Tirana: A theatre lost - will the stories disappear too?

It is important to reflect on how the places that we frequent in our cities, become part of ourselves. We have memories there, we like going to these places, they are close to home. Or perhaps we have met someone special there. In this case, Albania's National Theater was not only considered architectural heritage, but it was also an important part of many of the residents of Tirana. Hend Aly shares a story, without a happy ending. It makes us reflect on what the virus means for our stories in cities.


I live in Heliopolis, and I love to go around the city. I love the old buildings, the streets which are still kind of walkable. I love my city, and it truly hurts every time I see an old building in a bad condition, or I see a demolished building replaced by an ugly tower. Not just because of the architectural value of the building, but because those buildings and streets are part of our life, they carry and tell our stories. My biggest worry is to walk one day around my city and not be able to recognise it any more. This has been happening in plenty of neighbourhoods in Cairo.


Before studying the 4Cities Erasmus Mundus Master in Urban Studies, I though that I only had this attachment towards my city: Cairo. This was before I lived in four different cities, and had conducted research in two other cities. I truly feel that each of them has become my city. Unfortunately, on May 17th, Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister, and Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana, have finally succeeded in demolishing the National Theatre. A place which carried the stories of the city and was part of the Albanian history.



The National Theatre was demolished after Tirana’s residents had been protecting it for almost three years. By protesting in front of it everyday, on cold rainy nights and on hot days. And it was listed as heritage. The theatre was demolished to make way for a highly problematic project: basically a theatre in a mall, surrounded by luxurious towers - because, as mayor Rama said: “Investors do not build theatres for charity.”


So, the investor was granted a huge piece of land in the center of the city, in exchange for including a theatre in his project. The starchitects of BIG, a very famous Copenhagen-based firm, played a crucial role in this problematic project, and systematically supported authoritarian practices, to make some money and add one more problematic project to their list of fascinating projects. Importantly, there was no competition neither tender for such a huge project.


Credit of all photos: Hend Aly


Aleanca për Mbrojtjen e Teatrit: I hope no one was hurt and please do not lose faith in what you are doing, keep the community you built around the theatre protection strong, and protect your city.


Unfortunately, this has not made it to the news, so we are the only media giving visibility to these type of stories. Thank you for helping us spread the word.


This story was shared by Hend Aly, who is an urbanist currently working at the United Nations in Cairo. It originally appeared on her personal Facebook page. Hend's master thesis titled: "Bringing the Political to the City: Politicising vs. Depoliticising Urban Transformation in Belgrade and Tirana" examined the case of this National Theater in great detail.


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