A rather bizarre building in the middle of Albania
's capital city Tirana
. Its angled shape vaguely reminiscent of a pyramid and the fact that it was originally intended to be a mausoleum and museum for the country's deceased leader Enver Hoxha
gave the edifice its informal name. Now its largely abandoned and in a bad shape and its future is uncertain.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
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More background info:
When after over 40 years, Albania
's hardliner ultra-Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha
finally snuffed it in 1985, it was decided to honour him not just with the grand hero's grave he was initially given at the Martyrs' Cemetery in the south of Tirana
, but to build him a gargantuan mausoleum right in the centre of the capital.
Hoxha's architect daughter Pranvera herself, together with her husband Klement Kolaneci, saw to the design of the mausoleum, officially to be called "Enver Hoxha Memorial Museum".
Allegedly, the resultant building became the most expensive ever erected in Albania. Its extraordinary pyramid-like shape clad in white marble would have been matched inside with an exhibition celebrating the late autocrat (or should that be Pharaoh?) and his glorious achievements through the display of all manner of artefacts somehow connected to the life and works of the great dead man. (As such it could have been somewhat similar to North Korea
's "International Friendship Exhibition
But it was not to be. The building as such was finished in 1988, but only a few years later communism
began to fall apart all around Eastern Europe and eventually in Albania too from ca. 1991. Instead of assuming his originally planned place of honour the body of Hoxha was exhumed from its first non-final resting place and transferred to a modest "pauper's grave" in a regular cemetery on the outskirts of Tirana (a similar fate to that of Romania
– see Bucharest
The pyramid still stood there, though – as a kind of (involuntary) symbol of the craziness of the system, which kept the general populace in poverty and without liberties, while huge sums of money were squandered on a purely representational cult-of-personality folly such as this …
So what was to become of it? For a while it was turned into an "International Centre of Culture", running ambitious art exhibitions pushing Albania's art scene into an international spotlight with some success. But this too, was not to last. Governments' jealous bickering led to the sacking of the Centre's director, and it all went pear-shaped again.
The space inside the pyramid was used as a conference centre, for trade fairs and other lacklustre uses. One part even became a night club called "Mumja" – 'the Mummy' (was the irony intentional? I don't know). This too is now mummified, i.e. closed down, gutted and locked.
Only the back of the building still appears to contain some life – there are working air-con units on the façade and a guarded car park in front on an entrance that I saw a couple of people use. The rest of the pyramid is now derelict.
And very derelict, that is. Even the white marble cladding has mostly disappeared, and the only purpose the slopes of the pyramid seem to serve is as canvas for graffiti.
For years the smooth marble "slopes" of the pyramid were "misused" by teenagers for tobogganing antics. But now on the rough concrete that seems to have become a thing of the past too.
The whole future of the pyramid is currently uncertain. Apparently there are government plans to tear it down completely to make space for a new parliament building or something. But there is opposition both within Albania and abroad. (According to SETimes.com on 3 Nov 2010 even the regional UNESCO director objected to the plans to demolish this iconic reminder of Albania's past.)
It remains to be seen what will eventually happen. In any case, it's another example of those places with great dark tourism potential in Albania
that are under threat of disappearing altogether – like virtually all vestiges of the country's communist past (see also National History Museum
). Iconoclastic re-writing of history seems to be the order of the day. Go on like this, Albania, and your whole country may have to be taken off the dark tourism map.
What there is to see: Sadly, not that much. I had seen pictures of the Pyramid (or "piramida" in Albanian) and was most eager to see it when I first went to Tirana in April 2011. What a shock. The building is barely recognizable any more. OK, the shape still there, but I wasn't prepared to find it such a state of dereliction.
The shape of the building, by the way, isn't strictly speaking a pyramid exactly. To start with, only the front part, occupying around two thirds of the whole area space, is angled in such a way as to form a pyramid-like "slope". So it's not a symmetrical structure. The angled parts are rather star-shaped – fanning out from the centre, reaching down to ground level at the front, but not at the back. The angle at which the "slope-y" front sides go from ground to top is also notably lower (more acute) than in a prototypical geometrically "ideal" pyramid (like that one associates with the great pyramids of Egypt).
But back to the current sorry state of the building: The white marble that the pyramid-like slopes fanning out from its centre used to be clad in has been scraped off. The exposed raw grey concrete is full of graffiti. The glass windows at the bottom are smashed in and partly boarded up or covered with tarp. It is more than evident that this legacy from the late Hoxha
years is anything but well looked after these days.
But the pyramid must have fallen into such a decrepit state rather recently. I've seen photos a friend of mine took of the pyramid in 2008 (and she allowed me to reproduce a couple of them in the gallery here – so you can compare as well), and back then the white marble cladding was still in place and there was very little sign of vandalism. Now it's but a sorry shadow of its former shiny glory. What has happened? Are these already signs of the threat to demolish the whole thing? (See under background info
I peeked in through the mirror glass of what used to be the front entrance – and I managed to take one photo too (see it in the gallery – the rainbow coloration is due to the mirrored glass). As you can see: it's empty save for a few piles of what looks like building materials and table with some chairs gathering dust inside. Not a hint of any conference or cultural centre.
It's a similar story with the former night club "Mumja" ('mummy') on the southern side of the pyramid. It too is looked and when you peek in through the glass door the inside looks like an abandoned building site.
Around the back – which isn't pyramid-shaped, but has high vertical walls – some of the old marble cladding survives and the graffiti reaches only so high. Still, signs of looting/vandalism even include the stripped-down air con units on the wall …
On the northern side, one part of the back section of the building appears to have some life in it still. I saw two people using the entrance – but the guards by the car park in front dissuaded me from trying to sneak inside for a look …
The top of the pyramid also shows signs of a division between use and abandonment: there's a fence with barbed wire separating the derelict front part of the pyramid from the back part, on top of which several satellite dishes are mounted (and presumably the fence is there to protect them). As it turns out, the private Albanian broadcasting company "Top Channel TV" uses this active part of the building as its main base. (So, will they be evicted when the government goes through with its plans to destroy the pyramid?)
As I wandered around the pyramid, there was one guy standing at the top of the pyramid as if standing guard. Maybe he was just taking in the view for a long time, but I prefer to believe that he was indeed guarding the pyramid, deterring further vandalism.
One graffito spelled out faint hope in a similar vein – it said "protect the pyramid" and called for protest gatherings every Saturday. I was there in the middle of the week, so I can't say if such regular rallies really do take place. But if so, I do wish them every bit of success. It would be such a shame if this extraordinary structure was simple erased too.
In the square in front of the pyramid there's an art installation/sculpture involving a "Peace Bell" – made from countless bullet cartridges from the violent 1990s! Apparently, this was made by children of the north-Albanian town of Shkoder in 1999 to serve as a peace memorial. I wonder whether it too will be swept away should the pyramid indeed get demolished … in a very ironic way that would only be fitting.
right in the centre of Tirana
, on a square immediately south of the Lana "river" and off Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit, the main central north-south axis.
Access and costs: easy to locate, free to look at, but the interior is inaccessible.
the prime location, just south of Tirana
's city centre, round the corner from the Blloku, and the extraordinary shape of the building make it almost impossible to miss. Since most of the building just sits there abandoned, you're free to look at it at any time. The main entrance is locked though, so is the door of the former Mummy night club. The only part at the back that still seems to be is use is inaccessible too, with guards by the entrance to the car park.
Time required: not long, maybe 15 minutes or so to walk around it to view the structure from all angles, and maybe even climb to the top. Most normal tourists and locals alike spend no more than a few seconds glancing at it, shaking their heads, or ignore it altogether.
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