Arch of Drashovice 1920

Drashovice Arch 1920

Drashovice Arch 1920

More on Albania …..

Arch of Drashovice 1920

The magnificent Arch of Drashovice is such an amazing structure with so much to tell us that I’m breaking the description up into three parts. This is the second and addresses the images relating to the battle in 1920 against the Italian invaders, a battle (and war) fought by an irregular army of peasants, workers and intellectuals against a heavily armed imperialist force.

I plan to describe the sculpture by starting from the panel underneath the arch and working clockwise to pick up the huge amount of activity and symbolism that’s before us. The two parts of the arch represent two distinctive events but there are some motifs that occur on both sides, another device (the bronze statue being the first) by Dhrami to show the similarities of the battles. There are also images that I have described before on other lapidars, signature images, if you like, of many of the sculptures in this intense period of memorial construction.

First we see just the head of an Albanian male, wearing a qeleshe (hat). He is looking towards the back of the arch, the direction away from all the action. But he’s still part of that action as he has his hand up to prevent the wind taking away his voice as his wide open mouth indicates he is calling for others to come and join the fight. This is a common image, seen before, for example, on the Peze War Memorial.

Almost hidden by his face and hand is an unidentified person and then we have a group of four weapons. First there’s a two-pronged pitch fork, then a scythe, next a hatchet and finally a forearm holding a rifle aloft. This is the arm of the male calling back to others. He wants others to join but he is also in the act of going forward. Partisan, guerrilla wars don’t have the force of a state behind them. There’s no quartermaster able to call upon limited resources. It’s no use them complaining to the government if they think they have been ill-equipped to deal with the enemy – as have soldiers from Britain and the USA in their illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan (and will do in whatever country is next on the list).

No, a partisan fights with whatever is at hand. If they ‘want’ a gun, or some other sophisticated weapon, then they have to take it off the enemy. The choice of agricultural implements also shows that this was a battle fought mainly by peasants and the people from the countryside. Their depiction also indicates that this could have been a battle fought in close proximity, where no quarter was asked or given and was likely to have been a desperate and bloody affair.

Below the weapons is the full body depiction of a woman, wearing the kapica head covering and a long peasant dress of the period. On her feet are sturdy sandals. Her left hand is supporting the crumpled body of a male fighter, who has obviously just been shot and on the point of death, with his eyes closed. He is unshod, footwear giving an idea of the social position of the actors in these dramas, and is wearing the clothing of a peasant, with no military aspects whatsoever, as if he had just come from the village to the battle. His right hand is holding on to the rifle strap and his left just touching the wooden butt of the rifle. The reason he hasn’t dropped his weapon is that the woman has a tight hold of the barrel in her right hand. What is interesting about her stance is that she is not looking at the dying man but looking to where the fighting is taking place, a look of determination on her face. She will take care of the wounded if she can (although he looks like it’s the end for him) but she is also a fighter ready to take up the weapons of the fallen. This looks like the same type of rifle, a Carcano M1891, that the figure in the bronze statue is holding. Just below her left foot is the name ‘M Dhrami’ and the date ‘1980’. (Not all the lapidars have the name of the sculptor/s but it’s worth looking nonetheless.)

Drashovice Arch - Dhrami 1980

Drashovice Arch – Dhrami 1980

In front of her are a group of people either already fighting or joining the battle. Close to her, and with the dying man almost falling on him, is a male fighter, kneeling. He is bare-headed and has his rifle up to his shoulder, already firing. His dress is more military in style than the dying man, with more elements of a uniform. He has an ammunition belt around his waist and a pouch hanging across his back. On his feet are sandals and he wears gaiters over his shins.

Above him and at the same level as the woman are three males. They are not yet involved in the battle but there is a sense of movement in their stance as they rush to the front. Again they look like a mix of soldiers and volunteers. The male we see most of has straps across his chest and is holding his rifle with his left hand with the top part of the barrel pressed against his shoulder. On his head is a qeleshe. Of the other two one is also wearing a qeleshe but the other is bare-headed, and again looking more like a civilian. The one with the hat also has a bushy moustache, something which is quite prominent in images of males of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We don’t know if they are armed or not but they are going anyway. This presentation of individuals in groups of three is quite common in Dhrami’s work (something I will look at in more detail in the future).

Finally, on this inside panel, and further up, are two other fighters, a male and female. She is dressed in exactly the same way as the first woman, although we only see her head and shoulders. Her rifle is up to her shoulder and she is aiming along the barrel. We can only see the head and shoulders of the male above her but he is wearing a qeleshe and what looks like a sheepskin coat – it can get cold in the mountains. He’s holding a rifle but it is not yet in action.

I haven’t come across actual statistics but already, on this first part of the telling of the 1920 battle, we get the indication that women were involved in the actual fighting against the invaders. About 16% of the partisans in the 1940s were women but their active involvement probably goes back to the early days of the 20th century, the most famous and often referred to being Shota Galica. She wasn’t at Drashovice as she was fighting further north at the time.

Shota Galica with her husband Azem

Shota Galica with her husband Azem

Stylistically we can see that the story starts low and moves further up the stone as it unfolds clockwise. This means that the main panel, the one facing the road and the village itself, is a hive of activity, images covering more than 50% of that part of the arch.

Dhrami uses a few clever devices to move the action through a 90 degree plane; the flowing cape of the partisan destroying the cannon; the broken cannon itself; and the shoulder of one of the fighters which appears just above the cape. This has the effect of making the scene appear to be as one, with the first group seeming to be slightly behind, but still part of, the main action.

Perhaps the most striking figure on this main panel is the fighter with the cape. In that figure we have a number of symbolic references. Albania is normally depicted as female, as in Mother Albania, the statue that guards over the (now desecrated) Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana. Here the country is depicted as male.

The cape is attached to his body via four straps which are held together with a clasp in the middle of his chest. On this clasp is the double-headed eagle and by adding this symbol the cape then becomes a flag, which all those who are not yet in the battle are running towards. It spreads out behind him, a clarion call to all patriots. He’s a big and strong man, though not necessarily young, sporting both a beard and a moustache. He’s wearing a qeleshe on his head, he is a peasant, the rock on which 1920s Albania was built.

And he’s doing the impossible, pulling apart a mountain cannon with his bare hands. His right hand is gripping the opening of the muzzle and his left on the outside of the barrel to break the cannon itself from its fixing. His success in achieving the impossible is the broken fixing and wheel in front of the kneeling fighter already described. Also broken away is the flash guard. He’s doing all this bare-foot and although we cannot see the left foot we can assume he is using that to press down on the gun and get more purchase. His bare right foot is crushing the crown of the coat of arms of the Italian monarchy, breaking it away from the shield of Savoy (which was a white (Greek) cross on a red background).

So here we have ‘Father Albania’ destroying, with his bare hands, the military might of the Italian Army and in the process seriously damaging the power of the Italian Monarchy and breaking any hold it might have over Albania. (The fact that the self-proclaimed ‘king’ and despot, Zogu, was to sell out his country to the Italian Fascists before the decade was out is neither here nor there. Such cowards and opportunists are always with us and it was only in 1944 that Albania was able to achieve the real independence that so many had been struggling to achieve for centuries. The fact that the present day rulers of the country have thrown away that success should also not come as surprise. Sycophants, country-sellers and forelock-tuggers are always queueing up to fight over the crumbs from imperialism’s table.)

A further possible reference here is to the guerrilla fighter of the time of the wars against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, Mic Sokoli. He went down in legend as dying by pressing his own body against the Turkish cannon at the battle of Silvova in April 1881 (a deed for which he was later awarded the title ‘hero of the People’).

Mic Sokoli - Sali Shijaku - 1976

Mic Sokoli – Sali Shijaku – 1976

Now things really start to get busy with a lot of activity as the battle heats up with more Albanian patriots arriving to crush the Italian invaders. Behind the gun destroying hero are three faces, two over his left and one over his right shoulder. One is armed with a scythe whilst we can see the ends of two gun barrels. They are not yet fighting but are on their way, determination etched on their faces.

Going further up we see the upper torso and arms of a single peasant fighter. He has a large hatchet in both hands but whilst his stance is one of attack he is looking back over his shoulder, both leading by example and calling for others to join the fight – we can see his mouth is open. Once you have the tactical advantage in any battle lack of commitment can lead to victory morphing into defeat.

Further upwards still and moving into the centre of the facade there is a group of three males. Due to their scale, stance and position these would seem to be a command group. The very nature of the countryside means that this group would likely to have been in the hills, looking down on the fighting and getting an overall picture of the situation. Whilst most of the individuals in the 1920 story are dressed in the clothing of the countryside the male on the right is dressed in town clothes, perhaps representing the small working class or the pro-independence, intellectual element within the country. He is clean-shaven and bare-headed whilst his two companions are moustachioed and wear qylafës (woollen hats). His left arm is bent and his hand clasps the lapel of his jacket. In his right hand he holds the top of the barrel of a rifle, the butt resting on the ground. He is not looking at the action but to some location in the distance, down the valley. Around his waist he wears ammunition pouches so is ready to fight but not doing so at the moment.

The man behind him is wearing the traditional countryside type of clothing and his right hand is on a shoulder strap of something we cannot see. The third of the group is not armed, as far as we can see, as he is the standard-bearer, the flag with the double-headed eagle fluttering above the three of them. These last two are also not looking at the battle below, more they are looking at the viewer.

Now almost at the top of the action on this part of the monument is a group of four males, all dressed in traditional clothing of the countryside. The male on the extreme right is in full figure and is clean-shaven. We can see he is wearing a fustanella, together with the tsarouhi style shoes, hobnailed and with the ball of sheepskin at the toe (which is also depicted on the Education Monument in Gjirokaster) and a qylafë on his head. There’s an ammunition belt across his chest and his cloak flutters out to his left. He seems to be climbing up hill but is looking up into the sky. He holds a rifle by the trigger mechanism in his right hand and his left hand is clenched, in anger, determination or victory, the 1920 version of the high five? We’ll see why that might be the case in a short while.

Behind him is another male wearing a sheepskin xhakete. He’s bare-headed and sports a moustache. His right hand is gripping the straps across his chest and in his left hand he holds out his rifle in triumph.

The other two males in this group are close together and are situated just above the fluttering national flag of the standard-bearer. Both have their rifles up to their shoulders and are firing downwards. This is almost always the case on Albanian lapidars. The country is mountainous and throughout history the partisans and guerrillas have used that to their advantage and this firing downwards is symbolic of that way of fighting. It also represents the moral and political high ground.

As we come back down along the left hand edge of the panel we see why the two fighters on the right hand side were so triumphant. Here we see a fighter biplane but it’s not attacking it’s falling from the sky, a plume of smoke following it as it crashes. The cross of Savoy is on the tail fin. This has just been shot out of the sky by the marksmen in the mountains. It’s difficult to identify exactly what make of aircraft but it was probably something left over from the First World War as there didn’t seem to be much development of military aircraft in the country until Mussolini came to power in 1922.

Drashovice Arch - Italian Biplane

Drashovice Arch – Italian Biplane

As the biplane falls to destruction in the background the next group on this left hand side is a group of five males, all with rifles to their shoulders and firing in the same direction. They are on the same level as the command group but as we come back down the panel the fighting gets more intense, more fierce and more hand to hand. If this is an accurate description of what actually happened during those days in 1920 then it was something that repeated the close quarters fighting of the trenches during the 1914-18 war. As has now become a pattern these five men represent the various areas of the country and class background already seen, with traditional clothing to something more akin to an early 20th century military uniform.

Moving again to the centre there’s the image of a peasant woman. She’s wearing the kapica headdress (seen earlier) and over her dress a sheepskin jacket. Her left hand is resting on her chest and her right hand grips the barrel of a rifle. She’s looking down the valley and has a concerned look on her face. I’m not really sure what she is doing or represents. She’s the only woman on this panel which shows the battle in full swing but she’s not actually doing anything. She’s looking towards the images of the 1943 battle but I don’t know if that’s significant.

Below her we are right in the front line. Here we have four males involved in hand to hand combat but they are all doing so in a different way. On the far left hand side the partisan is pulling apart the Italian barricade with his bare hands. Whilst he holds his rifle by the barrel in his left hand he places his sheepskin jacket over the barbed wire and wooden crosses so as to be able to get over and take the battle to the enemy. Along this protective barrier we can make out the barbed wire that was used to make the barrier that more difficult to breach – but it doesn’t seem to be that effective. He’s wearing the typical peasant shirt, with wide sleeves and the woollen hat.

Next to him, on his left, is a somewhat unusual image of a male fighter. In his right hand he holds a meat cleaver but even though he’s right in the middle of the action and so meagrely armed he’s looking to his back as if looking for more support. He’s dressed as if from the town and perhaps wondering what brought him to such a situation.

To his left is the only Albanian with a modern weapon in this dangerous part of the action. Here a peasant has his rifle in a position to fire, the enemy being literally only a few feet away. Around his waist he has spare ammunition, if he survives such close combat. The last of this group of four is also a peasant in traditional country dress but he only has a wooden, three-pronged pitchfork as a weapon – although he appears to be using it in a very effective manner, it is raised high and he’s about to bring it down on the enemy with all his strength. One of these last two is wearing sandals, the other the opinga shoes.

This part of the tableau shows the very moment of the Albanians breaking through the Italian defences as beneath their feet we can make out the broken wood, with the pieces of barbed wire attached.

We have already seen that everything that could be used as a weapon had been brought into play and this only goes to demonstrate the nature of the war – a people’s war against the invader, whatever might be the cost to individuals.

These are the last of the Albanians on this part of the sculpture.

The remaining characters are seven of the Italians. Their stance, body language is the complete reverse to that of the Albanians. The Albanians are on the attack, they are confident, they are sure of themselves, however badly armed they might be. They know they are going to win as they are defending their own land whilst the invader is merely a paid soldier doing the bidding of a misguided monarch.

So all the Italian soldiers are falling back, they look weak, they look on the brink of defeat. They have nothing further to bring to the battle. Their superiority in military technology has shown itself to be ineffective, the artillery is shown as being broken up and the air power is crashing to the ground.

These soldiers are from the Bersaglieri corps, recognisable by the capercaillie feathers on their helmets. (This is the corps of the Italian army whose ‘fanfara’ (band) play on the run, an image you might have seen at some time in the past.) This is not their finest hour.

Of two of them we can only see the helmets, both bowed either in submission or to protect themselves from the meat cleaver that’s only a matter of inches away. Two are still firing but looking desparate as the Albanians break through their lines. A bearded officer has fallen back and is sitting on his haunches. He still has a rifle in his right hand but he’s not attempting to use it to try to prevent the onslaught of the enemy. Immediately to his left a soldier has both hands in the air, in the act of surrender, and to the officer’s back there’s slumped and lifeless body of a dead or wounded Italian.

An interesting novelty can be seen between the heads of the two bowed helmets and the two still fighting. Here there’s an entrenching shovel pointing upwards. These were used as auxiliary weapons when it came to close combat and would seem to demonstrate how desperate the battle was for all concerned, grab anything for protection or assault. Just behind that tool it’s possible to make out the muzzle and barrel tripod of a light machine gun, now no longer effective or in use.

This whole battle scene encompasses the war, the many battles and the final victory of the Albanians over the Italian invaders, who were soon to leave from the near-by port of Vlora for the trip back home.

Although I can’t say for sure research has led me to believe that (based on their areas of activity) the Albanian Commander was Sali Vranisht, in command of forces from Lumi i Vlores, and the commander of the Italian forces a Major Guadalupi.

Background to the war.

Here it’s perhaps worth while mentioning that the defeat of the Italians in their effort to divide and dismember Albania in 1920 wasn’t just the defeat of that nation but of the overall plans of western imperialism and it designs on the Balkans. It’s no accident that the Italian invasion took place almost exactly a year after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended hostilities between Germany and the Western European powers, and was where the so-called ‘western powers’ sought to divide the spoils of the defeated enemy, especially the Ottoman Empire.

Conflicts between the western imperialist powers and Russia had meant that the Balkans were an area of concern, conflict and intervention for most of the second half of the 19th century and those interests were revived after the carnage of the First World War. The 1917 October Revolution in Russia added another dimension to this long-held policy of limiting and squeezing, now a proletarian led, Russia. Although through the battle of Drashovice (amongst others during the short war) western imperialist interests were set back that didn’t mean that those aims were forgotten. Within a year of the ending of the Second World War the British used military might in an attempt to intimidate the new People’s republic of Albania.

Yet more vandalism?

When I had the opportunity to visit this magnificent example of socialist realist art for the first time in May 2015 I left pleased that I had visited a lapidar that had survived without any significant damage due to vandalism, whether officially sanctioned or not. Yes, there was a little bit of paint graffiti but that seemed the work of bored children with a pot of paint. It wasn’t till I started to really look at the pictures closely I realised something was amiss.

This is a remarkably symmetrical piece of work. Dhrami is constantly drawing parallels between the two events that were separated by those 23 years. This will become clearer when I describe the images of the battle against the Nazis in 1943. Symmetry is everywhere: the location of the images that tell the two stories; the location of the slogans; the location of the symbols; the positioning of the players or incidents that Dhrami is depicting; down to the height of the carvings in the stone. One side is a mirror image of the other, only the weapons and the clothing are different.

It is the height difference that shows that something has been changed. When, why, by whom or why I presently have no idea. What makes this vandalism even more confusing is that it has been perpetrated on the 1920 side of the arch. It’s normally the Communist emblems and symbols that have been attacked by mindless fascists but here it has something to do with a pre-Communist period.

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

If you look at the whole arch you will notice that the images on the right hand side go up a metre or two higher than they do on the left. One of the aspects of this piece of work that is noticeable is the way Dhrami merges the images in the story he wants to tell. Figures overlap, we rarely see full figures as another story needs the space. However, a closer look at the top of the carvings of the 1920 story show something different.

Drashovice Arch - the missing images - Mumtaz Dhrami

Drashovice Arch – the missing images – Mumtaz Dhrami

The merging of the images seems to stop with the four males fighters, and the very top of the design is the celebratory raised gun after the shooting down of the biplane. But there’s something further up. Am I the only one to make out a head, almost at the centre, with possibly something like a gun barrel pointing downwards? To me it appears as if a small group has been erased. If you were to draw a horizontal line across the void under the arch the top of this group would be at exactly the same height as the top of the highest group on the right hand side. I’ve searched but the only picture I’ve been able to see that was taken before 1990 of this arch is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to see what (if, indeed, anything) was there.

The carvings are on these two sides of the four of the arch but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the other two.

Carrying on in a clockwise direction, the next panel, north facing, tells the story, that we have already seen in pictures, in words together with symbols that had meaning at the time, that is 1920.

Quite high up the Albanian two-headed eagle seems to emerge from the stone. This is cleverly done as we know exactly what it is without the whole creature being shown. Whereas the left side of is in relief text takes the place of the feathers on the right.

The text reads:

Evropa shkruajnë e thonë, ç’është kështi si dëgjojmë, bënet dyfek në Vlorë, shqipëtarët po lëftojnë, me një mbret dyzet milione. Po me se lëftojnë vallë, me sëpata me hanxharë, dyfeqet lidhur me gjalmë, fishekët në xhep i mbajnë, në tri ditë bukë hanë.

(This is written in Tosk Albanian, so slightly different from what you’ll find in most dictionaries.)

This translates to:

Europe will write and talk about, with rifle fire being heard in Vlora, the struggle of the Albanians against a king of a population of forty million. How they fought with axes, scythes and rifles, held together with string, keeping their bullets back and not eating bread for three days.

The reference to ‘forty million’ is significant if you remember that even during the National Liberation War of 1939-1944 the population of Albania was still less than one million. Although the road to Vlora, even today, takes about 45 minutes the city is only a few kilometres as the crow flies – the problem is the mountain range in the way. It’s very likely that inhabitants of the coastal town would have heard the sounds of gunfire reverberating in the Shushicë valley.

Poking up, just behind the head of the eagle on the right side are the tops of the weapons used in 1920, that is, an axe, a scythe and an old rifle.

Finally, on the last face, a huge left hand is tightly gripping a rifle close to the muzzle. The forearm disappears and becomes the number 1920, in large numerals. To the left are the dates between which the battle was fought:

5 qershor 3 shtator – 5th June 3rd September

This is followed by the words:

Lufta e Vlorës në vitin 1920 është një epope e shkëlqyer e fshatarësisë patriotike të Vlorës e Kurveleshit, Tepelenës e Mallakastrës e të gjithë popullit shqiptar që hodhën në det pushtuesit italianë.

Which translates as:

The Vlora War of 1920 is a remarkable epic of the patriotic Albanian peasantry from Kurveleshi, Vlora, Mallakastra, and Tepelenë who drove the Italian invaders into the sea.

As this is such a complex and detailed lapidar I intend to describe its complexity over the course of three posts. This is the second of the three. The others can be found under the name of ‘Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue‘ and ‘Arch of Drashovice 1943‘.

Getting there:

I’ve found the best place to pick up a furgon that goes along the Shushicë Valley is by waiting beside the road in the square opposite the Vlora Baskia on Rruga Perlat Rexhepi (the Historical Museum is at the Vlora end of this road). Other furgons leave from this point but you want a furgon that comes the centre of town. Just flag down any one that comes from that direction (possibly going to Mavrovë or Kotë) and ask for Drashovice.





40° 26′ 48.5485” N

19° 35′ 11.5837” E



More on Albania …..

Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

More on Albania …..

Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue

A journey along the valley of the Shushicë River is interesting under any circumstances, the road is rough in places (most places) but the view of the mountains and the countryside is astounding and makes the effort worth it. When you add the Arch of Drashovice 1920-1943 it’s almost an obligation.

The Drashovice arch is truly a monumental monument. It attempts to tell a story of two important battles that took place in almost the same location, separated by a period of 23 years, both of which significant in the struggle for the national liberation of the Albanian people.

The monthly political and informative review, Albania Today, published monthly from the end of 1971 until the end of 1990, described the monument thus, reporting a visit that Enver Hoxha made to the region in the beginning of 1981:

The moments of Comrade Enver Hoxha’s visit to the monument ‘Drashovice 1920-1943’ were very moving. This monument, the work of the People’s Sculptor Muntaz Dhrami and the architects Klement Kolaneci and Petrit Hazbiu, is erected in memory of two battles waged in different historical periods in the same place – in Drashovice. It is devoted to the legendary epic of the war of the Albanian people in 1920 for the liberation of Vlora from the Italian occupiers, and another legendary battle which took place in September 1943 after the capitulation of fascist Italy, and in which the partisan forces, led by the People’s Hero Hysni Kapo, routed the German invaders who replaced the Italian troops. The battle went on for more than 20 days and ended in a great victory for the partisan forces.

The monument, which was put up last year, is a work of art which will perpetuate in the centuries the unconquerable strength of the Albanian people in their struggles against the enemy, and their heroism in their legendary wars for freedom and independence. It renders clearly the great idea that freedom is won and defended with blood. With its masterly idea-artistic solution, the monument is a success of their authors and a new contribution to the further enrichment and development of our monumental sculpture.

Albania Today, No 3, (May-June) 1981

Mumtaz Dhrami is the sculptor responsible for some of the finest examples of Socialist Realist sculptural art in the 1970s and 1980s, such as can be found in Peze and Gjirokaster. Many of his works of art have been collaborations with other sculptors but this one is only credited to him, and yet it is by far the biggest and most complex in the country. It was completed in 1980. His name and the date of inauguration can be seen at the bottom of the interior of the arch, on the right hand side.

Each half of the arch would stand as an impressive monument in itself but by bringing the two incidents together Dhrami unites the two battles as being part of the overall struggle. Separate they merely celebrate victorious battles against successive foreign invaders but together they refer to the Declaration of Independence in November 1944, the aim of Albanians over the centuries.

However, it was only under the leadership of the Communist Party that real independence was achieved and at the apex of the arch an image, in bronze, of the Albanian flag is surmounted by a star proudly declaring that reality.

Drashovice Arch - Star and National Flag

Drashovice Arch – Star and National Flag

All the decorated Albanian lapidars tell a story but whereas the majority are either short stories or novellas the arch at Drashovice is akin to ‘War and Peace’ with the amount taking place on all the four faces of the arch.

If coming from the direction of Vlora the arch is on the left side, across from the road that takes you over the bridge to the small village of Drashovice itself. There’s a small shop, with an attached bar, at the junction but little else on this side of the river. From the road there are two flights of five low steps which lead to the first element of the sculpture, the a statue, in bronze, of two fighters, one from each era.

Drashovice Arch 1920 and 1943

Drashovice Arch 1920 and 1943

They are depicted as if standing on a mountain, the one on the right (representing the period of the 1920s) is slightly lower than his more recent counterpart. He is dressed in the costume of a warrior from the mountains at the beginning of the 20th century, that is a qeleshe (felt hat), xhakete (jacket) with a cape, a fustanella (a skirt-like garment worn by men) and on his feet opinga, a hob-nailed sandal, turned up at the toe. Around his waist he wears an ammunition belt and has a pouch at his waist hanging from a shoulder strap.

His left hand grips the barrel of his rifle whilst the right is gripping the top of the firing mechanism. This looks like it’s a Carcano M1891. This was originally Italian made but did get exported to other countries in the Balkan region so this might have been acquired ‘legitimately’ or taken from the Italian invaders – the normal manner in which partisan (and guerrilla) armies arm themselves. On the butt there’s what looks like a carving of the double-headed eagle and a name curving around the top of that carving. It’s difficult to read the exact letters (I didn’t notice the carving when I was there earlier in 2015 but will check it on my next visit) but understand that carving designs, initials or names was a common practice at the time, showing both allegiance and possession. There’s a thick rope shoulder strap for ease of carrying.

Drashovice Arch - Symbol of Italian Defeat

Drashovice Arch – Symbol of Italian Defeat

His right leg is bent and his foot is resting on the ruins of a small mountain cannon. This is more than likely a Cannone da 70/15, which was produced at the beginning of the century but still in use in the Italian Army up to the time of WWII. (The 70 is the size in mm and the 15 the calibre.) On the arch there’s an image of a partisan pulling this gun apart with his bare hands. (A mountain gun of this sort was used two weeks after the Drashovice victory, in the mountains above Sauk, to attack the Quisling Assembly in Tirana.) Finally, he seems to be looking up to the 1943 Partisan, both literally and metaphorically.

The Second World War soldier is dressed as an officer in the liberation army. As normal he wears a cap with the star at the front and around his neck what would have been a red bandana, both indications that he was a Communist. A lanyard around his neck is attached to a pistol in its holster. Around his waist he’s wearing an ammunition belt, on the right side of which is attached a Mills bomb (British made grenade). The British were always trying to undermine the Communists in Albania, and continued to do so after the war, but according to a number of lapidars they did supply occasional munitions. His uniform is one that would have been able to deal with the cold of the Albanian mountain winter.

In his left hand he is holding what is almost certainly a Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun. This was produced in large number in Italy by 1943 and this would have been appropriated from the defeated Italian Army which had given up the war only a few days before the start of the Drashovice battle. This was a good choice of weapon as it was considered to be one of the finest of the comparable weapons produced at the time. (Here it might be worth mentioning that some of those Italians stayed in Albania and fought the Nazis with the Partisans and there are memorials to their contribution in Berat, Krujë and Çerënec.)

I have been told that this is not necessarily a statue of Hysni Kapo, the Partisan commander during the 1943 battle, but if the 1920 fighter is identified as a particular commander in the earlier battle against an invader then, I would assume, that this could, indeed, be Kapo.

Drashovice Arch - Eternal Flame

Drashovice Arch – Eternal Flame

Between the statue and the arch itself there’s what looks to me like an ‘eternal flame’ site. If that’s the case I don’t know if it was continually lit or only on special, ceremonial occasions. These aren’t common on Albanian lapidars but there are similar arrangement at the Monument to the Peze Conference and also at the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Elbasan.

As this is such a complex and detailed lapidar I intend to describe its complexity over the course of three posts. These will go under the name of ‘Arch of Drashovice 1920‘ and ‘Arch of Drashovice 1943‘.

Getting there:

I’ve found the best place to pick up a furgon that goes along the Shushicë Valley is by waiting beside the road in the square opposite the Vlora Baskia on Rruga Perlat Rexhepi (the Historical Museum is at the Vlora end of this road). Other furgons leave from this point but you want a furgon that comes the centre of town. Just flag down any one that comes from that direction (possibly going to Mavrovë or Kotë) and ask for Drashovice.





40° 26′ 48.5485” N

19° 35′ 11.5837” E



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Partisan and Child, Borove

Partisan and Child, Borove

Partisan and Child, Borove

More on Albania …..

Partisan and Child, Borove

The statue of a Partisan and Child, just beside the main road passing through the small village of Borove in the south-east of the country, is one of the most charming of Albanian monuments but its charm obscures a much darker story. That story is less obvious now than it was in 1968 when it was created, in a different location and part of a bigger tableau.

It is the work of two sculptors, Ilia Xhano and Piro Dollaku, and the original design incorporated a panel depicting people from the village as well as a tall lapidar with a star at its summit. This was erected on the rocky outcrop upon which the Martyrs’ Cemetery was built, across the main road from the bulk of the present village.

Monument to Borova, Erseke - 01

Monument to Borova, Erseke – 01

I won’t go into a great detail here (I’ll leave that for when I write about the description of the present arrangement at the cemetery) but it will make sense of what follows if you know that the original monument was constructed to commemorate those who died at the hands of the Nazis on July 9th 1943. (Such events making the construction of the German War Memorial in Tirana and insult to their memory.)

At that time Albania was under the nominal control of the Italian Fascists but the German variety were in Greece. A few days before the massacre a German army convoy used Albania as a shortcut to join other forces in Greece. As it passed close to the village of Borove it was attacked by a unit of the Albanian National Liberation Army. A battle ensued for a few hours but eventually the convoy was able to continue along its way.

The German High Command decided to pay the Albanian people for their impertinence in defending their national integrity and three days after the attack on the convoy returned to the village and killed all they could find, as was usually the case in such massacres in wartime, mainly women, children and old men. Those who weren’t shot were herded into the village church and then burnt alive. A total of 107 people were killed that day. Before they left the Fascists burnt down or otherwise destroyed every building in the village.

This herding of the people is what is depicted on the panel of the original monument. (It still exists having been placed on the wall at the entrance to the cemetery.)

Monument to Borova, Erseke - 03

Monument to Borova, Erseke – 03

If we now return to the statue we find that we have a different story and I’m not sure why the decision was made to change the narrative. I have no exact date when the changes were made but from other indicators probably sometime in the mid-1980s. It was also probably at that time that the plaster sculpture was replaced by the more substantial bronze version that we see now.

Before the story was clear. On the left the panel depicting the last moments of some of the villagers. In the middle the column with the star at the top symbolising the victory of the Communists in liberating their country. On the right the Partisan and Child symbolised the fact that it was the Partisan Army that threw the Fascists out of the country, the rifle on his shoulder emphasising that what had been gained by the gun could only be defended by the gun (as I suggested in my description of some of the images on the Gjirokaster Education monument) and his protective hand on the young girl’s shoulder making references to the future.

But in its present location that narrative is not there. Socialist Realist Art is not just about the image but the message that the image is attempting to communicate. It’s still a fine statue. It still has meaning – but that meaning has been lessened.

As in most partisan statues he has the star on his cap and what would have been the red bandana around his neck declaring that he is a Communist. He’s armed and prepared and willing to fight, he did so in the past he will do so in the future. His right foot is pressed down on a German Nazi soldier’s helmet symbolising the crushing and destruction of Fascism (although we should always remember Bertolt Brecht’s words ‘Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.’). His right hand holds the strap of his rifle, which is slung over his shoulder, and his left hand rests on the girl’s shoulder. This is indicating a willingness to protect her (and by inference all other children and the construction of Socialism) as well as a passing on of the task of fighting for, and defending once gained, that which was offered to the Albania people in 1943 with the winning of independence. Now, I accept, that some of that younger generation didn’t come up to the task but that’s by the by.

In its original context this protective and caring gesture had another meaning. Of the images on the panel there are two women, one cradling and using her own body to protect a babe in arms and another clutching a young boy close to her body. They were unarmed, they died. Mirroring this gesture the Partisan is saying I, and the future, will not die so easily.

Monument to Borova, Erseke - 02

Monument to Borova, Erseke – 02

I first saw this statue on my first visit to Albania in 2011, fleetingly, only for a matter of a second or so out of the corner of my eye as the bus passed through the village. Having had the chance to study it on a quite, sunny and warm, late May afternoon it lived up to its promise.

Borove probably doesn’t have many more people living there now than it did at the time of the massacre in 1943 but it boasts incredibly fine examples of art from the Socialist period. There’s a dignity emanating from this couple. They are confident, they know what they need to do, they know that it won’t be easy but they are determined. Both stand straight and firm, heads held high, looking to the future.

It’s also unique (at least so far from my experience) in that this is the first sculpture which places such a young child (and a female one at that, as I wrote in my post about the project in general, one of the aims of Albania’s Cultural revolution was to emphasis the role of women in society, past, present and future) in such a prominent role. There are children in other monuments but not as the main player. Here she is smaller but still an equal with the soldier.

Borove Museum and Martyrs' Cemetery

Borove Museum and Martyrs’ Cemetery

I may not be sure why the original sculpture was broken up but I can see logic in placing the Partisan and Child where it is. Most Martyrs’ Cemeteries had a small museum eventually connected to them. I’ve not encountered one that is still intact and many of them were looted in the 1990s – whether by enemies or friends of Socialism is unsure. Directly across the road from the sculpture is a space, right next to the hill, that shows signs of a recent renovation of the windows and doors – certainly later than 1990. Whatever work was started it was put on hold some time ago. If it was a ‘working’ museum the statue opposite the entrance would make sense.

New position of the statue

Partisan and Child - Borove - New position

Partisan and Child – Borove – New position

On a visit to Borove in the early autumn of 2019 I was shocked to see, when I came into the village from the direction of Erseke, an empty plinth where I expected to see one of my favourite Albanian lapidars.

However, it was relief that on looking to the other side of the road I saw that the Partisan and Child had be re-positioned and now stands on a lower plinth in front of the small structure under the martyrs’ Cemetery mound. As it now stands on a lower plinth it’s now possible to have a good walk around the statue and fell the texture of the bronze.

I assume the building, that has never been anything but a dirty and empty room, was originally designed as a museum but if it ever operated as such I don’t know. The road from Erseke to Permet is a particularly quiet road, even by Albanian standards. Few vehicles pass during the day and even fewer would even know, or notice, the statue and realise there’s a large memorial cemetery atop the mound around which the road winds as it leaves the village and heads south. And on the handful of occasions I’ve been to Borove I’ve never actually seen anyone walking in the village. Nonetheless it would be paying respect of the murdered villagers if there was some sort of memorial in the form of a museum inside the building.

The lack of a museum, which tells the story of the event during the national Liberation War, means the slaughter of the villages by the Nazis in retaliation for a Partisan ambush in the hills above the village is being forgotten. The only time the people are remembered is when the German Embassy makes a meaningless gesture of atonement on the anniversary of the murders on July 9th – although I’m not sure if that still takes place every year.


If you are heading south, coming from the direction of Erseke, the sculpture is (now) on the right hand side as you come into the village of Borove, in front of the abandoned museum below the cemetery mound. Blink and you’ll miss it as the road twists and turns as it goes around the rocky outcrop of the cemetery and then leaves Borove behind.





40° 18′ 39.3408” N

20° 39′ 9.5077” E



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