Under reconstruction after earthquake, Albania destroys archaeological treasures
The 2019 earthquake killed 51 people and left hundreds of families homeless. But he was not the first to strike Durres, which during its long history has been repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt on the ruins. Beneath the present city are the remains and riches of ancient buildings from the Greek, Roman and Ottoman times.
The law requires that the redevelopment works be supervised by the Albanian Institute of Archeology or by licensed private archaeologists.
The building at No.14 Dyrrah Boulevard was built in the 1980s as communal housing but was classified as uninhabitable following the 2019 earthquake and demolished.
In June last year, the Institute of Archeology wrote to the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Durres to highlight the archaeological potential of the site, citing previous studies which had found traces of two ancient buildings. in the region, based on information obtained through an Access to Information Request.
The Institute requested permission to conduct a search, but received no response.
“There was a lot of time to conduct archaeological research,” said Shkodra, who works at the Institute of Archeology. “Construction didn’t start until January 2021, so there were months available for research.”
The Albanian Development Fund, a state agency, is expected to start construction work on 780 family homes and 269 apartment buildings, all destroyed by the earthquake. The Fund is also the contracting authority for the reconstruction of 30 schools and other educational objects.
One of them is the “Shaqe Mazreku” elementary school in the center of Durres.
In 2004, during the construction of a building nearby, archaeological remains were discovered, including elements of monumental buildings, a Byzantine tower and fragments of a black and white mosaic.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama inspected the construction work of the school on July 11, 2020. Video showed that construction reached the second floor, but an agreement between the Albanian Development Fund and the Institute of Archeology for site monitoring was signed only a few days later.
The situation is a little different on the reconstruction projects financed by grants from the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Program, the UNDP. BIRN examined eight of these projects, all educational objects, and found that in all cases, UNDP had hired archaeologists to investigate the sites and monitor the work.
In a letter dated October 29, 2020, the Albanian National Council for Tangible Cultural Heritage instructed the Albanian Development Fund – a state agency that finances part of the reconstruction work after the earthquake – to contract the Institute of archeology and the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, NICH, to carry out the monitoring.
Four days later, the municipality issued the building permit, but work started without any archaeological monitoring, even though the area was classified as a class A archaeological zone.
The Institute of Archeology told BIRN that it was not contracted by the Fund, as required by law. NICH did not explain why it had failed to stop construction work.
“Currently there is no signed contract and therefore our specialists cannot perform observation, which can only be done on the basis of a contract,” NICH said in a written response to BIRN. .
The Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory of the Municipality of Durres said it was unable to intervene because the construction had valid permits.
He also confirmed that the National Council for Tangible Cultural Heritage had instructed the Fund to engage the Institute of Archeology in archaeological monitoring, but did not explain why no contract had been signed.
For its part, the Albanian Development Fund declared that the construction did not require any archaeological authorization since “the new building will be in the footprint of the previous one and will not go beyond its foundations”.