Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery

Elbasan Martyrs' Cemetery

Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery

More on Albania ……

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

More on Albania ……

The more ‘humble’ Albanian lapidars

September 1942 - Lec Shkreli

September 1942 – Lec Shkreli

More on Albania …..

The more ‘humble’ Albanian lapidars

To date the majority of the lapidars that have appeared in this blog have been those which have had an artistic or architectural ‘merit’, that is they have been designed by those who have had training in their art and wanted to express meaning via the structure itself rather than have the reason for the monument written on an attached plaque.

However, this is not the basis of the vast majority of the lapidars identified in the almost 700 locations in the Albanian Lapidar Survey. As is described in Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism the concept had a very humble beginning, often the simple marking of a grave of a fallen Partisan/s and as time, and prosperity, developed the grave taking on a focal point to celebrate important dates and the lapidar being made more elaborate over time. This story of the lapidars is shown in the short film ‘Lapidari’.

This means that probably more than two thirds of all the lapidars in the country were structures that could have been created by competent bricklayers and others in the building trade. But even in that style they would range from something akin (and the same size as) to a trig point on a mountain to something that comprised of a short wall to the side of which there would rise a pillar, or two. On the pillar would be attached a red star and to the wall a plaque with the names, dates and occasion the lapidar had been constructed at that particular place.

It was towards the latter part of the 1960s that sculptors, artists and architects started to really get involved in the construction of the lapidars. This was the occasion of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and this lasted from, roughly, 1966 to 1986. At some time in the future I’ll try to put together a chronological table of the artistic lapidars to illustrate how they developed in both scale and complexity.

That doesn’t mean to say there weren’t public works of art, over and above the simple lapidars, before the 1960s. Andrea Mano’s Monument to the Partisan in Tirana was inaugurated in 1949. Odhise Paskali’s Shoket – Comrades was installed in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery in 1964. But both these sculptors were from the pre-liberation, pre-revolutionary era. Their approach was traditional, especially that of Paskali’s creation in Përmet which is very reminiscent of countless images of the deposition of the Christ from the cross to be seen in innumerable art galleries and Catholic churches throughout Europe.

It was only when the sculptors and artists, who had been trained by the likes of Mano and Paskali, reached their maturity as artists, together with the campaign of the Cultural Revolution (which was in essence a campaign to change the mentality of the Albanian workers and peasants) did a uniqueness, an innovativeness, appear in the public monuments that were created throughout the country. This was a twenty year period when sculptors such as Muntaz Dhrami, Hector Dule, Shaban Hadëri, Kristaq Rama and many others created their finest work.

BUT we should not forget the less ‘impressive’ structures that were in virtually every town and village (as well as in isolated locations in the countryside and mountains) in Albania as these were all monuments to the memory of those men and women who had fought against the fascist invaders from Italy and Germany and whose sacrifice made the Liberation of the county on 29th November 1944 at all possible.

On the other hand to talk about all of them would serve no purpose and would be very repetitive. Tragically, many of them have been either damaged by outright political vandalism or have just been allowed to lose the battle against the elements. For those interested in a particular lapidar or area of the country one or two images of all those listed in the Albanian Lapidar Survey can be seen in Volumes 2 and 3 produced at the conclusion of the project.

However, in order to give an idea of these simpler lapidars what follows is a description of those that still exist in Tirana. The fate, condition and respect given to these monuments in the capital is indicative of that in the rest of the country.

Perhaps one thing to stress here is that of the creators of these more ‘humble’ lapidars there is no record of who designed, created or constructed them.

To the victims of Fascism – Tirana market

The first one on the list you won’t be able to see. It existed up until 2016 when a new and very un-Albanian market was created on the site. In place of incorporating the lapidar into the design of the new structures the local/national governments sanctioned the demolition of the monument.

Victims of Fascism - 01

Victims of Fascism – 01

You couldn’t say that the lapidar (and those whom it commemorated) was being treated with a great deal of respect, as it would have been in the days of Socialist Albania, but it was being ‘tolerated’. It consisted of a pillar (about 4 metres high), which was wider at the top that at the bottom and from the lower part of the pillar, at 90 degrees to each other, there extended two short, low walls (again about 4 metres long).

This monument was meant to be seen from the outside of the space created by the walls as it was upon this front there were attached two marble plaques into which had been carved – and then painted in gold the following;

Victims of Fascism - 03

Victims of Fascism – 03

Më 22 tetor 1942 u var në litar Shyqyri Ishmi

meaning

On October 22, 1942, Shyqyri Ishmi was hanged

and

Victims of Fascism - 02

Victims of Fascism – 02

Më 29 shkurt 1944 u var në litar Muhamet Gjollesha

meaning

On February 29, 1944, Muhamet Gjollesha was hanged

This indicates that the reason for the lapidar to these victims of the Nazis being in this location was because they would have been hung in public, as was the norm of first the Italian and then the German fascists in an (in the Albanian context, failed) effort to intimidate the local population. This would seem to indicate that this space (just off what is now called Avni Rustemi Square), therefore, had long been a public market.

This is not exactly the monument that was first constructed here.

Victims of Fascism - 06

Victims of Fascism – 06

Notice here that the wording on the face of the walls is different from the more modern picture. Although it’s difficult to say from such a poor reproduction (the only I’ve so far been able to acquire) the lettering could well have been made up of individual bronze letters, inset into the concrete. When chaos and anarchy replaced the stability of Socialism in the 1990s anything that wasn’t nailed down, and often that which was, would be stolen by someone desperate enough to gain a few lek.

However, someone at some time in the intervening years had paid for and had had installed two simpler plaques to commemorate the two young people who had died at the hands of the Fascists. It had also been painted white (whereas the original seems to have been just the bare concrete) and the indented star at the top of the pillar – on two sides – had been painted red (the southern facing side slightly more faded than its northerly companion). This indicates that there was some sort of respect for the past. What changed to allow it to be demolished I don’t know.

Victims of Fascism - 04

Victims of Fascism – 04

But in its latter days it provided an anchor point for an electricity cable and a bit of shadow for the goods in the summer. If, as is obviously the case with this one, a lapidar had survived the chaos of the 90s it was more than likely just accepted as part of the environment, few caring especially of its significance but at the same time not doing any conscious damage.

Victims of Fascism - 05

Victims of Fascism – 05

The authorities saw an end to that.ast

Past location

GPS

41.33026198

19.82448704

Altitude

121.2m

Fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers

The next lapidar is a very simple affair, being a tall, narrow, truncated pyramid which commemorates those from the neighbourhood who died in a confrontation with the Nazis at the beginning of 1944.

Fallen fighting the Nazis - 03

Fallen fighting the Nazis – 03

On one of its faces there’s a large marble plaque bearing the date and the names of those who died in the battle.

Fallen fighting the Nazis - 02

Fallen fighting the Nazis – 02

The wording is;

Në shënje kujtimi luftëtarëve që ranë nga plumbat e pushtuesve naziste me 28 shkurt 1944. Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci

meaning

In memory of the fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers on February 28, 1944.

Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci

This looks like the original plaque. Now the letters are filled in with gold paint (not done very professionally) which I don’t think would have been the case originally.

The colouring of the stone work is ‘interesting’. Originally it would have been just the plain, unadorned concrete – or perhaps painted white. The present colouring is to go with the building beside it. Monuments to those killed in the struggle for national liberation from the fascists are now become colour co-ordinated to fit in with the chosen colour scheme of the bar beside which it stands.

Fallen fighting the Nazis - 01

Fallen fighting the Nazis – 01

It will be interesting to see if, in the future, the new (or present) bar owner decides on a different colour scheme the change will be applied to the lapidar as well.

Location

GPS

41.33455703

19.82600098

Altitude

122.9m

Place where Qemal Stafa was killed

Qemal Stafa was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party (later to be called the Party of Labour of Albania) on 8th November 1941 and was the head of its Youth Section until his death, in this location, on 5th May 1942. After Liberation that date was chosen as Martyrs’ Day, to commemorate all those who had fallen in the War for National Liberation against the Italian and German fascists.

Qemal Stafa 03

Qemal Stafa 03

This is a simple structure, with slight embellishments. It consists of a low wall (about 4 metres long) and on the left hand side two rectangular columns rise up to about the same height, that is about 4 metres. These columns are on either side of the wall and the one at the back is slightly taller. On the face of the wall is a plaque with the words;

Këtu më 5 maj 1942 me lufte me fashiste ra Heroi i Popullit Qemal Stafa

meaning

Here on May 5, 1942, during the anti-fascist war, the People’s Hero Qemal Stafa fell

Qemal Stafa 02

Qemal Stafa 02

This is not original as there are signs that there had been other attachments, possibly individual letters, carrying the same message. This plaque is well made and the lettering, which has been coloured in gold paint, is done professionally.

Another point to make is that the whole structure was made of concrete and then faced, on all sides, by white marble. Apart from a missing piece at the top of the front column the monument is generally intact.

I would have thought that in the original design there would have been a red star attached somehow at the top of the columns. There’s no indication of anything being attached to the faces so it might have been a stand alone, metal star attached to the very top.

There’s a little bit of graffiti to the left of the plaque but there are no signs of any substantial damage.

Although originally this would have been standing alone, with little close by. Now it’s right in the middle of a large street market.

However, dying as he did before Liberation Stafa doesn’t have the same enemies as those who survived to fight for the construction of Socialism. There are a number of locations, including the main sports stadium (which was demolished in 2016 and I don’t know if a new one that had been proposed was eventually built, where it might be if built and what it might now be called) and a high school on the Durrës Road in Tirana that bear his name.

I think this element of respect which he still has in Albanian society accounts for the fact that even though getting close no street trader has the nerve to use the space in front of the actual monument (which isn’t the case in other locations I’ve visited in the country), prime though it might be.

Location

GPS

41.34165298

19.82614196

Altitude

106.8m

Monument to Mina Peze

‘Humble’ is not really an appropriate word to describe the lapidar to the honour of Mina Peza. Although not particularly large it’s different from virtually all other lapidars in the country. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about when it was created as that would say a lot.

Unlike the other lapidars in this post the one in the street that still bears her name has obviously been designed. There are four distinct, component parts.

First it sits on a small platform that’s three steps up from street level. This platform and steps are all faced with red (steps) and cream (platform) marble. There’s a bit of careless damage to one corner of the steps but that’s about all.

Then there’s a tall, rectangular column, perhaps three metres high. This is faced in white marble. This stands separate from the rest of the monument, a metre or so in front.

Then we have a huge piece of stone where the rough edges are clear to seen but the top has been levelled off to take the final part of the structure which is a curved piece of concrete that has been faced with white speckled, red marble. Towards the top left corner of this curved marble a white marble plaque takes the place of the red slabs, thereby maintaining a smooth surface.

On this plaque are the words;

Këtu në 17 shtator 1942 u vra ne krye të demostratës së grave nëna patriote Mine Peza

which translates as

Here on September 17, 1942, the patriotic mother Mine Peza was killed at the head of the women’s demonstration

The stand-alone column has indications of some small holes towards the top and this is where a star might have been placed. (As I’ve written elsewhere the stars were the first target of the reactionary, counter-revolutionary hoards when the breakdown of order in the 1990s provided them with the opportunity to carry out their vandalism.) Also someone has painted a red and black (anarchist) sash from just below the base, diagonally, to just below the top. This has now faded somewhat.

This wouldn’t look out of place in a minimalist art collection, very much out of character to all other Albanian lapidars. But who designed it or when is still a mystery. It all feels very locked in now, there being bars and fast food outlets very close (there are a lot of bars and fast food places in Tirana). I assume originally it would have stood on the corner of the street with very little close by and with a much greater opportunity to appreciate the design.

The story of the demonstration

In the summer of 1942 the National Liberation Movement had assumed broad proportions. The prisons were full of patriots. To ease the situation, the fascists exiled some of them to the desolate islands of Italy. In conformity with the instructions of the Albanian Communist Party the secret anti-fascist organizations of the prisoners which operated inside the prisons organized protests and resistance to the fascist measures. Protests were held in February 1942, in the prison of Elbasan, in May and August in the prison of Tirana, and later, in Vlora. The biggest demonstration was the one held by the prisoners of Tirana, which took place in the afternoon of the 17th of September, 1942, just one day after the opening of the National Liberation Conference at Peza. This demonstration was of particular importance because it was coordinated with a demonstration held by the anti-fascist women of Tirana, in support of their imprisoned sons and brothers.

The events took place as follows: the prisoners refused to give up their comrades who were to be deported. Fighting with the carabinieri broke out in the prison. The prefect of Tirana was called to the scene. Meanwhile, about 100 women began a demonstration outside, in front of the prison. The fascists were in a critical situation. The order was given to break up the demonstration of the women by force. From their fortified posts, the guards opened fire on the women. Several were wounded, while one of them, the Heroine of the People, Mine Peza, was mortally wounded. Her comrades lifted her and carried her through the city streets. Mine Peza died while the demonstration was still going on. The people have dedicated a song to the heroism of Mine Peza and her comrades: Down with the terror, oust the occupier, we Mothers can no longer bear it! Let us smash the cruel iron bars!

New Albania, No 5, 1977

Location

On the corner of Rruga Mina Peze and Rruga e Bogdanëve.

GPS

41.331718

19.81121102

Altitude

99.3m

National Anti-Fascist Liberation War Headquarters

This is a squat, square monolith about 2 metres high sitting on a platform, twice as wide as the monolith, which is four steps up from pavement level. Each corner is inset to break the monotony of the square and at each changing angle there is a strip decoration of light brown marble. At the base there is the effect of three thin layers, the middle inset from the other two, which replicates the decoration of the sides of the block. On the left side of the platform there is a thin border with small, low, circular laurel bushes. At each end of this border there’s a small, low level light to illuminate the area at night.

On the side facing the road there’s a white marble plaque with the words;

Këtu ka qenë baza më e rëndësishme e L.A.N.Ç. (Lufta Antifashiste Nacional Çlirimtare) me emrin Baraka e Nushajve nga këtu jepeshin orientime për luftën e qarkut të Tiranës dhe mbarë vendit

which translates as

Here was located the L.A.N.C’s (National Anti-Fascist Liberation War) most important base by the name of Baraka i Nushajve. From here were sent out orders for the Tirana district and the whole country

This plaque looks original and although there are some marks on the marble it is in a generally good condition.

This is a strange one in that although given its own space it is so hemmed in with the surrounding trees (much more substantial than when the lapidar was erected) it seems to be made invisible, especially in the day time when I’m sure that many people pass by without even knowing it’s there.

Location

In Rruga Sami Freshëri, just a short distance on the Lana River side from the new police station.

GPS

41.32364597

19.81337003

DMS

41° 19′ 25.1255” N

19° 48′ 48.1321” E

Altitude

111.5m

More on Albania …..

National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery Approach

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery Approach

More on Albania ……

National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana

The National Martyrs’ Cemetery, Tirana, is the most important monument to those who fell in the struggle against Italian and German Fascism between 1939 and 1944. It’s also the location of one of the largest examples of Socialist Realist sculpture in the country – Mother Albania.

The cemetery is on a high point looking down on Tirana and offers a fine view of the mountains that surround the city, including the Mount Dajti National Park over on the right (as you look down on Tirana).

National Martyrs Cemetery - 1972

National Martyrs Cemetery – 1972

From the entrance gates you go along a wide road and then turn to the left to go up the steps, from the bottom of which you get the first view of Mother Albania. At the top of the steps there’s a plateau where celebrations on Liberation Day (29th November) took place.

National Martyrs' Cemetery - 1976

National Martyrs’ Cemetery – 1976

Dominating this area is the statue of Mother Albania. She has a cloak that seems to be blowing in the wind and her right arm is raised high above her head. In her hand she holds a wreath of laurels, celebrating the Partisans who died in liberating their country from Fascism, and a star, the symbol of Communism.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Mother Albania (detail)

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – Mother Albania (detail)

Three sculptors are credited with its creation (Kristaq Rama, Muntaz Dhrami and Shaban Hadëri) and was dedicated in 1971. It’s 12 metres high and made of concrete. (Many of the monuments in Albania are made from concrete, more so than normal from my experience, and it will be interesting to see how they weather.)

Engraved on the pedestal are the words “Lavdi e perjetshme deshmoreve te Atdheut” (“Eternal Glory to the Martyrs of the Fatherland”).

'Mother Albania' in the studio

‘Mother Albania’ in the studio

Some of the other monumental sculptures by Kristaq Rama are the Independence Monument in Vlorë and the statue of Mujo Ulqinaku on the Durres waterfront.

On the hill surrounding this plateau are the graves/monuments to 900 partisans. There’s a laurel leaf on all of them and the Communists have the addition of a star above that to show their political allegiance.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Partisan Memorials

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – Partisan Memorials

At one time there was only one grave separated from the others, the one to Qemal Stafa after whom the National Stadium in the university area is named. He was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party and leader of its youth section. He died in the war against the Italian Fascists at the age of 22 and May 5th, the anniversary of his death, is Martyrs’ Day, when, in Socialist times young children would go to the memorials throughout the country and place flowers on each grave as a sign of respect and also to remember that freedom doesn’t come without sacrifice.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Qemal Stafa's Tomb

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – Qemal Stafa’s Tomb

For a short time, the tomb of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the Party of Labour of Albania (as the Communist Party was called after 1948) was between the statue of Mother Albania and Qemal Stafa’s tomb. In April 1992 he was disinterred and reburied in Tirana’s municipal cemetery at Kombinat and the red grave stone re-used in the cemetery for the English dead in Tirana Park.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Enver Hoxha

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – the site of Enver Hoxha’s tomb

To the left of Mother Albania is a monument to 22 Monarcho-Fascists who were executed on 26th February 1951 for their implication in the bombing of the Embassy of the Soviet Union in the centre of Tirana. The installation of this large, black marble monument in the cemetery constructed to commemorate those who died fighting Fascism is an indication of the political stance of the present ruling politicians in Albania. They also established a monument to the German Fascist invaders who died in the country, close to the English cemetery in Tirana Park.

Tirana Martyr's Cemetery - Fascist Memorial

Tirana Martyr’s Cemetery – Fascist Memorial

This is a quite place, away from the chaos and noise of the traffic that is gradually suffocating the city centre and often you will encounter groups of old men taking the sun and playing chess on the steps up to the plateau.

I was surprised, no shocked, on my visit in October 2014 to find that a new tomb had been installed in a place of honour in the proximity to the Mother Albania statue. This was of Azem Hajdari one of the counter-revolutionary leaders of the student movement of 1990-91. He was courted by the North Americans and rose to positions of power within the post-Communist right-wing governments.

He was killed in an ambush in 1998. He wasn’t there the last time I visited the Martyrs’ Cemetery in 2012 and haven’t been able to find out exactly when he appeared. I would assume on the anniversary of either his birth or death and looks like it was one of the last actions of the right-wing government when it knew it was on the way out – however sycophantic it had been to the European Union and the United States.

This appears to be an extension of the idea of the ‘extirpation of idolatry’ that I suggested was the reason for the re-cycling of Enver Hoxha’s tomb stone as the principal monument at the English Cemetery in Tirana Park.

Azem Hajdari

Azem Hajdari

This modern-day tomb must be, more or less, in the same position as the original resting place of Enver Hoxha. By placing Hajdari’s tomb here the reactionary country-sellers are making a statement of who is now in control.

Originally the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout the country were intended to remember and commemorate those who had given the ultimate sacrifice to free their country from the Fascist invader – exceptions were only made in a few special circumstances, e.g., Enver Hoxha who was the leader of that struggle which led to the liberation and real independence of the country.

As with the destruction, deterioration or alteration of monuments of the Socialist period (for example, the ‘renovation’ of the Albanian Mosaic on the National History Museum) the past is being re-written. I have no problem with the destruction of monuments when the revolutions or counter-revolutions occur. I made this point when VI Lenin and JV Stalin were put ‘under wraps’ in November 2012.

But capitalism is parasitic. Sometimes it destroys the past that is antithetical to its ideology, at other times it attempts to appropriate and use it for its own political aims. The battle is unending and their ‘reversals’ will themselves be reversed.

The Evolution of a Lapidar

The original lapidars in Albania had a very humble beginning. The first ones to be constructed were at cemeteries of those Communists and Partisans who died in the National Liberation War and were monuments to their memory.

Also, in the early days of the Albanian Socialist Revolution there weren’t the resources, and possibly the artistic and technological skills, needed to produce the really fine monuments such as the Drashovice Arch or the Pishkash Star. As the country recovered from the devastation of war and those educated under the new system reached their maturity the obstacles of the past receded and the monuments could become more adventurous.

Original Martyrs' Cemetery lapidar

Original Martyrs’ Cemetery lapidar

The original National Martyrs’ Cemetery was located in Tirana Park, the area behind where Tirana University is to be found today. It was established in 1945 and was a very simple affair. The monument was an actual lapidar, that is, a monolith – an obelisk that was very wide at the base but tapering towards the top. There was a large red star fixed to the top and on the side facing the cemetery there was fixed a large marble plaque. There was another red star at the top of the plaque but, so far, I’ve been unable to discover the text.

The graves had simple wooden markers with the name of the martyr and their dates. There didn’t seem to be a great deal of shrubbery in the vicinity.

At that time there wouldn’t have been the same number of trees in the park as there are now and the lapidar would have stood out on the skyline.

Memorial stone to original Martyrs' Cemetery

Memorial stone to original Martyrs’ Cemetery

This location is commemorated by a large rock, one side of which has been worked and on a marble plaque are the words:

Ne kete vend prej vitit 1945 deri ne vitin 1972 kane qene varrezat e deshmoreve t’atdheut

This translates as:

The National Martyrs’ Cemetery was located here from 1945 to 1972

The decision to construct a cemetery that was a suitable memorial to those who had died, allowing those that remained to attempt the construction of Socialism, and the commissioning of the Mother Albania statue, of necessity, meant that the site in Tirana Park was not adequate.

The sheer scale of the statue meant that it had to be located in an area where it could breath and now she surveys the city and the surrounding countryside in all her glory.

GPS:

Of Mother Albania

41.30862703

19.84004502

DMS:

41° 18′ 31.0573” N

19° 50′ 24.1621” E

Altitude:

210.4m

Practicalities

Getting there:

The Qender-Sauk bus leaving from the bus station between the clock tower and the National Library, off Skënderbeu Square, passes the cemetery gates and then it’s just a short walk up the steps to the statue of Mother Albania. All local buses in Tirana have a set fare of 30 leke (which hasn’t changed in at least three years).

The cemetery is at the top end of Rruga e Elbasanit which starts just after crossing the Lana River. You then pass the US Embassy on your left, but being the US it’s not just a building but half a district. You then pass by University buildings before starting the climb up the hill. Look out the left hand side of the bus for the statue of Mother Albania and get off at the stop opposite the entrance to the memorial. The large gates might be closed but it’s always accessible to pedestrians. During the day the bus runs every 10 minutes or so and the journey only takes a few minutes after passing the University buildings.

GPS:

Of original site

41.31461003

19.821303

DMS:

41° 18′ 52.5961” N

19° 49′ 16.6908” E

Altitude:

135.2

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