Monument to the First School and a Martyrs’ Lapidar – Proger

To the First School - Proger

To the First School – Proger

As is the case in many towns and villages in the UK (and also in Western Europe) where it’s common to come across a war memorial (originally for the war of 1914-18/9, the ‘War to end all wars’ but which became only Part 1) this is also the case in Albania. At the time of the National Liberation War from 1939-44 the population of the country was a little more than a million and so it’s no surprise that the ‘Martyrs’ (as they are known in Albania) came from even the smallest places. Progër is no different in that case. What makes the village different is the substantial lapidar commemorating the First Communist Party Cells. This small village, off the main road, also has a Monument to the First School and a Martyrs’ Lapidar.

Monument to the First School

This is located in what would have been the centre of activity in the village at a place that is the closest to a square the village boasts. I say ‘was’ as what appear to be community buildings looked derelict and unused on my visit in May 2015. It’s almost at the top of the village, sitting just above a road that links the community hall, the Communist party of Albania lapidar (and the Party headquarters) as well as the school. As a consequence of the counter-revolution of the 1990s at the northern end of this road is a mosque.

It’s not a particularly complicated lapidar but even so it has its unique features. There are certain themes that reappear throughout the country but there’s always a slight variation so, in effect, every lapidar is different.

This monument commemorates the opening of the first school in 1908. There are a number of monuments to the pre-liberation struggle for education and the Albanian language throughout the country, probably the most impressive being that in Gjirokaster, but there is also another interesting example in Shkoder. There’s even a post-Socialist sculpture in Korçë, located outside the Museum of Education.

You approach via a flight of stone steps and there are two elements. Sitting on a concrete block at the left hand side and balanced on the lowest stone of the pillar at the right is a concrete representation of an open book roughly 2 metres by 4. On the left hand page are the letters A, B and C (in script) running diagonally down the page from the top left to bottom right. The letters seem to be made out of iron, the weather and time having their effect and underneath each there’s a yellowish stain. Unlike many lapidars in different parts of the country there has been no recent attempt at ‘restoration’.

In the centre of the right hand page is a large marble plaque. On this are the words:

‘Në këtë vend në vitin 1908 u hap shkolla e parë shqipe’.

This translates as:

‘In this location, in 1908, the first Albanian school was opened’.

The words are surrounded by a number of children’s stick on tattoos as well as a little bit of graffiti but there’s no actual damage. What is interesting, when you look a little closer, is the fact that this is not the original as there is another plaque underneath. This also looks like it’s made of marble, but a thinner piece, and all that can be seen are a few centimetres sticking out on both the left and right sides of the present plaque. I’ve come across similar incidences in other places but the exact reason why I haven’t been able to ascertain. Perhaps the original was damaged, either accidentally or due to political vandalism, and it was less intrusive to the monument to place a new one on top of the old. Although I understand (but don’t like) the conscious alteration of some monuments I don’t understand why a monument to an event long before the period of Socialism, and especially when it is linked to education, should be a political ‘target’. I am as bemused by this case as I am about the ‘missing’ red book on the mosaic on the façade of the Historical Museum in Tirana.

The second element is a pillar, which is about twice the height of the book. Although I have seen similar pillars this one is different in that it is constructed of large blocks of stone rather than being made of concrete. It’s slightly wider at the bottom but the majority is of a uniform circumference until just before the last two layer. Here the stones are larger and protrude out towards the right of the monument. These stones have been shaped but not smoothed on the visible edges. This is the opposite to what they represent.

For this pillar represents the barrel of a rifle and the protrusions are the front sight. Though not a common image in Albanian lapidars it is not unknown. Two major examples are the Mushqete Monument in Berzhite (where the rifle barrel is held in a huge hand) and the lapidar on the outskirts of Korçë, at the junction of the road heading towards Bilisht.

The symbol of the gun is a statement that any gains made by the people, in whatever field it might be, whether it be educational, social or economic, can only be really achieved, and more importantly maintained, by the preparedness to use force against all those who seek to re-establish the old order.

Although not as grand as the Education Monument in Gjirokaster the example in Progër is, nonetheless, another unique example of how Albanian sculptors sought to represent the history of their country. It’s also a statement about the importance that education had in the construction of Socialism.






40° 41′ 42.2051” N

20° 56′ 22.8156” E



Martyrs' Lapidar - Proger

Martyrs’ Lapidar – Proger

Lapidar to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War

The lapidar commemorating the Martyrs of the National Liberation War is about 50m to the north of that to the First School but on the opposite side of the road and down some steps. It’s a relatively simple affair constructed of worked, smoothed rectangular blocks of local stone in a neoclassical style.

This consists of a number of stages. At the bottom of the steps from the road there’s a large, rectangular concrete area with the lapidar sitting in the middle. To get on this level there are three small stone steps on the either side of which there is a very small column on top of which there’s a square capital, with a shallow pyramid carved into the top. At the bottom of the lapidar itself is a plinth constructed of individual blocks of stone. They have been worked to provide a simple decoration, with a gentle curve between the bottom and top flat planes. On this sits a pedestal, slightly smaller in width, two courses high, above which is a narrower curved course. On top of this is a column eleven courses high, again narrower than the section below. It’s not exactly square as the two levels behind the facade are offset progressively on both the left and right sides by a matter of a few centimetres so that the rear is wider that the front.

In the centre of the facade, two courses from the top, there’s a bronze star below which, curving upwards, are (on the right) the leaves of a laurel and (on the left) the berries from the same shrub. The star represents, as always on Albanian lapidars, Communism and the laurel a mixture of glory to the victors, although here to those who did not survive to see the victory, as well as the idea of immortality. Throughout the ages the meaning of the laurel in art has taken on slightly different meanings although all related in one way or another.

One course of stone below the laurel leaves there are two marble slabs, following the same central line downwards. At the top are the words;

‘Lavdi dëshmorëve të Luftës Nacional Çlirimtare’


‘Glory to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War’

Underneath that are the names of ten of those from the village killed in the war. All the lettering on these plaques is in bronze. In a way a bit of a surprise as on many of the more modest lapidars the bronze has been looted for scrap but here there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to steal them. Immediately below the marble plaques is a small, rectangular piece of iron on which there are two further names. This looks though it’s been there for some time as the iron is very much rusted.

This addition of names is not unknown and there are a few reasons for this, depending mainly upon when they were added. In the tradition of commemorating the fallen sometimes the names would be attached to a lapidar at the place of their death and/or their place of birth – sometimes both. But things were not totally organised and names could have been presumed to have been marked in one place when, in actuality, they weren’t anywhere. Locally these omitted names would be added to an existing monument. This would have been the situation pre-1990. If after that date names were added this would normally mean they were the names of other Albanians who had died in the National Liberation War but it isn’t always clear on which side they were fighting. Now the pro-Monarchists are in power they could have been considered ‘martyrs’ even though they might well have been collaborators of the occupying fascists.

The general area around the lapidar is more or less clean although the trees on the right are starting to encroach on the monument’s space. At the very top there looks like there was a terracotta tiled roof, though that’s not completely intact, a few broken tiles and empty spaces visible from below.

Martyrs' Lapidar - Proger - Mosque

Martyrs’ Lapidar – Proger – Mosque

One of the most interesting things about the lapidar is its location. I have no idea what was surrounding the monument when it was first constructed – I would have thought a public park, but I can’t say for certain. Presently there’s a gate at the side of the road and when I visited that gate was locked so I had to around and enter – via the entrance to the mosque. Because immediately north of the lapidar is a relatively new mosque. Recently, when writing about the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Korçë, I suggested the positioning of Christian and Muslim symbols and buildings in post-Socialist Albania was very similar to the attitude and activities of the Catholic Church in Latin America after the invasion of 1492, that is the ‘extirpation of ideology’.

Here we have another example of that. The mosque is obviously much larger than a humble war memorial but by placing it so close to a symbol of the Socialist period of Albania’s past it’s making a political statement – we are now in charge. Another example of this can be seen in the centre of Shkoder where a lapidar to the 27th Brigade is within the enclosed grounds of the Ebu Bakr mosque.






40° 41′ 43.0044” N

20° 56′ 19.5000” E




Education Monument – Gjirokastra

Education Monument - Gjirokaster

Education Monument – Gjirokaster

There’s a unique lapidar in Gjirokaster, in southern Albania, which was erected to commemorate the struggle for education in the Albanian language when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. This monument to education is an obelisk in the shape of a stylised scroll, or a certificate rolled up, upon which are carved images depicting the struggles of the past as well as the intentions for the future. Its official name is ‘Obelisku kushtuar pionierëve të arsimit shqip’ (‘Obelisk dedicated to the pioneers of education in [the] Albanian [language]’.)

As with many of the Albanian lapidars this one is the result of the collaboration of three sculptors, Mumtaz Dhrami (Heroic Peze, Drashovice, Independence in Vlora, amongst others), Ksenofon Kostaqi (Dancers and Musicians, Gjirokaster) and Stefan Papamihali (Partisan, Gjirokaster). To the best of my knowledge this was inaugurated in 1983 (on the 40th anniversary of the liberation from the Italian Fascists – the Nazis came back for a while) when a number of other monuments were constructed throughout the town.

It’s worthwhile remembering that tiny Albania, because of its strategic position, was the object of desire for many imperialist powers, for a period of more than two thousand years. The last major imperialist power to hold sway in the country for any length of time was the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey. That empire wanted to impose total control and this included the language spoken and taught in schools. Therefore the struggle to maintain and develop the Albanian language was an anti-imperialist and progressive struggle which developed throughout the 19th and into the 29th century.

Education Monument - Zamir Mati

Education Monument – Zamir Mati

The obelisk is made from the local limestone and the story unravels as you look at it from the face in front of you at the top of the steps and then continues up and around in a clockwise direction.

The first carving is of disembodied hands, one holding a flaming torch, the other a book and an olive branch. These can mean slightly different things depending upon their context and location. The torch can symbolise liberty (as in the Statue in New York Harbour) or light. As this is an education monument it’s more likely representing the light that comes to an individual once they have access to education. The other hand holds both the book and the olive branch symbolising that through reading and education can come peace.

Education Symbol

Education Symbol

Allegories are always complex. You have to take into account the situation in which Albania found itself in 1983. The break with the Chinese revisionists in the 70s had meant that the country was alone in a hostile, capitalist world. They might have wanted peace but that was going to be difficult to achieve in such circumstances.

(Allegories can also be ironic. On the back of the present US ‘dime’ (10 cent piece), you can also find a torch and olive branch depicted, supposedly representing peace and liberty. There’s been little of that for many of the US population and even less for the peoples in countries where the US considers its interests are at stake. The oak tree, which is supposed to symbolise strength, has become a club with which to beat people, both nationally and internationally.)

Above the image of the hands are the words:

‘Pionierëve të gjuhës shqipe që në vitet e errëta të robërisë mbajtën gjallë dashurinë për liri, arsim, kulturë.’

Which translates as:

‘To the Pioneers of the Albanian language who, in the dark years of captivity, kept alive the love for freedom, education and culture.’

Before continuing around the obelisk look to the building at your back and to the plaque on the wall. The top part reads:

‘Ne kete godine ne shtator te vitit 1908, pas perpjekjeve te shumta te mesonjesve e patrioteve gjirokastrite u cel e para shkolle shqipe per qytetin me emerin ‘Liria’.’

Which translates as:

‘In this building, in September 1908, after numerous attempts by the patriotic educators of Gjirokaster, the first Albanian school in the town was opened, it was called ‘Freedom’

At the bottom of the plaque it states that the building was restored in 2002 with money from the California-based Packard Humanities Institute.

On each occasion I have been to see the lapidar the building has been closed so I don’t know if it contains any more information about the event in 1908.

Back to the obelisk.

Moving clockwise we come across an image of a man and a young boy. The man is dressed in the traditional, countryside, clothing of the beginning of the 20th century, a soft cap (qylafë) on his head down to the tsarouchi shoes (with its woollen pompom to keep out the water). He is armed – no real progress for the people will come unless it is fought for – and he holds a rifle, pointing downwards, in his left hand. Around his waist he wears an ammunition belt. Across his chest are the straps of small satchels that he wears on either side.

The young boy is dressed in more modern, western style dress, more like a suit and his shoes are also from a later period. Across his shoulder is the strap for a school satchel. He represents the future. He is carrying on the legacy that the man has fought for. It’s not always the case that those who do the fighting get the benefit (the many graves in the Martyrs’ Cemeteries are witness to that) but without such sacrifices no society can move on.

The young boy is walking up steps, again an allusion to the future, going upwards and onwards. But he’s not doing this alone. The right hand of the man is resting on the boy’s shoulder, an indication of both support and encouragement, and that hand is connected, through the man’s body, to the rifle. What has been gained by arms will also have to be defended by arms. This is a motif that appears elsewhere in Albania, for example, the statue of the Partisan and Child in Borove and in the Martyrs’ Cemetery at Lushnje.

The Past and the Future

The Past and the Future

The stance of both of them is confident and they are looking up, into the distance. This is one aspect which appears a great deal in Albanian lapidars – there are few bowed heads in either despair or defeat.

But the boy isn’t just going nowhere – he’s walking into a cloud of positive words that come as a consequence of education. Words that are in a different font, of different sizes but all suggesting the results of a properly organised educational system. Here we are moving away from a strictly historical celebration of the events in 1908. A school might have been established in Gjirokaster (and other locations in the years afterwards) but it wasn’t until the liberation of the country from Fascism in 1944 that the journey along the road of free and universal education was begun. As in most countries in Eastern Europe at that time (apart from the Soviet Union) illiteracy rates were astronomical.

I’m not sure if I’ve got all the words carved into the limestone. As we move around the monument the face that takes all the bad weather, from the north, starts to show signs of wear. However. I’m fairly sure about the majority.

Shoqrite – friendship; undra – wonder; vëllezëria – brotherhood; studenti – students; lidhja – unity; puntoreve – workers; bastiljes – captivity; mesuesue – teachers; drita – light (which was also the name of the magazine of the Albanian Writers and Artists Union, with the same font); shpresa – hope; kandile – oil lamp, candle, light; bashkimi – union.

OK, some of them are not directly connected to education but these words establish the general principles and themes of a socialist state in construction, which is impossible with an uneducated population (and even difficult with) and is why the promise of universal education is a pledge by virtually all national liberation movements, wherever and whenever they might be.

These words are inscribed upon a banner which is being held by the three individuals higher up this part of the obelisk. On the right hand side of the group is what looks like an academic. He’s fairly smartly dressed, perhaps early 20th century sophisticated, but not in a western style, more a wealthy local style that is beginning to adapt to western influences. He is wearing a fez and a topcoat, is grabbing hold of the banner with his left hand and has a book clasped to his chest in his right hand (in the same way as the worker did on the mosaic of the national history museum in Tirana – before its vandalisation). I assume he represents one of those pioneers mentioned before or one of the teachers in the ‘Freedom’ school.

On the left of the group is another man. Again he’s dressed in the style of the early part of the 20th century, but he’s not an academic, he’s a fighter and has hold of the top of the barrel of a rifle in his left hand. His right hand is gripping hold of the banner with the inscribed words of the future. So what we have here are the two forces which achieved the establishment of the school in 1908.

In between is another man, but this time he’s a worker, wearing the type of protective head covering which was typical of an engineer, or someone working in a steel plant, during the socialist period. (We have to remember that, although not producing anything now, Gjirokaster was the Albanian ‘Sheffield’ during socialism, producing the cutlery needs of the country. The deserted buildings alongside the main road from the border towards Tepelene, below the old town, is all that remains of that industry.)

His right hand is stretched out and the tips of his fingers seem to be touching the barrel of the rifle and his thumb is only inches away from the banner. He’s a worker, but everyone in socialism needs to be prepared to take up arms to defend the revolution and be ready to take up the banner of the revolution’s achievements once those that have gone before leave the scene.

High above this group of three, and almost at the top of the column, the double-headed eagle is carved into the stone. There’s no star above the heads as this is a monument to an event before the establishment of the People’s Republic. Above the eagles, in large letters, is the word ‘Baskimi’, meaning union, unity. Below the birds is the word ‘Drita’, meaning light, which is in inverted commas. I’m not sure why. The magazine of that name didn’t exist until more than 50 years later, when using the inverted commas would have been valid. Below that, now fading, is the date 1908.

Continuing the clockwise trajectory there is a fighting group from the end of the 19th century. This is the part of the monument that is most exposed to the elements and some of the images are difficult to make out.

At the bottom of the group a man is kneeling, looking forward, with a rifle in his right hand, the butt resting on the ground.

Above him, at his left shoulder is a group of three, a woman and two young children. She is looking in the same direction as the man below – as I said before, there’s always this symbolism of looking forward, confidently, to the future. She wears a kapica, a long scarf wrapped loosely around her head. In her right hand she is holding the top of the barrel of a rifle. Again, as in many Albanian lapidars and friezes, the women are more often than not armed, for example the Peze War Memorial. Her left hand rests on the left shoulder of a young child. This is the older of the two children, or at least the biggest, looking at his sibling, who is looking at him/her. This is the only one in the group who isn’t looking forward. I can’t make out the gender of the children as weathering and staining are greatest at this point.

Woman and children

Woman and children

So here we have a woman armed yet still protective of children, whether they be hers or not. Women played an active role in Albania’s liberation struggle, to a much greater extent in the war against Fascism but also in the independence battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries. So this woman can either represent all those heroines and/or could represent the idea of Mother Albania, as seen at the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery or in expelling the priest and the military from the country in the Armaments Museum in Gjirokaster Castle.

In front of the woman, and slightly above her, is another independence fighter. He is depicted striding forward, always that forward motion, determined and prepared. He holds a flag pole in his right hand, the banner fluttering above his head. It’s impossible to make out if anything is inscribed on the banner, i.e., the double-headed eagle. His left arm is fully stretched out behind him and is holding a rifle at the mechanism end of the barrel, the butt of which is just behind the head of the woman. Often there will be a person in a lapidar who is looking backwards, urging others behind to come forward, as in the monument to the students and teachers just around the corner in Gjirokaster, but here he is using a gesture with his rifle to achieve the same effect.

On both the men so far mentioned you can see the Albanian version of the tsarouchi shoes, with the sheep’s wool pompom at the toe.

Above the banner, and now almost at the top of the obelisk, is a group of three men, one in the act of firing, one about to do so and the third in the process of getting his rifle to his shoulder. We only see their head and shoulders but what can be made out is the type of hat they are wearing. This is a round and flat cap, similar to that worn by Çerçiz Topulli on the statue in the square that bears his name in Old Gjirokaster.

We have now gone around the clock face and are now at the point were we started but now look up higher and see a large group of children with their teacher. Above the group, in large letters, is the word ‘Mëmëdhue’, meaning Motherland – the idea of nationalism being a strong motif, especially in monuments that commemorate those events prior to 1944, after which socialist elements tend to become more dominant.

Then we have the letters ABC, obviously representing literacy, both reading and writing. The only other monument where I have seen this, so far, is on a smaller lapidar to education in the small village of Proger, not far from Korça. (Albanian uses the Latin alphabet but there are 36 letters as opposed to 26 in English.)

Below that is a compressed scene from a school classroom. There are eight children, three girls and 5 boys. These are young children so this is a class where they are learning the basics of the Albanian language. From what I can make out they are wearing some sort of school uniform which indicates to me that the scene is from a country school after liberation as I can’t imagine matters being so organised way back in 1908 (and girls might not have had ready access to education at that time).

Three of them have writing tablets and pens whilst three have books, with the other two it’s not clear. There’s a mix of attention to the teacher being depicted. Four of them are looking at the teacher, one seems to be looking out the window to the mountains, one of the girls has her back to us, another girl is reading and one of the boys is looking straight at us as we view the scene. All but one of the children are bear-headed, and he wears a fez.

Immediately above the group of children we can make out the legs of a blackboard easel, the blackboard itself merging into the rest of the monument. The teacher, to the right of the children, is bare-headed, wears a tie and his dress would seem to fit into the idea that the scene is late rather than early 20th century. In his left hand he holds an open book and in his right hand he holds a ball of chalk as if just about to write something on the board. His index finger is pointing to the B of the letters in an obvious reference to literacy.

The final piece of decoration is a star carved into the stone at its highest point. This is immediately above the hands with the torch, book and olive branch.

Generally the monument is in a good condition and doesn’t look like it has suffered from any vandalism. Where there is some degradation it seems to have been caused by the weather, on the north facing parts of the lapidar.

Holiday in Gjirokaster - Zamir Mati

Holiday in Gjirokaster – Zamir Mati

It’s also in a pleasant location. Whereas the streets of the old town can get busy, especially when large tour groups arrive in coaches for a day trip, I’ve never been to the monument when there have been more than a couple of people there. The fact that the approach is not obvious until you actually find it might be the reason for that. From the small balcony on which it stands you get a great view of both the old and the new town, as well as the mountains on either side of the River Drino valley, looking northwards in the direction of Tepelene. For a few years this would have been a good place to get a high view of the statue of Enver Hoxha that was located just a little lower down the hill (and where there are now a couple of expensive bars). Unfortunately Enver suffered a terminal attack in 1992.

Enver Hoxha, Gjirokaster

Enver Hoxha, Gjirokaster

How to find it:

Go up hill from Çerçiz Topulli Square and at the junction at the top (about 100m) take the higher of the two roads on the right and then immediately the narrow road on the left. Within a few metres on the right there’s an always open door, as if going into a house. Go up these stairs and through the building – if you smell decay mixed with stale urine then you’re in the right place. Coming out into the open the steps become wider and they take you to the small plateau upon which the obelisk stands.





40° 4′ 28.4592” N

20° 8′ 16.9477” E