Focus on Pristina, a city’s heritage at risk.

The capital of Kosovo is home to a rich architectural heritage which reflects its history, but the waves of destruction which have affected the city - and more generally the territory - since the end of the Second World War have deeply altered its appearance. Today, neglected by the authorities which are meant to protect it, subject to botched restoration work and illegal demolition, Pristina’s urban heritage and particularly that of the old town, is threatened to the extent that many experts fear that this historic zone and its monuments may disappear [1].

Pristina’s architectural heritage is made up of secular buildings such as typical Ottoman houses, hamams and fountains, and religious buildings like mosques. During the Communist era, many buildings were destroyed to give way to new ones under the motto “Destroy the old, Build the new”. The Old Bazaar, which had been the economic centre of the city since its construction in the 15th century, had become symbolic of a decadent era as well as a symbol of capitalism and was destroyed during this period. Kosovo also suffered two important waves of destruction during the 1998-99 ethnic war and 2004 riots. These events resulted in the politicisation of heritage and the destruction of buildings came to be seen as a means to eradicate any trace of the other community. Since 1999 the UN and other international organisations have worked to bring the communities together on the question of heritage.

 

©CHwB

More recently, unrestricted construction of buildings which are often illegal has distorted the nature and appearance of the historical town centre. To satisfy a booming sector, numerous buildings have been demolished or are threatened with demolition in order to give way to new ones. Old houses are particularly affected, as highlighted in an article recently published on the Courrier des Balkans website which reported that a century-old house located in the old town of Pristina had been burnt down. Although the perpetrators risk a fine, these penalties are seldom applied and when they are the amount is far from that set out by the legislation and are therein not an effective deterrent.

Monuments deemed of national significance are protected by the Institute for the Protection of Monuments and the Law on Cultural Heritage should guarantee their protection. Things are, however, not always straightforward and the law is not always applied to its fullest extent. In the past, the law has even been infringed by the authorities who are meant to enforce it. In 2010 a protected house, the Hyniler House, was nearly demolished after it was removed from the list of protected monuments a few years earlier following a request from the Hyniler family. The request was granted by two successive former Culture Ministers without the consent of the Institute of Monuments and Regional Museum of Pristina. The house was saved from destruction by protests from conservationists’ community and an intervention from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

More alarming is the case of the Old Tap uncovered during building works on Ibrahim Rugova square. After an assessment it was decided that the tap should be preserved, but even though the Municipality of Pristina pledged to finance its restoration and conservation, it was later reprimanded by the Ministry of Culture for delaying the work it had agreed to carry out. Furthermore, a statement released by the ministry in August 2013 revealed that the Municipality of Pristina had initially tried to hide the tap on two occasions by covering it, damaging it further and violating the Law on Cultural Heritage.

Pristina’s urban heritage is also vulnerable to natural decay over time as well as pollution due to traffic in the vicinity of the monuments. Although some monuments have been restored, the work does not always follow the guidelines set out by experts and a number of monuments have received inappropriate adaptations which have compromised the character and historic integrity of the building. One of the most striking examples is that of Pristina’s hamam: the restoration work was halted by order of the Ministry of Culture in 2013 after it was reported that the construction workers used the wrong material in the restoration work. In addition, some of the building’s features were destroyed or damaged during earlier phases of the conservation work.

Illegal demolition and botched restoration work highlight the shortcomings of the current legislative framework. The tasks of each institution are not clearly defined, which makes enforcing the law more difficult. The sector also lacks qualified staff to inspect the monuments identified as important heritage assets and oversee and supervise their restoration. Finally, heritage protection is a multi-disciplinary sector which relies on real co-operation between local and governmental institutions and between different ministries (such as Culture and Planning) but despite the government’s recent efforts to include heritage protection in for instance, the laws on planning, there is still a deplorable lack of a coherent strategy.

PSF and the CHWB are willing to bring the attention on Pristina’s urban heritage which disappearance would erase an entire period in the city’s history.

 

Sources :
[1] « Patrimoine urbain au Kosovo : le vieux Pristina est laissé à l’abandon », published in Preportr, on Dec. 23, 2013, translation by Nerimane Kamberi for le Courrier des Balkans on Feb. 28, 2013.

- « Patrimoine au Kosovo : le vieux hammam de Pristina, un joyau ottoman en perdition », published in dans Gazeta Jeta në Kosovë, on March 18, 2013, translation by Nerimane Kamberi for le Courrier des Balkans on March 28, 2013.
- « Demolition Threat to Pristina's Ottoman Heritage », by Petrit Collaku, published in Balkan Insight on May 21, 2010.
- « Restorers Wreak Havocon Kosovo’s Old Hamam », by de Shengjyl Osmani, published in Balkan Insight on Jan. 13, 2011.
- « Municipality of Prishtina engages intolibel and violates the laws of the Republic of Kosovo »,published on the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport of Kosovo’s website on Jan. 1, 2013.
- Erroneous, An analysis of numerous and continuous faults in cultural heritage, study by Ec Ma Ndyshe for the 2015 Forum.
- Regional programme for cultural and natural heritage in South-East Europe, document adopted by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport of Kosovo on January 23, 2009.
- Utopians Visions, Government failures in Kosovo's capital,discussion paper by the Kosovar Stability Initiative and the European Stability Initiative published on June 8, 2006.
- A future for Prishtina’s past, paper by the Kosovar Stability Initiative and the European Stability Initiative published on June 8, 2006.
- Conservation basis for the "Historic Centre" of Pristhinë/Pristina, study on integrated conservation published by the Promotion of Cultural Diversity in Kosovo (a European Union and Council of Europe joint project) in Dec. 2012. »

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