Albania has a total of 2028 cultural monuments89, including mosques, Muslim quarters, Orthodox and Catholic churches, convents, Shia Tekke, Byzantine walls, Roman, Illyrian and other remains, representing a coexistence of peoples for over three millennia. Certain caves also fall under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Cultural Monuments, based on the Council of Ministers’ decision Nr. 451/1993.
The Regional Programme on Cultural and Natural Heritage in South East Europe of the Council of Europe in 2003 had 3 components: The Integrated Rehabilitation Project Plan/Survey of the Architectural and Archaeological Heritage, Ljubljana Process: rehabilitating our common heritage and Local Development Pilot Projects (LDPP)90.
The Cultural Heritage Act Nr. 9048 approved on 7/04/2003 was the legal framework covering all activities in relation to preserving, promoting and managing the Albanian national heritage. On 27/07/2006 certain amendments were made by Act Nr. 9592, which introduced the National Committee of National Heritage as an advisory body. The Committee consisted of senior officials directly responsible for the promotion of cultural heritage in Albania. Article 17 provides for the establishment of a National Council for Restorations to grant permission for restoration of cultural heritage buildings and monuments.
After successes with the National Park of Butrinti, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sport established seven more Archaeological Parks in Albania to further promote the historical and cultural heritage and provide sustainable development for the local economies concerned.
In 2005, the government approved the Strategy and Action Plan for the Development of Tourism based on Cultural and Environmental Tourism, aiming to rediscover Albania’s cultural and historical identity and to take action to better protect, manage and promote its national patrimony. It is based upon the UNESCO report on “Cultural Patrimony in South – Eastern Europe: Albania” (No:3 : May 2004). The strategy was supported by UNDP’s Support to Eco and Cultural Tourism Development Programme (2006-2009), UNESCO’s Centre for Restoration of Monuments in Tirana (June 2005 -November 2009) and other initiatives related to the further safeguarding and promotion of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Albania.
After 4 years of major restorations were completed in 2015, the Archaeology Museum in Durres re-opened, and the national Programme for Cultural Heritage 2013-201791 outlined 16 points, including building a plan for the restoration and revitalization of some important monuments of late historical heritage such as the National Theatre, which was later demolished by the government in 2020.
The Law on Cultural Heritage and Museums 27/2018, among others, sets up rules on the trade of cultural assets and free movement.
In 2019, the Institute of Monuments “Gani Strazimiri” and the Agency of Archeological Services merged to form the National Institute of Cultural Heritage92 based on the Decision by Council of Ministers Nr. 364, date 29.05.2019 “For the Functioning and the Activities of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage. Based on in its status93, the Institute’s main focus is tangible heritage research, preservation, promotion and also rescue and prevention activities for cultural heritage. The Institute also sets the criteria for archaeological research, reviews the technical documents in relation to the process and supervises and monitors the development of projects, depending also on the decisions of the decision making bodies. The National Institute of Cultural Heritage also maps, updates and publishes the Digital Platform for Archaeological Activities in the Republic of Albania. The Regional Centre for Conservation and Restoration functions at the Institute and its main activities are: informing and updating restorers and licensed subjects, drafting and implementation of qualification programmes for specialists in the field of tangible culture heritage.
Also, in 2019 the Albanian Ministry of Culture, with the support of the Albanian American Development Fund, prepared the National Park of Butrint- Integrated Management Plan (2020-2030)94.
Open source databases have been created including “Preserving Tirana”, “The Albanian House” and “Preserving the Western Balkans”. Often the reason for the degradation and demolition of these homes is that the inheritors do not have the wealth or status of their ancestors along with factors of multiple ownership and migration leaving them neglected and unrestored. There is also a difference between the assessments of institutions and the community on heritage that has led to conflicts95. The case of the National Theatre clearly showed this difference, leading to the country’s longest-running civil society protest lasting over 2 years, until the theatre’s ultimate demolition in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. This came despite being listed by Europa Nostra among the seven most endangered monuments in Europe. It’s demolition was first suggested in 2002 by then Mayor Edi Rama, but was overturned through petitions submitted by artists and intellectuals to the Prime Minister of the time.
The Legal Regulatory Framework96 for cultural heritage is based on Decisions by the Council of Ministers, the Code of Behaviour, National Legislation, International Legislation (for the accession of the Republic of Albania to the European Convention for the Protection of Archaeological Heritage revised and in the Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage), Manuals and Policy Documents, Strategy, and other legal acts.
The Annual Report 202097 from the National Institute of Cultural Heritage outlines the developments for legal acts, approved and in process, European and National projects for cultural heritage such as EU4Culture, Interreg IPA CBC Italy- Albania- Montenegro 2014-2020, Programme of 100 Villages, Balkan Mediterranean 2014-2020, IPA 2017 Action Programme for Albania, Integrated Urban and Tourism Development Programme, Educational Programmes, etc. Collaborators and supporters for 2020 include the European Union – Office of European Delegation in Albania, UNOPS- The United Nations Office for Project Services, UNESCO- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, AADF- Albanian American Development Fund, CHWB- Cultural Heritage without Borders, TIKA- Turkish Agency for Collaboration and Coordination, KOASH- Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, TAP- Trans Adriatic Pipeline AG, FSHZH- Albanian Fund for Development, AKPT- National Agency for Territorial Planning, and FAU- Faculty of Architecture and Urban Development.
A 213,260 Euro project supported by UNESCO was approved in 2019 to be implemented by the Ministry of Culture over 26 months by conducting a community-based inventory of intangible cultural heritage in Albania98. The National project has since formally recognized traditional dances, livestock migrations and craftwork in the national inventory. This came after the 2018 UNESCO inscription of “Singing to the accompaniment of the Gusle” as Serbian intangible cultural heritage, led many in Albania to point to their own tradition of singing epics to the Lahuta not being recognized.
Based on the Annual Report 202099, the main challenges for the National Institute of Culture Heritage in 2021 are the lack of legal acts in accordance with law nr. 27/2018 “For Culture Heritage and Museums”. This has disrupted the normal activities at the institution, such as a lack of Decisions by the Council of Ministers for the procedure of declaration of cultural interest and public competition. Also, there is a lack of legal basis for the relevant fees for project applications, licenses, archaeological monitoring, project drafting, observation, etc. Regarding the budget, there is a lack of funds for implementing the drafted projects for the 2021-2023 Project Budget: culture heritage endangered by outdoor climate, strengthening of the human resources in the field and financing of the IPA projects.
In 2020, the Authority of Audiovisual Media (AMA) and the Ministry of Culture signed an agreement for funding, about 60,000 euros, for audiovisual projects promoting Albanian culture heritage.100
While heritage development has generally been good for tourism and economic activity, there are concerning issues such as ongoing construction of a bypass road in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Gjirokastra, despite a call in June 2021 from UNESCO101 for its urgent suspension to assess the risk to the city. At its 44th session in China in July, the World Heritage Committee said it “urgently requests the State Party [Albania] to halt construction” until a monitoring mission is able to visit and assess whether the project has or will cause any damage to the city’s “Outstanding Universal Value”.
In September 2021, archaeological work began in Durres to study the Roman period and locate the ancient hippodrome from 1600 years ago, after approval from the Institute of Archaeology and the Ministry of Culture, with volunteers and students of the “Aleksandër Moisiu” University in Durrës invited to join the excavation. Reconstruction work in Durres has come under fire at times for not respecting legal procedures, as Albanian law requires that construction in archaeologically rich areas be monitored by professional archaeologists.