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Battlefields

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Albania is unique in that it is the only country in the world to have declared itself an Atheist state, ‘The Religion of Albania is Albanian-ism!’ was the slogan. All churches, mosques, were closed, turned into sports halls or storage warehouses, all religious worship declared illegal. In the 1960s, there was a concerted campaign to destroy ALL religious buildings and it was largely successful.

The buildings that survived (this picture being one of 8 churches that survived from the original 40 plus in Berat) did so as they were deemed to have historical and cultural significance rather than religious importance.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

This picture is of the badly damaged interior walls of a Bektashi temple (Bektashism being a form of Sufi-ism), the exterior of this tiny temple bearing very few indications of being a place of worship and was indeed a store house for 40 years until the ban on religion ended in the early 90s.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

So what fills a void, when you ban the worship of an unfathomable metaphysical presence? The oversized ego of equally unfathomable but rather more physically present Communist leader, in Albania’s case, Enver Hoxha. Apparently, on the death of Stalin, Hoxha gathered his citizens in Tirana’s central square, made them all kneel in respect and reverence and swear an oath of ‘eternal fidelity’ to their ‘beloved father’ Stalin. Presumably, the irony wasn’t lost on him…

As far as monuments of vanity go, this building, Hoxha’s Pyramid as it is called, is fairly modest. If you’ve ever had to scoop your jaw off the pavement as you take in the size and scale of Ceausescu’s Palace in Bucharest, you’ll know what I mean. Although, having said that, Enver Hoxha did have his name scrawled into a mountain range so wasn’t so modest after all.

I found the words of Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ (one of the few that I know off by heart) going round in my head as I stood in front of this building.

‘”My name is Ozymandias,King of Kings, Look on my works, ye might and despair”
Nothing besides remains, around the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away’

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Instead of lone and level sands, it’s ripped up paving stones and graffitied walls, Hoxha’s Pyramid left in ruins – physically and symbolically.

In the National History Museum, the wing which housed Albanian post-war Communist era exhibits has been closed, with no foreseeable plans to reopen.

It seems to me that you can no more eradicate a country’s religious and cultural heritage as you can its ideological past, however uncomfortable either might be in the current zeitgeist. You’re simply replacing one ruinous and bloody battlefield with another.

These pictures were my thoughts on this topic.

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Written by Spiller

November 6, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Kruje

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

 

On our last day in Albania, we travelled up to Kruje, about an hour from Tirana. It is the best (some say, only) place in Albania to buy souvenirs, apparently, and the minibus ride up there was quite fun.

We had to make our way to the Zog i Zi roundabout on the outskirts of Tirana (we managed to navigate our way around Tirana really well on foot… once we turned the map the right way round!), ask various people where the minibuses to Kruje went from, squeeze in along some very curious but very friendly locals in a battered old minibus, swing around some hairpin bends up the mountainside with quite a stoned, hungover (or possibly still drunk) looking driver; it took about an hour and cost about £1.30.

And the views were stunning. Perched high on a hill with a perfect view down the valley back towards the capital. The path up to the castle was lined with shops selling statues of Skanderburg, the National hero, (pic below) and a large selection of Albania-themed trinkets. I am my mother’s daughter and can’t resist a good browse round a gift shop – and when the gift shop is the size of a whole town, well what sort of heaven is that…

Pictures of the views will come later, but let’s get our priorities right people and start with the souvenirs!

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Written by Spiller

October 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm