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Zog's Tirana

Tirana - Copyright © by Alan Grant
Bulevardi deshmoret e kombit

Today Tirana feels like a boomtown. New blocks are blossoming across the city and over the last few years, under the stewardship of Mayor Edi Rama, old blocks have been brightened up with colourful designs, while in the centre illegal kiosks and buildings have been swept away. Although Albania declared its independence in 1912, it was only in 1920 that Zog, the man who would become king, declared it, first, the country's provisional capital and then its permanent one in 1925. At that point Zog engaged a team of Italian architects headed by an urban planner named Armando Brasini. These descriptions of the making of Tirana come from Jason Tomes' biography of King Zog in which he writes that the first electric lighting appeared in the Albanian capital only in 1927 and piped water and sewerage just a decade later. Then as now the city was dominated by the great, central space of Skanderbeg Square:

Cypress trees and minarets retained their charm, and the eighteenth century Mosque of Ethem Bey, brightly frescoed with fruit and flowers, survived the demolitions to give a touch of architectural distinction to the dusty expanse of Skanderbeg Square. For six days a week, this much enlarged market place was a gaping hole in the heart of the city. It came to life only on Thursdays when buffalo wagons, pack trains, and women brought firewood and produce down from the hills. Not only did the women carry huge bundles on their backs, they also worked handheld spinning wheels as they walked. Their male protector was now more likely to bear a stick than a gun when in town. He did the buying and entertained onlookers with the ritual ferocious barter.

North and west of Skanderbeg Square two boulevards were built: Boulevard Zog and Boulevard Mussolini. The former, re-named during the Communist period, is now known once again by this title.

Today, everyone knows the ministry buildings beside the statue of Skanderbeg, where the statue of Stalin once stood. They were Italian built and completed in 1931:

The eight three-storey blocks of white stone and redbrick dwarfed the little parliament building on the edge of the square. Decorated with mustard-coloured facings and a Skanderbeg helmet above each entrance, they were a remarkable improvement on scattered ex-Turkish offices with smashed windows, broken locks and infamous latrines.

King Zog of Albania: Europe's Self-Made Muslim Monarch. Jason Tomes. 2004.
[pp. 107-108 / New York University Press]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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