and Greeks. The New Academy was not an exclusively theological institution. It enjoyed a good reputation for its teaching in ancient Greek, philosophy, mathematics and physics and produced many a writer and scholar of repute.

Between 1769 and 1789, Voskopoja was pillaged several times and came to lose its vitality and significance as a commercial center on the trading route between Constantinople and Venice. It was financially destroyed in 1916 during World War I and with the exception of four beautiful Orthodox churches, the historical buildings that did survive were razed during partisan warfare in World War II.

The four remaining 'churches, all of exceptional cultural value, are St. Mary, constructed with three naves in 1712; St. Nicholas, built in 1721-1726 with room over 1,000 people and decorated with frescoes by Albanian fresco and icon painter David Selenica; St. Michael dating from 1722; and St. Athanasius, built in 1724.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 4 - Albanian writer Besnik Mustafaj has claimed the ‘Author of the Year’ award at the Prishtina Book Fair held last week in neighboring Kosovo. Mustafaj, a renowned Albanian writer, diplomat and politician, was awarded the book fair's top award for his latest “Endrra e Doktorit” (Doctor's Dream) novel, a satire about Albania's transition politicians.

"I do not belong to the Kafka kind of writers for whom it does not matter if they are read. I feel happy people ready my works. I would say that for a writer writing in a language with a limited number of readers such as the Albanian language, we are always doubtful if we will be read and shift through cultural confusion," said Mustafaj at the prize award ceremony.

In this novel, Besnik Mustafaj brings back Doctor Adhamudhi, a famous grotesque century-old character in Albanian literature whose biggest worry was what people would say and write about him after his death and he worked hard in his life to restore his image in order to transmit for all eternity a single and unified image about his personality, the same as the sole portrait of Jesus Christ.

In an earlier interview during the book's promotion in Albania in late 2016, Mustafaj said he chose dreams and the doctor for specific historical and political reasons.

"Through the dream, I insist on making my novel as subjective as possible. For me, the dream was a preoccupation and continues to remain the most subjective part, i.e. the conscience and subconscious of Albanian elites, the cultural and especially political elites which systematically during the 20th century displayed a single weakness which is universal, but more obvious in Albania," said Mustafaj.

"Differently from other countries, in Albania, this had consequences on the Albanian history, the same as their effort to concentrate within themselves both wealth and power and in this kind of obsession they tried to even manipulate the past so that they can also possess the future," he added.

Commenting on why he chose the doctor as the key character, Mustafaj said he was influenced by Albanian writer Çajupi's Doktor Adhamudhi, “the only grotesque character in Albanian literature, who still remains the same even at the beginning of this century and sees Albania as a good he can appropriate.”

"The ruling Albanian elite has strongly insisted to concentrate around themselves all glory, the past, the future and money," said Mustafaj

The 19th edition of the Prishtina book fair, held from June 6 to 11 brought together 100 Albanian-speaking publishers from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and the Albanian Diaspora around the world.

A former Albanian ambassador to France and a foreign minister, Mustafaj is both a prose writer and poet who has had his works translated into French, German and Bulgarian.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132827" align="alignright" width="300"]polena The famous “Polena” Carnival group, a predecessor of the Korça Carnival festival, also participated in the June 10 parade followed by a masked ball[/caption]

TIRANA, June 13 - Carnival bands from Albania and the Balkan region paraded last weekend in Korça to celebrate the tenth edition of its international carnival festival in the southeastern Albania city nicknamed “The small Paris of Albania” and the “City of serenades.”

The parade, also marking the opening of the tourist season in the landlocked city known for its rich cultural heritage and mountain tourism, brought together bands from Albania, neighboring Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro as well as Bulgaria and Serbia, showcasing a diversity of costumes.

Many of the costumes also portrayed movie and theatre characters.

The famous “Polena” Carnival group, a predecessor of the Korça Carnival festival, also participated in the June 10 parade followed by a masked ball.

Differently from previous editions when social and political issues were comically treated, this year’s festival saw two main Albanian bands dressed in apples, the symbol fruit produced in Korça, and costumes dating back to World War I when Korça was known as the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korça under French military protection for five years until 1920.

Zamira Kita, a popular actress who heads the local art and cultural center in Korça, says the Carnival festival has now become an annual tradition celebrating its tenth edition, adding to the popular beer and lakrori pie celebrations.

"There are two Carnival bands, strongly connected to Korça, competing for the first time, the Korça apples band as Korça is known for its massive apple production all over Albania and the band wearing costumes dating back to 100 years ago during the time of the Autonomous Republic of Korça," Kita said ahead of the festival.

Mayor Sotiraq Filo said the Carnival festival serves promoting tourism in Korça, the biggest Albanian southeastern city.

"The Carnival festival symbolizes the opening of the tourist season in the city of Koça. We are very happy Korça is increasingly turning into a tourist destination with a rising number of local but also foreign visitors," said Filo.

Korça has an early tradition of Carnival festival dating back to the 1940 when celebrations were accompanied by a mandolin, guitar and comic songs. Carnival celebrations were interrupted in the 1960s to restart only in the early 1990s after the collapse of communism.

The northern Albanian city of Shkodra, where a local plant produces Venetian masks, also regularly marks Carnival festivals, with an earlier tradition dating back to the 19th century.

The southeastern city of Korça has in the past couple of years had its old bazaar and medieval art museum restored making it more attractive to tourists.

Korça, also features a prehistoric museum, a national education museum where the first Albanian language school opened in 1878 and the Vangjush Mio house museum.

Korça is also known for its mountain and culinary tourism in the Dardhe and Boboshtice villages.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 9 - The roof of an 18th century monastery in the southern Albanian district of Saranda has collapsed, causing severe damage to a post-Byzantine church and its frescoes, alarming experts and cultural heritage activists over the authorities' neglect of monuments of culture.

The St. Athanasius church is an Orthodox monastery built in 1797 in the Leshnica e Poshtme village, southernmost Albania close to the Greek border, some 50 km off the city of Saranda.

The Forum for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, a watchdog bringing together activists, was the first to denounce the collapse of the church and the damage to its frescoes, posting a picture of the church in ruins.

"The church is a domed basilica with an inscription at the entry of the temple dating back to 1797, but local residents insist the date corresponds to the second reconstruction and that the temple is much older. Inside the monastery the walls were decorated with rare icons representing priceless cultural heritage while the temple's northern part hosted monks’ cells," said the Forum in a statement.

Activists say the collapse is also a result of state authorities being focused on the electoral campaign for the upcoming June 25 general elections and neglecting heritage issues.

"Local residents say state institutions had been aware of the centuries-old church being in danger of collapse for several months but chose to keep it a secret because of the electoral campaign," activists add.

Archaeologist Moikom Zeqo says he is shocked by what he calls “criminal indifference of the Albanian government toward monuments of culture.”

"The church is an 18th century building at a time when Albanian iconography was at its peak. Saranda has a big number of monuments, some of which ancient ones, but this church could be the most beautiful among late Middle Ages monuments," says Zeqo, blaming the culture ministry and local authorities for the neglect.

Reacting to accusations, the culture ministry said the church was initially damaged last February when part of the roof and walls collapsed after an earthquake with its epicenter in Ioannina in neighbouring Greece.

Culture authorities say they have collected all damaged items so that are used in the church's full restoration, underway since last year.

The monastery was declared a monument of culture in 1963, just four years before the country's communist authorities banned religion and closed down all religious institutions. Authorities say the church had seen no restoration intervention for decades until 2014.

The 18th century church is one of the treasures of Saranda, an Albanian Riviera tourist destination famous for its crystal clear waters and the ancient Butrint archeological park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132738" align="alignright" width="300"]Ermal Hoti's “Burden” picture wins "Religious Radicalism" topic. Photo: OSCE Presence Ermal Hoti's “Burden” picture wins "Religious Radicalism" topic. Photo: OSCE Presence[/caption]

TIRANA, June 5 - Ermal Hoti and Suela Qemali have been announced the winners of a youth art contest and exhibition on dealing with the past and preventing violent extremism.

The contest organized by the OSCE Presence in Albania and the Italian embassy brought together art students in a project aimed at encouraging youth to reflect through artistic means on two currently debated topics in the country, the first one being preventing and tackling violent extremism and radicalization by stimulating dialogue around these phenomena. The second “Dealing with the past” topic contributes to raising awareness on the debate about Albania's former repressive regime and its human rights violations, organizers say.

“On ‘Religious Radicalism,’ the panel awarded the photo ‘Burden’ by Ermal Hoti: the heavy stone burdening the levitating women, her sadly lowered eyebrows, the idea of stoning women – and much more is very impressive. On ‘Dealing with the Past’ the panel chose a very Albanian painting, which reveals many collective memories and associations: ‘Remembrance’ by Suela Qemali,” said the OSCE.

Dozens of Albanian fighters joined ISIS until 2014, sparking security concerns, but there have been no new reported cases of Albanians travelling to Syria or Iraq as of 2015.

Meanwhile, earlier this year an initiative to ban communist-era movies from screening on TV because of their propaganda serving the country’s former hardline Stalinist regime sparked a public debate in Albania on whether such a step should be undertaken 25 years after the collapse of the regime and whether the ban will have the adverse effect of increasing interest on these movies which can be easily accessed via the internet.

Albania has changed drastically since the death of the country’s communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, 31 years ago. But Hoxha, the leader of a brutal communist regime that murdered thousands of innocent Albanians, crushed all opposition and left the country in dire poverty in the late 1980s, is now seen in a positive light by a surprising large number of Albanians, a late 2016 survey supported by the OSCE Presence in Albania found.

According to a survey report on the ‘Understanding and perception of citizens of the communist past in Albania,’ almost half of Albania’s population sees Enver Hoxha’s role in the history of the country as positive.

Ambassador Bernd Borchardt, the head of the OSCE Presence in Albania said art can contribute to relaxing dialogue on the past and provide key information on transition societies.

The works were created by 20-year-old art students who belong to a generation that did not grow up under communism and know about the past regime mainly through second hand evidence.

The exhibition at the FAB gallery of the University of Arts in Tirana will remain open until June 12.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132665" align="alignright" width="298"]Çesk Zadeja Çesk Zadeja[/caption]

TIRANA, June 1 - Albania will commemorate one of the fathers of the country's opera history, composer Çesk Zadeja with a concert tracing the maestro's creativity and those who have followed in his footsteps.

Bassoonist Alban Zadeja, Çesk's son, says concert performances include the Skanderbeg movie music, symphonies and a piece he created in 1996 just one year before his death. There will also be pieces by Thoma Gaqi, Isak Shehu and Kujtim Laro, some of Zadeja's most acclaimed students in performances by the symphonic orchestra of the Opera House.

Opera House director Zana Çela describes Zadeja as one of the fathers and promoters of Albanian music.

"Cesk Zadeja has been a promoter of the greatest orchestra and instrumental genres of Albanian music creating the first symphony, the first piano concert and the first ballet piece. He was one of the founders of key Albanian institutions that created, cultivated and developed our music," Çela has told reporters.

Zadeja (1927-1997) is the author of over 100 works of concert music, including four ballets, chamber music, symphonies and songs. His work has had a substantial influence on virtually all subsequent Albanian composers.

Zadeja is a contemporary of Prenke Jakova, another Shkodra-born composer who created Mrika, the first Albanian opera which staged in the 1950s under communism.

Zadeja studied music both at Rome and Moscow, headed the newly founded Albanian folk music and dance ensemble, the Tirana state conservatory and the National Opera and Ballet Theatre in the 1970s.

With the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet under reconstruction, the concert commemorating Zadeja’s 90th birth anniversary is scheduled for Tuesday, June 6 at the University of Arts, Tirana.

Fifty years after its construction under Albania’s communist regime, the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Albania’s solo performing arts institution of its kind, is being renovated under a €8.6 million government funded project.

The 30-month reconstruction, already underway, is set to finish by June 2019 in a project that will make a thorough renovation that involves architecture, stage design, acoustic and air-conditioning systems.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 1 - One of the country's best painters will be showcasing about a decade of creativity at a solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery this month. Arben Golemi, a veteran 62-year-old painter is featuring 67 paintings of different techniques created from 2005 to 2017.

Curator Ylli Drishti says his "Alienation" exhibition is focused on Berat, the southern Albania UNESCO World Heritage site hometown of Golemi, as well as New York where he was inspired to create a cycle of works. The baroque style and the forest are two other series of works that have inspired Golemi.

"These painting cycles are composed of unique works which don't repeat themselves but bring a diversity of compositions and unexpected strength of colors," says the curator.

Arben Golemi is considered one of the promoters of modern art in Albania after the collapse of the communist regime and its Socialist realism, also known as the “Creation of the models of the New Man,” a genre serving the communist regime propaganda cultivated between 1960 and 1986.

Born in Berat and having studied both architecture and fine arts, Golemi, 62, has participated in many personal and collective painting exhibitions in Albania and around the world.

His topics cover the traditional structure of his hometown of Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage site in southwestern Albania, cultural heritage and the baroque style of the Louvre Museum.

Inspired by the medieval city of Berat, where he grew up, Golemi’s acrylics on canvas are architectonic abstractions that convey a simultaneous sense of history and immediacy. Curators say he accomplishes this impressive synthesis through a style that could be compared, for its blunt graphic power, to that of the American abstract expressionist Franz Kline. One of the main differences between them, however, is that while Kline’s best work was monochromatic -the famous black and white abstractions of the late 40s and early 50s – Golemi is a subtle and engaging colorist, even when he too chooses to work in monochromes.

His "Alienation" exhibition the four at the National Art Gallery, will be open from June 2 to 23.

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Arben Golemi opens “Alienation” exhibition  
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 31 - Kosovo writer Musa Ramadani has been announced the winner of this year's Kadare award named after Albania's internationally renowned writer Ismail Kadare, a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Ramadani, a 73 year-old Kosovo-based writer, was awarded the prize worth Euro 10,000, for his unpublished "Profeti nga Praga" (Prophet from Prague) novel elaborating on the artist's fate in general and more specifically on Franz Kafka.

The prize was awarded by a jury headed by Bashkim Shehu, the Spain-based Albanian writer who was imprisoned in the 1980s under communism following the death of his father Mehmet Shehu, a long-serving Prime Minister accused of being a "polyagent" of foreign secret services by late dictator Enver Hoxha.

"With his 'Prophet from Prague' Musa Ramadani has brought a special novel both in style and content. Being structured with strongly related short stories, the Prophet from Prague comes up as a mosaic of confessions and collage of narrative techniques, a novel on literature as a text of pleasure and act of eternity where the writer is unfolded as an open book to different contexts and connotations," read the motivation of the award handed to the writer by former French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand.

Ramadani was one of the six shortlisted artists for the third edition of the Kadare award which had 36 manuscripts by Albanian-speaking authors competing.

The tight vote in favour of the Kosovo writer, not much known in Albania, triggered debate with the Albanian contestant Viron Graçi, calling into question whether this year’s winning book will also be a failure in bookshops and Albanian and Kosovo literary and culture circles like the previous two winners.

Albania's Rudolf Marku and Shkelqim Çela were the previous two winners of the Kadare award promoted by the Mapo Foundation.

An internationally renowned poet, novelist and essayist, Ismail Kadare has been perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature. International acclaim for his works peaked in 2005 when he won the Man Booker International Prize.

Known for writing about Albania’s totalitarian government, Kadare has had his works translated more than 40 languages, the most famous of which is “The General of the Dead Army.”
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 25 - Albanian and regional folklore bands will gather in Permet, southern Albania, for three days this weekend to celebrate cultural diversity among the country's minorities in the 15th edition of Multicultural Permet festival.

The festival scheduled for May 26 to 28 will showcase cultural diversity in the country, bringing together several folklore bands from central and southern Albania, but also neighbouring Greece in an annual traditional event supported by France-based International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (IOFF).

Permet was selected as a host because of its diversity as a town where different cultures and ethnicities coexist and as the hometown of Albanian folk music including late maestro Laver Bariu, but also to promote cultural tourism in a region also famous for its cultural heritage and rafting on Vjosa River and the Lengarica Canyon.

Albania's iso-polyphony tunes have been placed under UNESCO protection as “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132554" align="alignright" width="200"]juta Jutta Benzenberg[/caption]

TIRANA, May 25 - Tirana and Munich-based German photographer Jutta Benzenberg is tracing the fate of Austrian descendants in Albania from the early 1920 after Albania had declared independence with Austrian support to decades of discrimination and persecution under communism.

Already showcasing at Tirana's Kalo art gallery, the "Austrians at Heart" exhibition mostly features descendants of Austrian women who came to Albania during the 1920 and 30s and because of marrying remained in the country.

The fates of descendants of Austrian migrants in Albania were often tragic, especially under more than four decades of dictatorship until the early 1990s when they suffered persecution and discrimination, says the Kalo gallery, one of Tirana's busiest contemporary art spaces.

The exhibition, which will remain open until June 11, is brought by the Austrian embassy in Tirana.

Austria is one of the historical supporters of Albania from the country's independence in the early 20th century to present day Euro-Atlantic integration.

The most important support Albania received from then-Austria-Hungary was in the critical years of 1912-1913 during the country’s independence, when the country’s existence was called into question by the Great Powers of that time.

Photographer Jutta Benzenberg has been shooting in Albania since the early 1990s soon after the collapse of the country's communist regime, featuring different aspects of life in Albania during the transition to democracy and market economy. She is the widow of late Albanian writer Ardian Klosi.
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, June 22 – Four remaining post-Byzantine churches in Voskopoja, a present-day village in southeastern Albania that used to be Albania’s most thriving 18th century town are being restored in a bid to turn it into a year-round tourist destination.

Situated outside Korça, Voskopoja is said to have had a population of 40,000 to 50,000 in the 18th century, greater than Athens, Sofia or Belgrade at the time, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 buildings, including 26 churches, a hospital, an orphanage, a library, the only Greek printing press in the Balkans (1720), which published at least 19 religious works and the so-called New Academy.

The Euro 2.8 million government funded project involves the upgrade of road infrastructure and lighting as well as restoring the four remaining churches.

"During the past four years, cultural heritage has been given a top priority not only with restoration and maintenance, but considering it as an important source of development for the local area," says Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro.

"Voskopoja is one of the important tourist destinations. The Voskopoja churches still bear the vandalism traces of until four years ago. This is no longer happening today and we are in the restoration stage and promoting tourism," she added.

The remaining churches had only seen emergency conservation in a project led by the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

In addition to interest because of historical and cultural heritage, Voskopoja turns into popular destination during winter when visitors go skiing and enjoy the local traditional dishes, the most famous of which the lakror pie.

The village is located just outside Korça, nicknamed “The small Paris of Albania” and the “City of serenades.”

The southeastern city of Korça has in the past couple of years had its old bazaar and medieval art museum restored making it more attractive to tourists.

Korça, also features a prehistoric museum, a national education museum where the first Albanian language school opened in 1878 and the Vangjush Mio house museum.

Korça is also known for its mountain and culinary tourism in the Dardhe and Boboshtice villages.

 

The churches 

Twenty-six churches were built between 1630 and 1780 at Voskopojë, situated along the trade route from Venice to Constantinople in southeastern Albania. Voskopojë became an important religious hub in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The town was a significant center of Aromanian (Macedonian-Romanian) Christianity during a time when the Ottomans ruled the Balkans. At its height, Voskopojë was home to a university and the first printing press in the region. Now, after more than two centuries of damage caused by war, earthquakes, and erosion, only five of the churches remain.

The surviving churches are named for the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Saint Athanas, Saint Nicholas, the Prophet Elijah, and the Dormition of Notre Dame. Four of the five remaining Orthodox churches are domed basilicas designed in the post-Byzantine style typical of the Balkans. The ceiling and walls of all five are covered with frescoes depicting religious and biblical scenes in vibrant color, covering 43,000 square feet (4,000 square meters) of painted surfaces.

The domes of the five remaining churches and the intricate frescoes on their interiors attest to the past prominence of Voskopojë as a cultural and religious center, says New York-based World Monuments Fund.

 

Voskopoja’s rise and fall

Now a village of few hundred residents some 24 km outside Korça, southeastern Albania, Voskopoja was founded by Vlach shepherds in the early 14th century.

By the 17th century, Voskopoja increased tremendously in size, becoming one of the largest cities in the Balkans and a flourishing center of trade and urban culture. At its zenith, before the city was pillaged for the first time in 1768, it is said to have had a population of 40,000 to 50,000, greater than Athens, Sofia or Belgrade at the time, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 buildings, including 26 churches, a hospital, an orphanage, a library, the only Greek printing press in the Balkans (1720), which published at least 19 religious works and the so-called New Academy, according to Robert Elsie, a Canadian Albanologist.

The New Academy was a center of learning founded in 1744, similar to academies known to have existed in Bucharest, Iasi, Constantinople, Metsovon, Janina, Mt. Athos and Patmos. Many Greek scholars of note came to teach at Voskopoja among the Vlachs, who made up the majority of the population, the Albanians and Greeks. The New Academy was not an exclusively theological institution. It enjoyed a good reputation for its teaching in ancient Greek, philosophy, mathematics and physics and produced many a writer and scholar of repute.

Between 1769 and 1789, Voskopoja was pillaged several times and came to lose its vitality and significance as a commercial center on the trading route between Constantinople and Venice. It was financially destroyed in 1916 during World War I and with the exception of four beautiful Orthodox churches, the historical buildings that did survive were razed during partisan warfare in World War II.

The four remaining 'churches, all of exceptional cultural value, are St. Mary, constructed with three naves in 1712; St. Nicholas, built in 1721-1726 with room over 1,000 people and decorated with frescoes by Albanian fresco and icon painter David Selenica; St. Michael dating from 1722; and St. Athanasius, built in 1724.

 

 
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