The Gjirokastra Foundation, established in 2001, is a non-governmental and not-for-profit organisation for the preservation of cultural heritage, and its development for the social and economic benefit of the remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site of Gjirokastra and its surroundings. The Foundation’s work has continuously safeguarded Gjirokastra’s outstanding heritage through supporting the revitalisation of its historic centre and introducing best European principles and practices for heritage conservation and development.
Since its creation in 2001, the Gjirokastra Foundation has implemented over 50 projects in Gjirokastra and across Albania that have been supported by the Packard Humanities Institute, the Butrint Foundation, EU funding, the European Cultural Foundation, the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, the UN Joint Programme for Culture Heritage and Social and Economic Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the Swiss Cooperation Office Albania, GIZ Albania and others.
After the consequences of the civil unrest suffered by the country in 1997 and later the impact of the war in Kosovo, the Gjirokastra Foundation quickly grew to become well-known and supported in the international heritage field, and is regionally unparalleled in its experience and dedication to the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage.
Gjirokastra Foundation’s persistent efforts have demonstrated that heritage is not a financial burden but a public asset that is beneficial to local inhabitants and their businesses, and highly impactful on the social well-being of locals, national and international visitors.
The Jury underlined the Gjirokastra Foundation’s praiseworthy accomplishment: “Thanks to the dedicated, 20-year commitment of the Gjirokastra Foundation to rescue their town from decay, this World Heritage City is being saved through the introduction of the best principles and models for conservation and heritage-based development. This work was undertaken in a challenging social and political context and in the spirit of community-based practices with a participatory approach.”
In addition to the conservation of monuments, the Gjirokastra Foundation has contributed to the training of around 50 heritage professionals and practitioners – while adhering to principles of gender equality – and has actively reinvigorated local artisanship and craftsmanship through numerous events, fairs and training programmes.
“Their community-based endeavours promote the training of a new generation of architects, craftspeople and other heritage professionals, with a combination of conservation, restoration and revitalisation projects; and with a revival of arts and crafts awareness-raising, promotion and advocacy, using all resources efficiently while remaining focused on sustainable solutions,” the Jury stated.
The City of Gjirokastra was in great peril; the work of this Foundation helped to change the course of the city from decay towards salvation.
Thanks to the introduction of the best principles of conservation and revitalisation by becoming a catalyst for change. The Foundation has twice acted as a nominator of sites to the 7 Most Endangered programme, first for the Historic Centre of Gjirokastra, which was shortlisted in 2018, and later for the National Theatre of Albania in Tirana, which was listed in 2020. The Gjirokastra Foundation’s advocacy of European values within the heritage field is further exemplified by its participation in ARTECH (2020-21) – a project funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union – that proposes to re-create the initial bridge between arts and traditional crafts, connecting the roots of cultural identities with European heritage.