Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

 

Monument to the Artillery - Sauk

Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

Although the plan is to attempt to record all the monuments from the socialist period in Albania’s history there are, and will be, occasions when I will have arrived too late. Either the ‘democrats’ (a mixture of monarchists and neo-fascists) have got there first and destroyed the works of Socialist Realist art as it represents all that they despise and fear – such as any of the statues of Enver Hoxha – or those lumpen elements who see only scrap value in a piece of metal – that has led to the damage to the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig in the northern city of Shkodër. Destruction and vandalism has been the fate of the Monument to the Artillery in the hills to the south of Tirana, close to the town of Sauk.

Even during the time of socialism in Albania this area was probably not that accessible. Now abandoned, two military barracks and a network of tunnels had been constructed on the ridge that looks down on the artificial lake and the forested area that is Tirana Park.

During the National Liberation War this would have been even more inaccessible, with no drivable roads from the valley to the ridge. However, this inaccessibility didn’t prevent a unit of the 3rd Shock Brigade of the Partisan army from transporting a short-barrelled mountain gun to the top in order to disrupt the plans of the German Nazis from establishing some element of legitimacy to their occupation of the country with the setting up of a ‘Quisling’ government.

The date chosen for this sham was the 18th October 1943 and on that day the Albanian traitors met in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace on the outskirts of the city of Tirana. This building seems to be a magnet for fascists, traitors and despots as this is where the remains of Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog) were interred when they were brought back to Albania in 2012.

Firing across the valley the small piece of artillery hit its target and caused the suspension of the meeting. For this reason, following the independence of the country with the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of the country from all foreign forces at the end of November 1944, the 18th October was declared the Day of the Artillery of the People’s Army.

And for that reason the Monument to the Artillery of the National Liberation Army was established in the hills above Sauk.

The monument involved the work, skill and imagination of three sculptors – Kristaq Rama, Muntas Dhrami, Shaban Hadëri (who also collaborated on a number of other sculptures, including Mother Albania at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery and the Monument to Independence in Vlora) – and the architect R Kote.

(It’s perhaps pertinent here to make a comment about the construction of monumental art in a socialist society. An aspect which makes Socialist Realism not only an art for a specific class of people but also a new way of producing public art is the collaborative manner in which artists are encouraged to work. This is a big issue and I don’t intend to go into any greater detail here but the individuality that most ‘intellectuals’ crave, demand and expect gets challenged in a socialist society. This might explain why some of those Albanian intellectuals and artists now hold the views they do. Examples of this would be the writer Ismail Kadare who no longer lives in his own country; Agim Nebiu, who was an active participant in the vandalism of the Albania Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, of which he was one of the designers; and Hektor Dule, who created the statue of Azim Hajdari, one of the leaders of the counter-revolution in 1990.)

The artillery monument was constructed of concrete with the relief being of bronze. Inauguration was in 1968.

The columns were typical of the style that was adopted throughout the country. This time two rectangular columns, of about 10 metres, are at right angles to each other with the shape of a star cut into a red background almost at the top of the tower. The base on which these columns sit was faced with white and red marble on to which the story of the attack on the Quisling assembly was written. In 2014 there were only small fragments of the marble in existence, most of it being smashed and some of it still littering the site.

A wall that held the bronze bas-relief has completely disappeared, as has the metal. Whether this was stolen out of pure theft or political vandalism I don’t, as yet, know for certain. This today is still an isolated site but 20 or 30 years ago would have been more so. That would have made either option relatively easy and unobserved.

The relief depicted six Partisan fighters, five men and one woman. The lead man has a pair of binoculars up to his face and would have been looking in the direction of the Victor Emmanuel III Palace. Behind him is a woman with a rifle on her back.

Next is the gun crew and their short barrelled mountain gun. There’s a commander pointing in the direction of fire and a gun aimer is down on his knees making the necessary adjustments to the angle of the barrel to determine the range and trajectory of the shell. Behind him a Partisan holds the shell that is soon to be dropping on the heads of the Fascist collaborators and traitors. The sixth man of the group holds the reigns of the horse that had contributed to dragging the gun into position in the first place.

In 1979 the artist Petro Kokusta created a depiction of this event in a painting entitled ‘Shelling the traitor’s assembly’ which is presently on display on the first floor of the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

Shelling the traitor's assembly - 1979 - Petro Kokushta

Shelling the traitor’s assembly – 1979 – Petro Kokushta

Not only is the monument in ruins the whole of the area is a rubbish strewn mess. The paths are overgrown and the area emits an atmosphere of neglect and dereliction. That’s a shame as from this vantage point you can get one of the finest views of the city of Tirana, with the Datji Mountain range in the background. The day I visited was the worst day, visibility wise, of my visit in November 2014 and the picture is pretty muggy. Next time I will visit on a better day and, hopefully, be able to provide a more accurate photographic impression of the possibilities.

Because this range isn’t as inaccessible now as it used to be. From the top end of Sauk a newly surfaced tarmac road climbs towards the first ridge where the local cemetery is located. The road continues to a second higher ridge which is where the ruined monument can be found. (Looking up from the centre of Sauk you should be able to make out two man-made structures, the columns of the Artillery Monument and a sharply pointed obelisk which stood over a military barracks.)

This road is Rruga Xhrebahimi and, I assume, was built primarily to serve the old barracks. But now it is a very fine, well made and smooth surfaced road – but it basically goes nowhere and is indicative of the ‘development’ under ‘democracy’.

As I was going along this new road I couldn’t work out why no traffic was passing me in either direction until a single motorbike passed me. As I walked uphill towards the high pass I passed a group of six workmen who were making ‘improvements’ to the road which weren’t necessary. They were merely shovelling spadefuls of gravel on the edge of the tarmac and then using a light steamroller to keep it in place (until the next rainy day). A completely useless and wasteful task – apart from keeping them employed.

When I arrived at the pass I realised why there was no real traffic on such a well made road. At the top there was a section of from 100-150 metres where the road was just a rough and rutted dirt track. The road then continued down the other side of the hill, going for how long and to where I know not. Why this crucial section hadn’t been completed I can only speculate. Corruption? Inefficiency? Bad planning? Probably a mix of all of them.

There would be, however, some people who will benefit from this road. Being built very close to the road, in a location which meant that the patios would look down towards the Tirana Park Lake and the city were a small handful of very expensive looking houses. This road, no doubt paid for by public money, would make it very easy for them to get home. What the people of Sauk thought of this road I wasn’t able to discover. They must have wondered why such a road was being built to nowhere when the roads in the town are just falling apart.

GPS:

N41º.29555302

E19º.80888203

Altitude: 328.9m

Getting there.

There are buses leaving at regular intervals, destination Sauk, from the bus station that is located in the square to the south of the Opera/National Library building (not far from The Partisan statue). Get off at the terminus and head for the hills in the direction that the bus had been travelling before you alighted. Cost 30 lek.

It’s a bit of a hike and must be close to 3 kilometres in distance. Once you get to the pass and the temporary end of the road take the narrow path off to the right, on the Sauk side of the hill and follow this to the monument. If you take the wider path off to the left, going pass some tunnels you will arrive at an abandoned military barracks and the site of the pointed obelisk (with a now sad-looking red star at its apex). Chose a good, clear day and you will be rewarded with a fine view of the city and the mountains (as well as, possibly, a sight of the coast).

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Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Ferry arriving at Koman Dam

Ferry arriving at Koman Dam

I’ve done the Amazon, the Yukon and the Zambesi but you have to go a long way to beat the beauty and splendour of the Lake Komani ferry journey from the hydro-electric dam at Koman to the port of Fierza, on the way to the town of Bajram Curri – and it lasts for less than three hours.

The easiest way to make this trip is to start from Skhodër (practical details are below). You have to get up early but it’s not as bad as starting from Tirana. If you stay in the centre of Skhodër you needn’t worry about oversleeping as the call to prayer at 05.20 from the Al-Zamil Central Mosque is loud enough to wake the dead – although I’ve never seen that many people in the streets when I’ve eventually emerged.

The first part of the journey is to the town of Van i Dejës and once you leave there you are immediately in the countryside offering a taste of what’s to come. The valley here is much wider than on the lake itself but this journey provides an introduction to the vegetation and the aspect of the mountains as you steadily climb up to about 400m at the Koman dam. After going through a long tunnel you arrive at a small and simple landing stage.

The lake was formed when the hydro-electric power station at Koman, on the Drini River, was completed in 1986 and a regular ferry service was a cheaper and more environmental form of transport instituted as soon as the project was completed.

You’re not about to embark on one of the expensive luxury river cruises that are becoming more of an industry in many parts of the world. Here you share the space with the people making their way from their homes to the rest of Albania, taking their goats to slaughter, machines to be repaired, or replenishing their stocks of Coca Cola. The boat, which once plied its trade along the rivers of Italy, has seen better days but manages to provide the people who live along the length of the lake with a daily service towards the Albanian towns of Skhodër or Tirana in the west and south, or the town of Bajram Curri (for links to Kosova) in the north.

Passengers on the Lake Komani Ferry

Passengers on the Lake Komani Ferry

For a time there were no other ferries running than the second hand Italian foor passenger ferry but the increase in tourism and probably a desire of car drivers not to have to get to the other parts of Albania without having to go into Kosovo has meant that, at least in the high season, there are two car ferry options.

As should be no surprise the locals just take the beauty of the surroundings for granted. After all they can just look out of the windows of their homes to appreciate the magnificence of the mountains, some of which soar to a height of 1700m. But this is a relatively narrow man-made lake and the route of the original river can still be seen as the boat twists and turns, heading for seeming impenetrable rock faces as it makes its slow and unhurried progress, just chugging along from one makeshift landing stage to another.

Skhoder to Bajram Curri via the Lake Komani Ferry

Skhoder to Bajram Curri via the Lake Komani Ferry

I’ve made this journey three times now but always in the autumn, fortunately when it has been clear and sunny but when it has been bitterly cold in the shade. With a wind that cuts through you like a knife you have to use the vessel as a wind break if you intend to be outside for long. In these conditions the couple of glasses of home-made raki in the café at the dam become a wise investment – the body is numbed before the cold can get to you. In such circumstances the intrepid traveller will have the outside to themselves, apart from those times when the smokers find they can’t hold out any longer.

The boat is dwarfed by the sheer walls that close in on many stretches of the trip but when the waters open out you have the opportunity to see the high peaks of one of the many mountain ranges which constitute Albania. The vegetation is starting to prepare for the cold of winter when you go through in November but as different plants close down for the summer they do so at various times and you witness the transformation through the colour spectrum from almost red, to amber and brown. I’ll have to try to make this journey in the spring when the land is awakening and preparing for the long, hot summer.

The walls of the cliff faces are also an education in the evolution of the very mountains, showing the different layers of sediment set down millions of years ago and then twisted and bent so that they are almost going back on themselves.

Hills alongside Lake Komani

Hills alongside Lake Komani

At times there’s enough flat ground close to the lake and you’ll pass a small, seemingly isolated farmhouse, with outbuildings. However, as in all such places in the world, hidden from view is a whole network of paths and mule tracks that allow communication between the mountain community. The ferry is merely the more obvious and public link between these communities. Many other, sometimes quite large settlement can be seen much higher up the side of the hills, making for a particularly difficult trek back home from the lake, hence the use of mules.

Farmstead beside Lake Komani

Farmstead beside Lake Komani

When the boat approaches the shore often it’s not until you hit the land that you’re aware a path is there at all, but when people leave the ferry it’s not long before it’s impossible to spot them as they make their way to their homes.

As with all these forms of transport you’ll often encounter the unexpected. On one trip a rowing boat rushed across the lake to where the ferry had pulled in. I thought to drop off a passenger but the next thing I knew the small, metal boat was being towed behind us, making for interesting maneuverings at future stops. How the small boat wasn’t hit and tipped over was beyond me.

Bird life is sparse in the autumn, many migrating further south for the warmth, but the country is home to many species and as there’s not that much traffic on the lake (only one return journey a day with a boat of any size) you are almost on top of the wildlife before they know you are there.

All along the route, even in the most remote parts of the journey, you’ll notice the power lines straddling the lake as they provide power to the isolated villages and settlements along its length. The people were not ignored when the project was planned in the late 70s, as is the case in so many parts of the world where major construction projects change forever their lives but they don’t get any benefit themselves.

By the time the boat reaches the end of the journey at Fierza there’s not normally that many people left on the boat, after all you’ve just travelled on the local (floating) bus.

Practicalities

Furgons (normally two) leave Skhodër every morning between 06.00 and 06.30 from the bottom end of Bulevardi Skëndërbeu, on the right hand side as you leave the town centre, just before Rruga Antikomunist Hungarez (that leads to the railway station) and before the road narrows. If you stay in one of the hotels (DON’T take the advice of the friendly yet strangely dangerous woman in the Tourist Information Office who gives the impression she knows everything but always gets a vital piece of information wrong.) The journey takes a little under 2 hours and costs 400 leke. It might stop for a short while in Van i Dejës but always aims to get to Koman in time for the ferry.

On arriving at the ferry terminal, right beside the dam, there’s a café for tea and raki.

Just wait for the ferry. It normally arrives just before 09.00 but everyone else there is in the same boat, or will be eventually, so there’s no need to panic. There’s only one boat a day, each way. Some guide books will tell about car ferries. There are two of them and you will see them when you arrive at Fierza but they don’t run any more.

The cost of the journey from Koman to Fierza, one way, is 500 leke and this will be collected en route.

The journey takes just under 3 hours.

On arrival at Fierza get off the boat on the left hand side bank. Here there will be some sort of transport to take you the short journey to Bajram Curri. DON’T hang around or dilly dally or you’ll find yourself stranded, at least for a while. The furgon/taxi to Bajram Curri takes about 15-20 minutes and costs 200 leke.

One place to stay in Bajram Curri is the Emar Hotel. This is the other side of the football pitch and children’s playground that’s to the left of the roundabout which doubles as the town’s bus station.

If you want to take the ferry from Bajram Curri to Koman you need to catch a furgon that leaves the roundabout at the top end of town (beside the looted museum and the large statue of Barjam Curri himself) at 05.30 in order to be at Fierza for 06.00.

If you want to return to Tirana from Bajram Curri by road there are furgons that leave from that roundabout during the morning each day, going via Kosova.

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The ferry from Corfu to Saranda – what you need to know

Hydrofoil Kristi docked at Saranda

Hydrofoil Kristi docked at Saranda

One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.

I’ve been to Albania three times now, so far, and each time via Corfu. The first time I arrived late at night and was expecting to leave on the ferry the next morning. That was thwarted due to an annual safety check on the hydrofoil (so I was told though I heard a different story in Saranda) which meant there was no departure for three days. The second time everything went as it should and the journey was made much easier due to my previous experience. What surprised me the most was there was no way I could find detailed information about the logistics of getting across a relatively narrow stretch of water. This posting is an attempt to give an as up to date and accurate step by step approach to getting from one country to another as is possible.

Where you buy your tickets depends upon the time of year. During the high season, when there is more than one sailing a day, there is a kiosk just inside the main New Port entrance, to the left backing on to the main road. However, outside of the months of June to September tickets are only sold in the company’s office.

This is the head office of Ionian Cruises. That’s a grand title but it’s based in small shop facing the Domestic Terminal building, which also houses the biggest café in the area (as well as a left luggage office) on the road that runs parallel to the sea. There is a small sign indicating that they sell tickets to Albania (in English).

All the details I’ve been able to collect are as follows:

Ionian Cruises – Petrakis Lines, 4, Ethnikis Antistaseos, 49100 Corfu, Hellas,

Tel. : +0030 26610 38690, 31649, 25155

Fax : +0030 26610 38787, 26555

The office is open from 08.00. and the people who work in there speak English, which makes life easier for some of us non-Greek speakers.

You need your passport and you MUST buy a ticket before going to the boat. As of February 2017 the adult cost is  €19 each way. The cost increases to €23.80 from mid-June to mid-September. Children go for half price. Departure Times (all year) are at 09.00, but with 2 or 3 extra sailings from the middle of June to the middle of September. The latest sailing from Corfu is 18.30.

The hydrofoil leaves from the top end of the new port. This means that after buying your ticket in the office you have to get to the main entrance to the Port of Corfu which is about 400m along the road, heading out of Corfu town. Once through the main gates turn left and head to the New Passenger Terminal, the sandy coloured building about a 100m away. Here you will get your passport and ticket checked. There is also a small Duty Free shop but few other facilities.

Duration of journey: 30 minutes.

Once on board leave your bag at your seat (or at the luggage store by the entrance) and go right to the back of the boat and get a sensation of speed without being blinded by the spray that obscures any sightseeing from the cabin. The boats are Kristi and Santa III, Komet class hydrofoils, not that young any more but still up to the task in hand.

Remember to put your watches/time pieces forward one hour when landing on Albanian soil (you effectively arrive before you have left!).

There are no visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, citizens of other countries should check first. Passport formalities are remarkably innocuous on entering (or leaving) Albania. The passport will be scanned and recorded on the immigration service computer. You normally get a stamp in your passport if arriving or leaving by boat but this is not always the case at land borders. The lack of a stamp took me by surprise the first time I entered by land, from Greece, but later learnt that this is common and you shouldn’t be concerned if there is no entry stamp.

Once you leave passport/customs control you might well be approached by Tomi. He’s an English-speaking Albanian who runs a basic hostel less than 100m from the port entrance. If you are new to the country, want to meet other foreign visitors to pick their brains about what/when/where the hostel is a good place for all of this. Tomi also is a mine of information and if he doesn’t know the answers will almost certainly know someone who does. If you miss him you can call his mobile, +355694345426.

Another good place to check out is the Dolphin Hostel, located at 168, Rruga Lefter Talo. This is just above the street Rruga Flamurit, which is effectively Saranda’s interurban bus station.

The ticket office to get tickets to Corfu is in the building on the main road, directly above the dock. The name over the office is Finikas Lines. Sailings from Saranda are at 12.45/13.00 for most of the year. There are extra sailings in the peak season.

Recommendations

So now you’ve arrived in Albania (hopefully without too many problems) what do you do? If the beach is your thing then I don’t have a lot to say. Enjoy it but when you get bored with the sun I suggest you consider some – or all! – of the following attractions. Click on the image to be taken to the post.

Five Heroes of Vig - Skhoder

Five Heroes of Vig – Skhoder

 

Butrint

Butrint – a Greek and Roman story in Southern Albania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albanian Town Planning - drastic measures taken

Albanian Town Planning – drastic measures taken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarch

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Martyrs' Cemetery - Tirana

National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Enver Hoxha' Grave in Tirana

Visiting Enver Hoxha’ Grave in Tirana

 

 

Anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan church in Skhoder

Anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan church in Skhoder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Komani Lake - The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'The Albanians' Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, Tirana

‘The Albanians’ Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dordolec, the 'evil eye' and superstition in Albania

The dordolec, the ‘evil eye’ and superstition in Albania

Saranda War Memorial, Albania

Saranda War Memorial, Albania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral - Tirana

Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral – Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

 

'King' Zog's remains return to Tirana

‘King’ Zog’s remains return to Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

German Fascist Memorial in Tirana, Albania

German Fascist Memorial in Tirana, Albania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

 

Rinas – Nënë (Mother) Tereza – Tirana International Airport

A hundred years of Albanian Independence?

Panagia Monastery Church – Mother of Christ – Dhermi, Albania

Walking from Valbona to Thethi in north-eastern Albania

Skënderbeu Chardonnay – more like a sherry than a wine

The first 4 Albanian wines – but not planned to be the last

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye, not winking so much at the moment

Five Fallen Stars Rise Again – Dema Monument

Korça dark beer – a welcome respite from bland lager

 

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