Archaeological Cafes
By Alqi Koçiko
Albanian Daily News
Published October 14, 2017
A visible construction intervention within Butrint's archaeological park area has become a hot topic in the media and Albanian politics. The Minister of Culture Kumbaro, summoned by the Media and Education parliamentary committee, clarified that this object which will facilitate the numerous visitors, in other words this cafeteria, is being constructed according to the law; that UNESCO cannot be asked for everything, but similar heritage sites do have such services in the world; that there was a broad legal basis approved by past governments, for which the MPs who had summoned her had never protested. In short, there is nothing to be alarmed about and the 'doomers' who shout are ringing the wrong bells.
The fact is that Butrint is the most visited, the richest, the most complete archaeological site in the country. Times ago illegal restaurants and other shops were built around the site, and the area was swarming with ambulant vendors. But even in the most troubled times, no one dared build something solid within the park's boundary.
The kiosks were removed, vendors were driven out and the square fronting the park entrance opened, creating space for parking cars and visitors' buses; a lot of visitors, really, in any period of the year, who I think first of all appreciate the efforts done on preservation and the lack of "modern" in such a beautiful and tangible antiquity trace.
Perhaps the visitors really need to drink and eat something, after an hour stroll through the park trails, in the castle and in the halls of artifacts. But there is a very cynical moment in this story that cannot be left unsaid. Some of the most tireless cultural heritage conservation activists of Albania are part of this government in some level or another; the actual minister was one of them. These people, and the minister alongside with them, have fiercely protested against the demolition of a fence that would extend the Sauk road; against the demolition of the Presidency rails and the visual opening of the building for passersby, because they were "historical railings"; all the more they reacted strongly against earlier attempts of "businessifying" the remaining Albanian castles with tennis courts, restaurants and swimming pools, accusing former ministers of dubious affairs and corruption.
Today, the former activist minister cites the exact anathematized legal base of former governments to build a café within the archaeological park, a privately-run business. Co-owners are a salami firm and a construction company that had been quietly working during the summer. The state, said the Minister, had no capacity to build the café on its own...
I don't know if the public pressure will force the government and its ministry to abandon this venture, but anyway there have already been proofs that this majority and its exponents say things in electoral campaigns that are totally disproved by their actions when in power. Just a quick example, would be Tirana mayor's promise to block any new high buildings in the capital, citing the stock of more than 30 thousand unsold apartments.
Perhaps in addition to cafés, the Butrinti archaeological park also needs a disco up there in the castle. The whole area is touristic and the disco will serve to entertain tourists a few more hours, so they will spend even more. The legal basis is arrangeable, especially now that UNESCO is weakened by the departure of the US and Israel and doesn't have the weight it used to. Just saying...

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