To the Seventh Assault Brigade – Sqepur

Seventh Assault Brigade - Sqepur

Seventh Assault Brigade – Sqepur

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To the Seventh Assault Brigade – Sqepur

Time hasn’t been too kind to the lapidar to the Seventh Assault Brigade which is situated beside the main road between Fier and Berat in an place called Sqepur. It’s at the top of a hill and is relatively exposed to the elements and this has taken it’s toll on the plaster work. There seem to have been attempts to paint, ‘renovate’, the images over the years but as this has not been done professionally this has made the images and some of the text more indistinct, filling in spaces and taking away the finer detail.

The lapidar consists of a tall monolith in the shape of the end of a rifle barrel with a flag attached and a panel at 90 degrees to this monolith showing scenes of battle.

The idea of using a rifle as the monolith is not unique, it has been used in Mushqeta and Priske, for example, but this one is slightly different in that attached to it is a stylised representation of a flag, here painted red. Due to the records being destroyed in the 1990s and those pictures of lapidars that were published in couple of books being principally in black and white there is some question if most of the lapidars were originally in colour. For good or ill many have been painted subsequently, probably even during the Socialist period so in that way distorting the aim and intention of the artist and sculptor.

The idea of attaching a flag to a rifle is again something that can be seen on other lapidars, but normally when the rifle is being used as a temporary pole and the flag being waved by a Partisan. This is the case with the female Partisan in the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.

The image of the wooden butt of the gun is seen here as it flares out from the vertical at the very bottom left hand corner of the monument, below the panel with the images of fighting.

Joining the rifle and the flag pole, just above the horizontal panel are two wide, concrete bands. On the upper the words

Forcat partizane të ish-qarkut të Beratit are attached in relief,

this translates as

Partisan forces of the former district of Berat

The town of Berat being located only about 15 kilometres to the south-east.

On the lower band, in exactly the same font and manner the words;

Forcat partizane të Brigadës VII Sulmuese appear

this translates as

Partisan Forces of the VII Assault Brigade

The National Liberation Army was made up of a number of such Brigades, guerrilla groups originally but developing into more formal structures as the war progressed, more and more fighters joined and the power of the Fascist invaders was broken. These Brigades were made up from people, men and women, who lived in the area although as the war developed they would sometimes move to other parts of the country to satisfy the military needs at any time.

The spacing of these letters looks a little strange, especially the lower slogan, but it’s not really possible to make out if anything else would be there to necessitate such spacing.

On the left hand side of the lower panel we have images from a battle. On the extreme left is a Partisan, in full uniform, firing a sub machine gun downwards. His right foot is placed in front of him and his left leg behind him to provide stability on uneven ground. This is a common device, used in many monuments of the time, such as the star at Pishkash and the bas relief in Bajram Curri, to tell the story that the War of Liberation was one that was fought, and won, in the mountains and that much of the early fighting especially would have been surprise ambushes from up on high.

It’s not possible to see if there’s a star on his cap but we can make out a scarf flying from his neck so we can have a reasonable assumption that he’s a Communist. One unusual feature is that he seems to be wearing a greatcoat, the bottom end of it seen between his outstretched legs. This is something that hasn’t appeared on other lapidars, to my knowledge. Unfortunately, the very end of the gun is missing, there being quite a lot of small areas of plaster that have disappeared over the years.

Behind him is a standing fighter but who is dressed in civilian clothes, his open jacket flapping in the breeze with his movement. Around his waist can be made out four ammunition pouches.

Photographs of guerrilla groups of the time show a mix of uniformed Partisans as well as those in everyday clothing. (Why do left wing guerrilla groups, from wherever in the world from the 1940s onwards, keep on taking pictures of themselves? It’s OK if you win but these pictures will cause untold problems if they get in the hands of the enemy. Two of the worst disasters that came as a result of this obsession with photographing themselves was the case of Che Guevara’s ‘foco’ group in Bolivia in 1968 and the videoing of an inebriated Abimael Guzman, the leader of the revolutionary Communist Party of Peru – Sendero Luminoso, in Peru in 1991.)

This Partisan is not facing the action but is looking back over his shoulder, his right arm raised, his fist clenched, encouraging other, unseen, comrades to come and join the fight. His left arm is hanging down and he holds a rifle close to the bolt mechanism. The upraised right hand passes outside the main panel and he has lost all the fingers.

The third member of this group is another uniformed Partisan. His right foot is firmly placed on the ground and he is kneeing with his left leg. We see him from his left side and his right hand can be seen just above his left shoulder. It looks like he has just taken out the pin of a Mills bomb grenade with his teeth and is about to throw it at the enemy below. In his left hand he holds the top of a bag, the weight of which is resting on the ground, which looks like it’s full of stick grenades, so he’s well prepared for action. There’s evidence of a scarf around his neck so we are, again, to assume that he is a Communist.

Any facial detail on all three is very difficult to make out. In fact, any fine detail at all is almost impossible to see. To bring this monument up to a condition that it had when first unveiled would take a lot of work and money, an amount nobody would be prepared to pay.

Behind these three Partisans are five stars of varying sizes. They are cut into the panel (the images of the Partisans are in relief) and have been painted red. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to their arrangement and are presumably there to represent Communism but there actual arrangement means nothing more to me.

The centre of the panel is yet another conundrum. Originally here was a lot of text, in relief, on this part. It looks like it was painted out and then a separate plaque placed on top – possibly with the same text, possibly with something completely different. This must have existed for some time as that rectangle is black from the mould that was created in the moist atmosphere behind the plaque. Now the plaque has gone and it’s possible to see some letters that were covered as well as those outside the area but it’s very difficult to make out the sense of what is there. It will need a good Albanian speaker (which, unfortunately, I’m not) to spend some time to unravel this puzzle. It is obviously something important as this text is in the central position on the monument.

The right hand side of the panel has a number of very strange, unusual and confusing elements. Basically what we have is the figure of an officer, we get that impression by the very nature of his uniform. (The National Liberation Army had a ‘traditional’ officer structure but after the success of the Albanian revolution that hierarchical structure was abandoned and the focus became much more on a people based militia rather than one based on ranks and superiority.)

Seventh Assault Brigade Officer - Sqepur

Seventh Assault Brigade Officer – Sqepur

But all the proportions are wrong. His head is far too big for his body. When I first saw this lapidar I thought the artists had created a cartoon figure rather than a serious representation of a Partisan fighter, prepared to give his life for the freedom of his country. Having looked at it a number of times I’m also reminded of Stan Laurel.

His stance is also unusual. As part of his officers uniform he has straps that criss-cross his chest and around his waist there are ammunition pouches attached to his belt. Here we have him with the thumb of his left hand tucked behind these pouches in a very nonchalant manner. His right arm is hanging down but it’s not possible to work out what he might have had in that hand as this is another area where decay has had an impact on the image. There’s also some damage to the shin of his right leg. And the look on his face is a little bit weird. All in all not what you expect from an officer when there’s a battle raging close by.

It also looks as if the original design included a star which was to be behind this officer. The top point is above the rectangle of the panel, to the left of this officers head, but then the rest of the star just seems to disappear. It might be wear and tear but I can’t really work out why this star was placed where it was. It just doesn’t make much sense.

Apart from the neglect that the lapidar has undergone the whole area surrounding it is uncared for and dirty. The grass hasn’t been cut for years and the general area has an accumulation of rubbish and the ubiquitous flimsy plastic bags abound. The only living creature happy there (apart from me) on my visit was the stray dog taking shelter from the sun.

There is no known further information about the date of inauguration or the name of the artist.

Location

At a bend in the road, at the top of a rise just after passing the village of Sqepur when travelling from Fier.

GPS

N40.791619

E19.818821

DMS

40° 47′ 29.8284” N

19° 49′ 7.7556” E

Altitude

122.2 m

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Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade - Elbasan

Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

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Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

I must admit I have a little bit of a difficulty in working out exactly what the shape of this monument is supposed to represent. It’s like a huge belt or a ribbon. It starts at the back on the left-hand side and then comes back on itself in a big curve towards the front, where you have the main sculptural group, and then gently curves towards the back of the monument and finally straightening out slightly as it gets to the edge at the right-hand side – it’s a bit like a huge hook.

Not sure exactly the dimensions but it’s roughly 3 metres in width, which remains the same along its whole length, which I would estimate around about 15 metres in total.

There’s a sense of movement in this static, heavy concrete structure.

There’s a physically large clue on the left-hand side that it might be representing an ammunition belt because there are huge bullets on the extreme left. However, these cartridges seem to get absorbed by the lapidar and apart from the top of the casings disappear as they get close to the main sculptural group, only to re-emerge again at the edge of the flag.

The whole structure is about 2 metres above the ground – sometimes slightly less, sometimes a bit more – and the monument itself sits on two piles of rough rocks which are cemented together. This introduces the idea of the mountains, which is quite common in Albanian lapidars. On the left these rocks provide support directly underneath the sculptural group and then towards the right-hand side is another pile taking the weight.

The principal artistic element and the image which immediately draws your attention is the stone bas relief of four Partisans, grouped together above the left-hand support pile.

The individual which dominates the image is the male figure of the standard bearer who is on the left of the group – and slightly higher. We also see much more of him, virtually the whole of his body above the waist. He stands face on but his head is turned to his left so we get a right profile. His right arm is raised and his hand grips the flagpole near its top point whilst his left hand grips the pole at waist level. He is a Partisan in full uniform, wearing a cap with a star at the front and tied around his neck is what would have been a red scarf. On his left hip is a buttoned-up, leather holster, only the butt of the pistol visible.

The flag, the flag of the Communist Partisans, flutters in the wind that’s coming from the left as we look at the image. The very top of the flag is the only part of the tableau that breaks the confines of the concrete shape. This would have been a red flag and on it would have been a black, two-headed eagle (an image used by Skenderbeu in the 15th century, through the period of Socialist construction between 1944 and 1990 and to date). However, during the National Liberation Anti-Fascist War and the period of Socialism there would be a small gold star in the space just above where the two heads separate.

The stars were the target for the reactionary, fascist, nationalist forces that gained control of Albania in the early 1990s and many of them on lapidars throughout the country have been the subject of masking or obliteration. Although most of the monument in Elbasan remains in good condition the star on the flag has been erased. If you look carefully at the space above the eagle heads, almost to the top of the lapidar, it’s possible to see that someone has applied ‘fresh’ plaster to level out the area and erase the star. The parallel marks as evidence of this ‘alteration’ are to be found nowhere else on the lapidar.

Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade - Elbasan - missing star

Missing star

Two of the other Partisans, one female the other male, are similarly looking towards their left. This is where the action is and they are on the way to the battle. They are also in profile but there’s still a lot of information, even though we don’t see much of them.

The female Partisan is partially hidden by the standard bearer but she is also in uniform. She wears a cap and the edge of the star is evident on the front, her long hair flying behind her as she moves quickly forward. It also looks as if she has a red scarf around her neck. In virtually all the lapidars relating to warfare when a woman is depicted she is always armed (as in the mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana) although the men aren’t. This lapidar is no different and the sharp end of her rifle is seen poking out behind the head of the fighter on the right of the group.

In front of her is a young male Partisan from the countryside. In the lapidars the distinction is often made about those Partisans from the countryside by depicting them in the traditional clothing of the mountain people. He’s not in a formal uniform but is dressed in a woollen vest, his shoulders and arms bare. Around his forehead is a sweat band, the knot tied at the back of his head. But his political allegiance is shown by the (red) scarf around his neck. At waist level he holds a sub-machine gun, his right finger on the trigger and his left hand holding the gun at the magazine. His posture is the same as the woman, moving forward towards the battle, his left knee bent to give the impression of the effort to get there quickly.

The fourth member of the quarter is not moving forward. He is an older man from the countryside, he is wearing a waistcoat and on his head a traditional cap (a qeleshe) but one on which is a star. All the people in this image are Communists. Additionally, it’s almost a trope when it comes to depicting older men from the mountains, he’s boasting a bushy moustache. He’s aiming his rifle and pointing downwards with his right finger on the trigger and holding the barrel of his rifle in his left hand. The Partisans, knowing the terrain, would always aim to select the location that was to their greater advantage and this representation of firing downwards appears in other lapidars such as the amazing star at Pishkash. And the mountain top design of the plinth supporting the monument adds to this impression of mountain warfare, he seems to be shooting out of the bas relief into a mountain environment – like someone walking out of a screen of a film.

Everything indicates that this is an ambush of a Nazi column in the mountains.

Where the right hand side of the flag ends we can see the top casings of three gigantic bullets. These then merge into a large, five pointed star which appears to be leaning away from the lapidar at the top but which merges into the concrete at the bottom. It’s more than half the width of the concrete ribbon, so more than a metre from point to point. The very tops of the casings of the cartridges then reappear briefly on the other side of the star until they finally disappear.

The concrete base on which the bas relief sits has curved slightly towards the back of the lapidar creating a partial circular space in the rear but then the panel straightens up and extends for about half the of the total length to the right.

The top left-hand quarter of this now unadorned panel has been plastered so that it provides a smooth face on which are painted (now) in red letters the following;

Partizanet e Brigadës XV S. duke luftuar me popullin kundër pushtuesit nazist gjerman e tradhëtarive çliruan më 11 nëntor 1944 qytetin e Elbasanit

which translates as

To the Partisans of the XVth Assault Brigade who, with the people, struggled against the German Nazis and traitors to Liberate the city of Elbasan on 11th November 1944

(This re-writing of the inscription in red paint must have been completed around the beginning of 2015 as the image in the Albanian Lapidar Survey (Volume 2, page 205) catalogue shows a different version.)

Towards the extreme right-hand edge of the monument there is something attached to the concrete – looking like a rectangular box. I’m not too sure whether this is something which was there originally and supporting another element of the story (but can’t really imagine what). There are signs, holes and general markings, that indicate that whatever was there was more extensive.

(One of the problems of there being so many lapidars to document is that I don’t always ‘see what’s there’ at the time of my visit. It’s only when time and magnification on the computer screen that some aspects become ‘visible’. If I ever get the opportunity to return to Elbasan I’ll try to remember to ask the pertinent questions.)

Generally, this lapidar is in a very good physical condition. There doesn’t appear to be any damage (apart from the mystery markings on the extreme right-hand side) and although it’s unlikely that the bas reliefs would have been painted in gold paint originally at least the painting has been done with an element of care and professionalism, as has the signwriting of the inscription.

Unfortunately, there’s no information available of the artist who created this lapidar – nor of the date of its inauguration. The features of the quartet are very clear, distinctive and detailed – you would recognise the models (I’m sure, if you saw them. This would seem to indicate one of the more accomplished sculptors and it’s very pleasing to see that the detail has remained intact despite the troubled times the country, and consequently the Socialist monuments, went through – especially in the 1990s.

Its present condition and the fact that has had a relatively recent ‘renovation’ and attention would seem to indicate that it has local support and protection. Whether that be from the local community or the municipality is impossible to say.

Nonetheless, this is an important lapidar in the country as it has attributes which I haven’t seen repeated elsewhere.

Location

In the large square created at the junction of Rruga Kadri Hoxha and Rruga Çerçiz Topulli. This is a bit of a transport hub and looks like it might be the site of a recently installed roundabout. It’s just over half a kilometre east of Elbasan Castle in the centre of the town.

GPS

41.11280498

20.07384798

DMS

41° 6′ 46.0979” N

20° 4′ 25.8527” E

Altitude

137.4

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Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery

Elbasan Martyrs' Cemetery

Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery

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Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery

All the major towns in Albania will have a Martyrs’ Cemetery and the one for Elbasan is towards the east of the town centre. When it was constructed it probably would have been very much in the countryside, the built-up area around it now seems to be relatively recent, within the the last 20 years or so.

The Memorial Park

It’s accessed by a gateway from the road and you go through an arch and along a tree line path which then comes out to a very wide (virtually the whole width of the site) parade ground. On the right edge of this parade ground can be found the museum building. This is the space that would have been filled with people during significant dates such as Martyrs’ Day (5th May) and Liberation Day (29th November).

Moving forward there are 5 steps up to another flat area. On the wall on both sides of these steps a large star, now painted red, faces the visitor. Just above these stars, and therefore flanking the approach, are two very old, tall and established palm trees. Unfortunately, the one on the right is defunct but that on the left is looking very healthy indeed. The tombs to the fallen are to the left and the right of the steps, five rows on either side, perpendicular to the principal monument. In the centre of this space (which is longer than the parade ground below) are two flower beds, containing both shrubs and flowering plants. These have the effect of breaking up this central space and channel anyone who is approaching the monument on wreath laying commemorations.

The lapidar

In front of you is the monument itself, constructed on a platform that’s reached via 3 wide and 10 normal steps from the previous level. The lapidar consists of a tall, narrow obelisk on the left to which is fixed a concrete panel at the lower part, extending about 5 metres to the right at 90 degrees. This structure is at the very back of the platform.

The obelisk gives the impression it’s divided into two parts but is joined together by a middle section that is inset slightly. The left-hand side is slightly taller than the right. There’s nothing there now but I would have assumed that somewhere at the top of that pillar there would have been a star, perhaps a stand alone Red Star attached at the very top. This obelisk is wider at the bottom than it is at the top a fact which can only be appreciated by observing at it from the side.

The large, rectangular, concrete panel extends from the bottom section of the obelisk. This is about 5 metres long and 2 metres high. The bottom of the panel is raised off the ground and towards the right-hand side it rests on a concrete block which spreads out diagonally downwards to the platform floor. This is both functional but also adds another level of aestheticism to the simple design.

This panel has seven, equidistant horizontal ribs cut into the concrete which are interrupted by a large rectangular box towards the right edge. At the top of this box, in large red letters are the words ‘Dëshmorë të kombit’ which translate as ‘Martyrs of the Nation’. Beneath this heading, in seven columns, is a list of names in alphabetical order of the first name. These names are in black.

This list and heading are probably not original. There has obviously been an attempt to restore the slogan and the list but it hasn’t been completed by a professional artist, more by someone keen to reinstate what had existed when the monument was first inaugurated.

Elbasan Martyrs Cemetery - Lapidar and Eternal Flame

Elbasan Martyrs Cemetery – Lapidar and Eternal Flame

The same goes for the colouring. The obelisk, up to the height of the panel, has been whitewashed as has the façade of the panel itself. The lines in the panel have been coloured in red. This would have unlikely to have been the case originally. Most lapidars were not painted – apart from possibly the highlighting of the red star. It also quite possible that the monument suffered from vandalism in the 1990s and this colouring has been added during some ‘restoration’ process.

From the highest platform two wings protrude back towards the garden and entrance to end at the point that the final set of steps start. On the left-hand side, about 7 or 8 metres in front of the obelisk and slightly to its left is a reverted, truncated pyramid which is the Eternal Flame. This has also been painted white and there’s a star which has been cut into the concrete near the top – this having been highlighted in red.

At the base of this structure a red band has been painted on all four sides. The area surrounding the Eternal Flame is splattered with white paint, indicating more enthusiasm than skill.

I don’t believe the Eternal Flames were ever actually ‘eternal’ and were only lit on special occasions.

The Tombs

There are approximately 25 tombs in each row, making it a monument to roughly 250 partisans who fell in the National Liberation War – there’s a similar number of names on the large panel.

Unfortunately, the condition of the tombs in some of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries can be quite variable, but in Elbasan they all seem to be in a very good condition. The grass was obviously being regularly attended to and free from weeds or any wind-blown rubbish. There were bright, red flowers growing (at the time of my visit) at the head of virtually every tomb. In some other places there might be the occasional artificial flower laid by a family member but in Elbasan everyone was treated with the same level of respect – by the community, by the municipality.

Elbasan Martyrs Cemetery - The tombs

Elbasan Martyrs Cemetery – The tombs

The letters on the plaques bearing the name of the individuals had been highlighted in red – as were the stars that seemed to be on most tombs. This work of highlighting in red again doesn’t look professionally done but, at least, the work was carried out with feeling.

The day I visited this Cemetery, there were two or three women who were generally cleaning and tending to the gardens and the overall impression here, which unfortunately is not the case everywhere, is one of cleanliness and an element of respect.

Museum

Elbasan Martyrs' Cemetery Museum

Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery Museum

In the more substantial Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania there is very often a small building which would at one time have been a museum. Unfortunately, I have yet to visit any cemetery where the museum is open as a museum or where there is anything other than a few old photos to see. (There seem to have been developments at the cemetery in Pogradec but on my last visit I wasn’t able to find out either way.)

In Elbasan the museum building is empty of anything that would have told the story of the National Liberation War. However, the room itself is clean – which is not always the case. For example, the museum which is at the entrance to the Cemetery in Kruja was filthy and there was obviously some dead animal rotting away inside at the time of my visit.

However, back to Elbasan. On the wall facing the entrance are the words Lavdi Deshmoreve (meaning Glory to the Martyrs) attached to the wall in large red letter. The two words are separated by a large red star. There is also a red star high up in the centre of each of the side walls.

The only articles in the room itself were two busts of People’s Heroes. In one back corner was a bust of Qemal Stafa. He was the leader of the youth wing of the Communist Party of Albania (later to be renamed the Party of Labour of Albania) and one of its founding members. He was killed by the Italian fascists on 5th May 1942 in Tirana.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the other male depicted in the bust which was in the other corner.

Location

To the east of the main town, on Rruga Kozma Naska, just after Rinia Park. This road runs parallel and slightly to the north, more or less, of the main road heading in the direction to Librazhd.

GPS

41.11821902

20.09195399

DMS

41° 7′ 5.5885” N

20° 5′ 31.0344” E

Altitude

136.1

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