A rather bizarre building in the middle of Albania
's capital city Tirana
. Its angled shape vaguely reminiscent of a pyramid and the fact that it was originally intended to be a museum in honor of the country's deceased Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha
gave the edifice its informal name.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
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More background info:
When after over 40 years, Albania
's hardliner ultra-Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha
finally snuffed it in 1985, it was decided to honour him not just with the grand hero's grave he was initially given at the Martyrs' Cemetery in the south of Tirana
, but to build him a gargantuan mausoleum-like place of worship right in the centre of the capital.
Hoxha's architect daughter Pranvera herself, together with her husband Klement Kolaneci, saw to the design of the edifice, officially to be called "Enver Hoxha Memorial Museum".
Allegedly, the resultant building became the most expensive ever erected in Albania. Its extraordinary pyramid-like shape clad in white marble would have been matched inside with an exhibition celebrating the late autocrat (or should that be Pharaoh?) and his glorious achievements through the display of all manner of artefacts somehow connected to the life and works of the great dead man. (As such it could have been somewhat similar to North Korea
's "International Friendship Exhibition
But it was not to be. The building as such was finished in 1988, but only a few years later communism
began to fall apart all around Eastern Europe and eventually in Albania too from ca. 1991. Shortly after, the museum was given up, and the body of Hoxha was exhumed from its first (non-)final resting place at the Martyrs' Cemetery and transferred to a modest "pauper's grave" in a regular cemetery on the outskirts of Tirana (a similar fate to that of Romania
– see Bucharest
The pyramid still stood there, though – as a kind of (involuntary) symbol of the craziness of the system, which kept the general populace in poverty and without liberties, while huge sums of money were squandered on a purely representational cult-of-personality
folly such as this …
So what was to become of it? For a while it was turned into an "International Centre of Culture", running ambitious art exhibitions pushing Albania's art scene into an international spotlight with some success. But this too, was not to last. Governments' jealous bickering led to the sacking of the Centre's director, and it all went pear-shaped again.
The space inside the pyramid was used as a conference centre, for trade fairs and other lacklustre uses. One part even became a nightclub called "Mumja" – 'the Mummy' (was the irony intentional? I don't know). This too was soon mummified, i.e. closed down and gutted.
So for most of the time since the end of communism, the structure just stood there derelict. And very derelict, that was. Even the white marble cladding mostly disappeared, and the only purpose the slopes of the pyramid seemed to serve was as canvas for graffiti.
The whole future of the pyramid was long uncertain. Apparently there were even government plans to tear it down completely; but that in turn sparked protests and calls for the preservation of the iconic pyramid
But then a plan for a massive conversion of the site was launched in 2018 – you can see the “artists’ impressions” of the future of the pyramid here
(external link, opens in a new tab). Building work is currently ongoing and will probably take until 2024 to complete. It’s supposed to become a mixed-use space with an IT education centre, cafes and shops, people will be allowed to climb stairs on the outside to the very top, as well as wander through the semi-open spaces inside. Whether there will be any references to Enver Hoxha
and the building’s original purpose is unclear but it seems unlikely.
The shape of the building, by the way, isn't strictly speaking a pyramid exactly. To start with, only the front part, occupying around two thirds of the whole area space, is angled in such a way as to form a pyramid-like "slope". So it's not a symmetrical structure. The angled parts are rather star-shaped – fanning out from the centre, reaching down to ground level at the front, but not at the back. The angle at which the "slope-y" front sides go from ground to top is also notably lower (more acute) than in a prototypical geometrically "ideal" pyramid (like that one associates with the great pyramids of Egypt).
What there is to see: I’ve seen the “pyramid” twice, first in 2011, and again more recently in Aril 2022. On my first visit I found the iconic structure in a sorry state. The white marble that the pyramid-like slopes fanning out from its centre used to be clad in had all been scraped off. The exposed raw concrete was full of graffiti, the glass windows at the bottom smashed in and partly boarded up or covered with tarp.
I had seen photos a friend of mine took of the pyramid in 2008 (and she allowed me to reproduce a couple of them in the gallery here
– so you can compare as well), and back then the white marble cladding was still in place and there was very little sign of vandalism.
But just three years later damage and dilapidation had progressed alarmingly The former nightclub "Mumja" ('mummy') on the southern side of the building was closed and locked too. I peeked in through the glass door and the inside looked like an abandoned building site.
In the square in front of the pyramid there's an art installation/sculpture involving a "Peace Bell" – made from countless bullet cartridges from the violent 1990s! Apparently, this was made by children of the north-Albanian town of Shkodër in 1999 to serve as a peace memorial.
On my return visit to Tirana
in April 2022 I found the site totally changed and undergoing work that will change it more, into something totally different. The whole area was surrounded by a construction site fence. On the fence were reproductions of the design plans like the ones found online here
(external link, opens in a new tab).
You could only see the pyramid from across the road looking over the fence. Whether the “Peace Bell” is still in situ I could not determine – I didn’t see it.
The front of the pyramid was opened up and gutting work was going on inside. There was a door in the fence and my wife just tried the handle to see if it opened. Astonishingly it did but just behind was a security guard, so she sheepishly said sorry and closed the door again quickly. But to our surprise the guard opened it again and beckoned us inside. He even gave us an impromptu “guided tour”, leading us to the front of the pyramid that is now a big gaping gap. From here you could see all the way to the inside of the top of the pyramid – and our guard “guide” pointed out a big star shape in the centre and said “communist”! At that point a worker passed by and quipped “Enver Hoxha was a good man! Dictator, yes, but good man!”
We were even allowed to take photos before being escorted back to the door in the fence – but under one condition: “no internet!”, meaning we were not to post any of those photos online. And because I tend to keep my promises, I haven’t included any of those photos in the gallery below
– only one taken from outside the fenced area.
So for the time being, the old Hoxha Pyramid, now referred to as the “Pyramid of Tirana”, is normally out of bounds, inaccessible and in a state of flux. What the finished conversion will be like can only be guessed at from the designer’s illustrations (online and on the fences around the site). Whether there will be any hints at the dark context, the structure’s originally intended purpose or any mention of Enver Hoxha
remains to be seen. My hunch is there won’t be any such references and the history of the pyramid will simply be glossed over. But I may be wrong. We’ll see. I will have to come back in a few years’ time and assess this place anew.
right in the centre of Tirana
, on a square immediately south of the Lana "river" and off Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit, the main central north-south axis.
Access and costs: easy to locate, but currently inaccessible.
the prime location, in the very heart of Tirana
's city centre, just round the corner from the Blloku, makes the pyramid almost impossible to miss. However, due to ongoing construction work, while the conversion of the structure into new uses is ongoing, the whole site is currently inaccessible (unless you’re lucky enough to be let in by a guard – see above
). The work is expected to be completed some time from 2024. Then the pyramid should become fully accessible again – but in a wholly new look.
Time required: not long, maybe 15 minutes or so to walk around it to view the structure from all angles. The current construction site fence hinders the view so most people just walk straight past it. What the “pyramid” will have to offer when the conversion is finished and how much time that may take can only be speculated about at the moment.
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