The town of Gjirokastra in southern Albania is a well-preserved example of an Ottoman Balkan town, distinguished by its residential architecture but also notable for what is absent: unusually for an Ottoman town, it has only one minaret—the rest having been destroyed during the communist era. Declared a ‘museum city’ in 1960, Gjirokastra’s architectural heritage was preserved and maintained well by its Institute of Monuments for several decades. With the collapse of the regime and the economy in 1992, however, the town’s institutional structure disintegrated and skilled workers and craftsmen emigrated to Greece and elsewhere.
The Gjirokastra Conservation and Development Organisation has, for the better part of the last decade, attempted to reverse the decline of Gjirokastra’s built heritage through a grassroots programme that emphasises the development potential of conservation: Preservation projects are designed with a focus on adaptive reuse and sustainability, integrating training, business development and community outreach. Its many projects to date include the restoration and reuse of the castle of Gjirokastra; the rehabilitation of the bazaar; the restoration of cobblestone streets and creation of pedestrian walkways in the old town; and the preservation of several significant buildings.