The capital of Albania Tirana is home to a whole host of quirky sites. From spinning restaurants to Japanese modern art structures, there’s more than enough to keep you on your toes. One of my personal favorites is one that is often missed or overlooked: An array of Communist Albania removed from their pedestals and now situated in alternative storage downtown, but still out of the public eye unless you’re looking for them.
Albania, a small Balkan nation of 2 million people straddling the coast of the Adriatic, is a country often overlooking or surrounded by misinformed views by those who haven’t ventured inside. The main reason for this air of mystery is due to Albania having been in the grip of a hardcore Stalinist regime between 1944 and 1991. Between these years, the country was as closed off as North Korea. The plight of numerous Albanians terrorized, tortured and murdered by the regime of Enver Hoxha went unknown by most of the outside world.
When communism began to collapse in the country in 1991, statues of Lenin, Stalin, and of course, the supreme leader Enver Hoxha, were torn from their pedestals by a people oppressed for decades. From a historical point of view, I’m glad to say that statues of these evil figures were not destroyed. Thankfully, they were saved and placed in alternative storage behind the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana.
The National Gallery is itself a building with origins in the Communist regime of Albania. It was formed back in 1946 by a group of Albanian artists and the Arts Committee. It has called its current location, on the Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard next to Tirana castle, home since late 1974. A prime example of brutalist architecture, the current national gallery is home to over 4,600 works of art.
Today, the National Gallery is the only state institution that exhibits, conserves, studies, restores, publishes, documents, and archives the works of art in Albania. So it is fitting that the back yard behind the building is now the resting place for a range of statues from the darkest era of the country.
“As well as a statue of Enver Hoxha with his nose smashed off, this alternative storage yard is home to a statue of Vladimir Lenin with an equally damaged right arm.”
I’ve been visiting Albania for a number of years and can recall, around 5 or so years ago, the back yard of the National Gallery of arts was off-limits to the public. fiercely guarded by a local security guard in a small kiosk, brief entry could only be obtained by gracing his palm with some Albanian Lek and only if he was in a good mood. Thankfully, the guard is gone and this alternative storage place for Communist relics is now open to curious visitors.
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As well as a statue of Enver Hoxha with his nose smashed off, this alternative storage yard is home to a statue of Vladimir Lenin with an equally damaged arm, two hulking statues of Josif Stalin, a bronze statue of an Albanian Partisan, a statue of an Albanian worker raising a pick in the air, and opposite them, a solitary female partisan struck in incredible detail.
Ironically, overlooking all of these Communist-era statues is the local capitalist headquarters of the regional Raiffeisen bank. Similarly, the nearby former mansion of Albanian Communist dictator Enver Hoxha is now facing a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Situated in an area known as Bloku, it was off-limits to the general public during Communism. Ask any Tironian (what I affectionately call the nationality of a native of Tirana) and they will no doubt see the irony, regardless of their political view.