Good Morning to you all!
Today it’s been a week and two days since we arrived in Gjirokastra but it feels like a year already. Even though we still haven’t been around the city or the castle we know our little world around the bazaar and the office as our own “back pocket” This we mean literally because at night it is so dark and there’s no street lights that in the beginning we would stumble over the cobble stone but now we know the way without falling once!
This has been a busy week with a lot of impressions, so many in fact that we are overwhelmed and a bit tired at the moment. It is also tiring and inspirational all at once the possibilities of tourism we see and experience every day. Let me in this blog focus on two examples: The Skandali house and the Ethnographic museum.
Let’s do this by pretending that you are a tourist who has made our way to Gjirokastra because you heard it was a world heritage city. You sleep a night in a hotel and in the morning you want to go explore. Surprisingly enough there is no information center. Hmmm… You ask in the hotel and they might say, follow the signs. So you go out and somewhere in the town you see a sign saying “ethnographic museum” and “Skenduli house” You follow the signs and find these huge old stone houses next to each other.
Ethnographic museum has a simple sign outside saying “ethnographic museum”, Skenduli house a sign with some more information, but it is so far up you need binoculars to see it.
The Ethnographic Museum
Luckily the ethnographic museum is open when you arrive. (the door is open so you assume it is anyway). You might enter carefully as you don’t know but you are met by an old lady coming down from the second floor. She smiles and asks you for 200LEK (in english!) which is about 12 SEK for the entrance. She then follows you around this labyrinth of an house and tells you about each room. If you start asking question you realize she xan answer them all but that is only if you ask, otherwise it is a very “free guided tour” up to you interest and time. The museum is actually just 40 years old and before it was the the birth place of the communist leader Enver Hoxa, but nothing is said about this if you don’t ask (communism still being a somewhat sensitive issue). But the house is amazing! It shows the folk costumes and cultural artifacts typical of a wealthy Gjirokastra family of merchants or Ottoman administrators living in the 19th Century. And there is no information, ropes, glass boxes, no reception or souvenir shop or anything else touristic. Can you then call it a museum? It’s more the feeling of stepping into this old lady’s house with the exception of a couple of handmade socks for sale that hangs from wooden beams. It is very cold inside and together with the lack of tourist information it makes it feel as if time has stood still and the owners just stepped out. In a good way that is, even though it’s not the intention –In the money was there for investments information boards and other typical tourist comfortableness is likely to appear for better or worse. Definitelythe authentic feeling and uniqueness would be affected.
But the lack of money takes dramatical forms as we enter a room where another lady sits (awaiting better times?) She sits on the edge of an old sofa. Water leaks from the roof and a black bin bag has been positioned to create a pond in the sofa. The most natural thing in the world one would assume from her expression. Even in that perspective time stands still, a little dripping is all you hear. With this in mind you leave the Ethnographic museum and move on to Skenduli house.
The Skenduli House
A little old man greets you saying something that sounds like “Chkemi”- Hello! He speaks no English. A brochure is placed in your hands as you pay 200LEK for the entrance fee.
Then you are left alone. To wonder and exhale an “aaaaahhh” for this beautiful house- one of the most beautiful examples for vernacular Gjirokastra architecture, as the brochure tells you. It is a kind of kulla house from 18th century which is a tower house. What this means you have to find out for yourself. The brochure gives you some basic information on other details as seen is the picture.
What the brochure doesn’t tell you are the hidden things, the use of the details, which I know since I went there with Albert, the director of Gjirokastra regional directorate of culture and monuments. He told me the old man is the owner of this house and he runs it all by himself nowadays. It used to be the ethnographic museum but it moved to Enver Hoax house. Albert shows me the inside a cupboard where a hatch can be pulled to secretly lock the door from the inside. In the kitchen he explained what kinds of food would be cooked and how using the kitchenware. The kitchenware, which at first in my mind only were labeled and appreciated for their esthetics, suddenly got another dimension of interest as their use were presented to me. Appreciation and information which for the regular tourist would be lost! An important part of the soul of the Skenduli house would pass you by, lurking in the description of these details, hidden by the simplest thing as a translation represent.
As you go home to your hotel room you Google both of these houses but there is no information to be found. Some general on architecture of the city but they have no webpage or links to sites on the houses. Check for example what Wikipedia has to say about the ethnographic museum here
And these are just two examples where you creative student mind goes wild with imagination about what could be done. Simple things like an English guide, signage improvement, websites etc. What opportunity here lies! And Gjirokastra is full with them. Fantastic and at the same time so far away because the money issue and the mentality here, to most of the suggestion I provide I am answered ”Really, Would tourist be interested in that??” I really wish and hope I can help with some of this in the next following weeks. Maybe and hopefully just being here, showing our interest, we can change this and make them see that their cultural heritage in well worthy of more exposure and pride.