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Twenty years ago, while Albania was just recovering from its Pyramid Crisis, at a meeting in a cafe in Saranda, the Butrint National Park was born. An outstanding achievement at that time, the Park still represents a milestone in the protection of Albania’s cultural and natural heritage, as well as a source of wealth for the entire region. Richard Hodges, the leading actor in the process that culminated in the Park’s creation, narrates how it all came about. In the first issue of this Journal, Hodges has told us of his first encounter in 1993 with Butrint and the Albanian soul - and contradictions -; he now presents to our readers the second episode of his intriguing Albanian saga.
Hodges, R. 2018. Saranda 1998: a vision for Butrint and other cultural heritage strategies. Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology. 2: pp. 17-26.
“At Sarandë and Butrint, resorts on the Adriatic coast, across the channel from Corfu, wives or girlfriends of Party officials described to us by the interpreter as being ‘workers on a day’s holiday’ wore beautifully cut, simple dresses that looked as if they had emanated from couture workrooms, pearl necklaces, gold-rimmed sunglasses, elegant shoes and carried handbags of soft leather, none of which were available in… Albania. When they went swimming at a place called Ksamil, on the coast between Sarandë and Butrint, well out of sight of real workers, it was in foreign-made bathing costumes, and one only had to look at their long, painted fingernails to see that not only had they not participated in a month’s obligatory agriculture within living memory, but that they had probably never worked what here in Albania is an official eight-hour day” (Had Reshad been one of the swains of these young women Newby despised? Chatting after the photograph was taken, I doubted it. He had always been a modest figure in Tirana life. I felt we had convinced Reshad of our vision for Butrint – (I was to be proved wrong) – and that in his case as in Arta’s, sentimentality had won out, or rather spirit of place. Not everyone was pleased with what had happened in the workshop. The grey shadow of Enver Hoxha lay across the room. Some conspiracy had occurred. A rotond, mean-eyed, Greek Albanian businessman – doubling as a Saranda councillor piped up. “We need to pump the water out of the theatre,” he said, to break the ice that had formed around the concept of spirit of place (Figure 7). Sally looked thrilled at the questioner’s gall. Nicholas paused and with grace responded that the noise would dispel the magic. Then others weighed in. When someone suggested the same at the baptistery, we offered the same reply. This intangible catch-all gave us the thread around which the future (Butrint Foundation) Management Plan for the World Heritage Site would be woven. Nicholas then explained: ‘magical or mystical’ gave us the reason to propose a buffer zone around the existing archaeological site of Butrint, to protect its lagoonal ‘Homeric’ landscape (Figure 8). Everyone nodded, albeit some with profound reservations. We summarised our workshop thus: kept more or less as we had found it, at a stroke this undeveloped landscape would lend fame to Butrint as an eternal Mediterranean oasis, attracting tourists of all kinds. Simultaneously, the buffer zone, if inscribed by Unesco, would protect it from anonymous marinas, golf courses, and airports and anything else detrimental to the spirit of the place. (The revised Unesco inscription of Butrint including the buffer zone was adopted at the Fez meeting in December 1999, and ratified by the Albanian government in March 2000. Figures 9 & 10). Meanwhile, as we dissected the meeting to shape a strategy, Arta Dade lost her ministerial position to Edi Rama, the artist who a year earlier had been brutally assaulted by Berisha’s henchmen wielding baseball bats. Arta hastened for Tirana in her black chauffeur-driven limousine, visibly distraught. Then reality intruded. Visions are one thing, but Albania at that time was an avatar of a state and all manner of challenges were confronting it. The quickening pulse was infinitely quixotic. Minutes after the workshop closed, Mrs. Cristina Busi, an Italian business-woman who owned the Coca-Cola franchise in Albania and then was about to bottle Tepelene spring water, arrived in a convoy of armoured land-cruisers with earnest assistants from the Ravenna festival. She had insisted on a meeting with us as representatives of the Butrint Foundation. The Italians, as ever, were immaculately dressed and made us aware of it. Mrs. Busi wasted no time on pleasantries. Did we own Butrint, a place associated with their Virgil, she asked in a languid but heavily accented English? Her intention was to promote the site and their new mineral water. There would be a Butrint Festival. Rothschild could pay too, she asserted. They would have a great conductor stage a concert with a Tirana orchestra. The tame maestro was then introduced to us. Journalists would be drawn to this orbit like moths to a flame. Her intent was brutally compelling: this base land would provide water and wealth, and she would promote this at other’s expense at Butrint. An ethos so different from Francovich’s: greed plus contempt and glamour summed up her nationalist attitude to cultural heritage. Then the penny dropped. I informed her that Rothschild did not own the archaeological site. Her mask fell and, barely concealing her disgust, she swept away like a vulture aching to feast on whatever she could as fast as she could. Her armoured column roared off to its next destination: the new Minister of Culture, Butrint’s proprietor. Mrs. Busi and her like viewed democratic Albania as a missing part of their Empire – a kind of ill-fated regione like Sardinia or Sicily. Such buccaneers had ill-concealed contempt for the Albanians and simultaneously a desire to expediently exploit whatever was readily possible before the opportunity dissolved with ordered democracy. Hardly oligarchs as we’ve come to know them, these were Berlusconi’s self-regarding progeny, out to cherry-pick the treasures of Albania’s culture. Mrs. Busi was not alone, though she would not have given the time of day to two Italians engaged in another cultural heritage venture… The two emblematic gold-diggers crossed my path no sooner than the imperious Mrs. Busi had driven out of sight. On leaving Saranda aboard the little rusting ferry, the Mimosa, following the workshop, I noted two fellow passengers whom I had seen arriving the week before with a lustrous black Range Rover and a silver Mercedes. Now on foot, tussle haired and cocky, they were evidently car thieves and not shy about it. Once on deck, they tore up their Albanian exit visas, contemptuously destroying any trace of their trip, scattering the pieces of card into Saranda’s harbour as the oily plume of smoke from the ferry’s funnels drifted over us. Their kit bags were from Foggia, northern Apulia, and they chattered cheerily like old women as the boat ploughed its way through heavy seas. What, I wondered, would the Greek customs make of these two? How would they deal with their two missing limousines recorded in their passports? My curiosity aroused, I eased up close in the little customs’ line in Corfu harbour, keen to hear the upshot. The testy Greek officers, racist to a man as far as the Albanians were concerned, politely enquired what the two ragazzi had been doing. The taller responded crisply: they had been involved in conserving churches. No further words were needed. True or false how good of these Latins to tend to orthodox churches in the land of infidels, was unstated. With this magic formula, the car thieves strolled on. When I told this story a year later in front of the EU customs inspector in Albania – an officer from Palermo no less – she exploded at the improbability of my insulting story. Only the Albanians – by then per capita world leaders in the ownership of Mercedes – could be held responsible for the theft of cars. But, inimitably, she declined to explain, how it was that the cars were driven through the Albanian ports monitored at EU expense by her (Italian) staff. Three ‘visions’ of cultural heritage for the Saranda region and its magical, prized Unesco World Heritage site, Butrint. At that moment, hope for our vision reinforced by the outcome of the workshop lay with one man. Ministerial and mercurial, he was a tall basket-ball player intrigued to experiment with the past in the struggle to create Albania’s future: Edi Rama.Newby 1984, p. 133 Newby, E. 1984. On the Shores of the Mediterranean. London: Harper Collins.).
Chiles, P. 2017. Remembering the early Christian baptistery, the Venetian castle and Art-Deco Saranda. In Mitchell, J., Moreland, J. & Leal, B. (eds), Encounters, Excavations and Argosies. Essays for Richard Hodges, pp. 91-104. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Hodges, R. 2007. Saranda- ancient Onchesmos. A short history and guide. Tirana
Hodges, R. 2014. Butrint’s northern frontier in the 11th century: the Dema Wall. Annual of the British School at Athens 113, pp. 1-5.
Hodges, R. & Paterlini, A. 2013. A short history of the Butrint Foundation’s conservation programme at Butrint, Albania: 1994-2012. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 15, pp. 253-79.
Newby, E. 1984. On the Shores of the Mediterranean. London: HarperCollins.