ILDA KURTI

The medieval Castle of Preza, kneeling by the earthquake of 2019, has received great attention from the Albanian government. The National Institute of Cultural Heritage has conducted two studies with a total value of 390 thousand dollars for the complete restoration of the Castle, during 2020 and 2021.

The first study includes 5 different historical monuments, one of which includes the Castle of Preza, in which the Clock Tower and the Circular Tower are set as study objects, not including the Northeast wall. The second study is dedicated to the Mosque of Preza, specifying that the 3 objects of the first study are excluded. After conducting a detailed research on the first study, Faktoje points that the government does not pay the contracted company 180 thousand dollars.

The contract with the winning company has not been canceled, and it is still valid in 2021 with another study object, given that the study and intervention project for the restoration of the two towers and the connecting wall between them is being implemented by Cultural Heritage without Borders thanks to the funds granted by the American Embassy. The restoration started on April 2 and the cost of two studies funded by the state budget is about 390 thousand dollars, while the restoration cost approximately 152 thousand dollars.


The earthquake of November 2019 severely affected the historic Castle of Preza, which has been seriously damaged in some parts. The Albanian Government by DCM No. 213, dated 11.03.2020, decided to finance 236,627,069 ALL for the restoration of cultural assets. Faktoje points out that the Albanian state has financed two study projects for the Castle of Preza, the first in 2020, which includes 2 Towers and the Northeast Wall of the Castle, with project code 19AD708 and a financial cost of 6,461,526 ALL. The second study is in 2021 and includes the Mosque and the Castle of Preza with project code 19AD708. The second contract was signed on 06.05.2021, and the contract object is the Mosque of Preza. The cost for this project is 22,000,000 ALL or about 212 thousand dollars – even more expensive than that of the previous year. It was executed in only 21 calendar days or 15 working days, and the contract ended on May 26, 2021. But it is noticed that the payment for the first contract, i.e. for the study carried out on 2 towers and the Northeast wall has not been completed, but has been postponed in 2021. Faktoje has requested information from the Institute of Cultural Heritage on the reasons of this change, just 2 months from the conclusion of the first contract and only 13 days from the expiration of its term. If the object was changed in the first contract, why should the second contract be entered into? That is completely unclear. And what kind of work has been executed by the first contract, and what is the value which still remains unpaid? Project design on the Towers or on the Mosque?

On April 2, 2021, it commenced the works on the restoration of the Castle of Preza. The works are being carried out thanks to the financing made by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund and are being executed by the cultural organization Cultural Heritage without Borders. Interventions are currently being carried out at the Clock Tower, the Northeast wall of the Castle and the Circular Tower. According to a report published by National Institute of Cultural Heritage, the restoration cost 152 thousand dollars, out of which 12 thousand dollars went for emergency stabilization, and the full restoration of the Castle of Preza will cost 140 thousand dollars.

In addition to external funds, by DCM No. 213, dated 11.03.2020 have been allocated 236,627,069 ALL for the restoration of cultural assets in the country. Two different study projects for the Castle of Preza Castle have been financed from this fund, one in 2020 and the second in 2021.

Study costs are 2.5 times higher than the restoration itself

Based on DCM No. 213, dated 11.03.2020 were financed 236,627,069 ALL for the restoration of cultural assets. The Reconstruction Fund has financed two different study projects for the Castle of Preza, the first in 2020 and the second in 2021.

Illustrative image detailing investment projects from the Reconstruction Fund for 2020. Project code is 19AD703.©Faktoje

This fund was initially administered in the budget of 2020, during which 7 contracts were concluded with a total value of 190,174,800. The rest passed on to the following year 2021, during which 3 contracts were concluded with a total value of 31,600,000 ALL.

The budget of 2020 financed the contract concluded on 09.10.2020 on the drafting of the “Plan of Conservation, Reinforcement and Restoration Intervention in 5 objects of cultural property”, with project code 19AD703, which cost 92,500,000 ALL. The title of the project does not provide the name of these objects, but Faktoje has managed to reveal the terms of reference of this project and one of them is dedicated to the Castle of Preza, which respectively covers two objects within it: The Clock Tower and Northeast Tower – not including the Northeast wall, though badly damaged.

In the absence of further financial details for each object, which must provide explanation on the way the money was distributed for the study of each monument, Faktoje has calculated 1/5 of the total amount, where respectively each object costs about 18,500,000 ALL.

Informative photo of 5 objects included in the object.

Source: “Monitoring Reports; 8 month report of 2020”, Ministry of Culture.

Towers or Mosques?

Illustrative photo of the Mosque of Preza. Next to it is located the Square Tower which is under restoration.

The budget of 2021 financed the second contract on the study of the Castle of Preza, “Conservation Plan, Reinforcement and restoration intervention in the building: Castle of Preza (including the Mosque in the Castle of Preza, excluding 2 Towers and the Northeast Wall of the Castle)”, with project code 19AD708. It includes the study on the Mosque in the Castle of Preza and the contract was signed on 06.05.2021, and it cost 22,000,000 ALL, or about 212 thousand dollars – even more expensive than the study of the previous year. The contract was executed during 21 calendar days, or only in 15 working days, and ended on May 26, 2021.

Illustrative image detailing investment projects from the Reconstruction Fund for 2021. Project code is 19AD708. ©Faktoje

In the initial list published by the Ministry of Culture, the Mosque of Preza is not mentioned as a damaged object, or in need of restoration. The mosque was completely restored in 2014 by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency .

At the moment that Faktoje carried out field checks, there was no restoration under process in the building of the Mosque, and there was no information board to inform that there would be works in the future.

Image posted on Facebook by National Institute of Cultural Heritage

The report published by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage describes the inspected damage, but the Mosque is not mentioned in it. The same thing is noticed in the terms of reference.

 “After the earthquake of 26.11.2019, the specialists of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage and the specialists of Regional Directorate of Cultural Heritage of Tirana, have inspected the monument, which results in a very damaged condition. The Clock Tower, the fortified wall and one of the towers (the Northeastern one), have suffered great damage, posing a danger to the total collapse of the structure and to the surrounding area. Part of the stone masonry of the Clock Tower and the fortified wall have been destroyed and have fallen apart. The roof is completely destroyed. In addition to that, the Northern part of the Tower No. 2, has collapsed. Upon Decision of the National Council of Material Cultural Heritage, No. 10, dated 15.01.2021, was approved the Project on “Emergency Reinforcement Intervention in the Castle of Preza” with CHVVB as an applicant and financed by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund.”

One of the tasks of the winner of the contract, regarding the design of the first study project of the Castle of Preza, requires that the design shall be carried out “developing the Conservation Plan, Technical Inspection, Project Idea and Detailed Implementation Project”, as well as it requires “the determination of interventions and their respective costs”. The cost for this project and study is estimated at about 178 thousand dollars, not including the implementation works.

Based on the observation of the information board of field works it results that the designer of the intervention in the Castle of Preza, the two towers and the Northeastern wall is CHWB, and not the winning Albanian subjects. The total cost of the intervention that is being carried by CHWB is estimated at 152 thousand dollars, and in addition to the emergency project design for the stabilization of the structure, they have also completed the design of the final restoration and structural rehabilitation projects.

Procured Design Cost Donor cost (Total cost of the restoration intervention)
178 thousand dollars 152 thousand dollars

Illustrative image of the Terms of Reference regarding the intervention in Preza. Source: NICH.

Meanwhile, in the second project of the Mosque of Preza , an object that is not mentioned in the initial list of objects inspected as damaged ones by NICH, the terms of reference  emphasize the need to design a comprehensive project, which integrates the rest of the Castle:

“Upon the decision of the National Council of Material Cultural Heritage, No. 10, dated 15.01.2021, the project ‘Emergency Reinforcement Intervention in the Castle of Preza’ was approved with CHWB as an applicant and financing from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund… Regarding the above, the process of the project design on emergency and reinforcing interventions for the Clock Tower, the Northeast Tower and the Northeast Wall, has been completed. In order to design an all-inclusive and integrated project, it is required the project design of the conservation and the reinforcement interventions for the other part of the Castle of Preza.”

 

Therefore, even the above quote implies that the approved project belongs to CHWB and the financing comes from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund. It is unclear when and who identified this necessity and why it was not identified at the initial assessment phase.

But in terms of reference of the second project of the Castle of Preza, where the winners are the same entities, it is stated that “Upon Decision of the National Council of Material Cultural Heritage, No. 478, dated 09.12.2020, the proposal for the change of the projects was approved, in the framework of the reconstruction process, for the objects of the service contract: No. 1814/11 Prot, dated 09.10.2020 for the project design “Conservation plan, reinforcement and restoration interventions in 5 objects of cultural property”, replacement of the object “The Clock Tower and the Northeast Tower” with the object “The Mosque in Preza Castle”. Following this decision, it was made the reallocation of unpaid reconstruction funds during 2020.”

From the 12-month report of NICH it is stated that: “Following the findings, in the meeting of NCMCH, dated 09.12.2020 by Decision No. 476, 477 and 478, dated 09.12.2020, the proposals for changes have been approved: In the framework of the contract No. 1814/11 Prot., Dated 09.10.2020 on “Project Design” Conservation Plan, reinforcement and restoration interventions in 5 objects of cultural property “ replacement of “Clock Tower and Northeast Tower” with the object “Mosque in the Castle of Preza”.

Since the project design was carried out by CHWB, the object of intervention of the existing contract with Albanian entities is changed by determining as contract object “Mosque in the Castle of Preza”, which was not inlcuded in the initial list of damaged objects.

This change of the object was made just 2 months from the conclusion of the first contract and only 13 days from the expiration of its term. If the object was changed in the first contract, why should the second contract be entered into? That is completely unclear. And what kind of work has been executed by the first contract, and what is the value which still remains unpaid? Project design on the Towers or on the Mosque? Meanwhile, based on the DCM, reconstruction funds have been allocated for the design of damaged projects, and the first contract was not changed as stated in the decision of the NCMCH, No. 478, dated 09.12.2020, but in 2021 a new procurement was opened and a second contract was concluded. The winners were the same entities as in the first contract. Meanwhile, a part of the payment for the first contract, in the amount of 19.5 million ALL, has not yet been paid by NICH, although it was completed on December 22, 2020.

It is unclear whether this value relates to the design of the Castle of Preza project, whose work is performed by CHWB, or the contract has been reduced to this value (according to the Institute’s table, the value of the contract has not changed), or it will be paid, since a new contract was signed in May 2021 for the project design of the Mosque in Preza.

The second contract of the Mosque in the Castle of Preza was signed on 06.05.2021, and cost 22,000,000 ALL or about 212 thousand dollars – even more expensive than the part of the first contract which was concluded for the intervention process of the two Towers and the Northeast wall . Moreover it was executed in only 21 calendar days or 15 working days, and the contract ended on May 26, 2021.

Residents for maintenance

Residents told Faktoje that they were dissatisfied with the level of maintenance, as it had not been invested there for quite a long time.

“I have lived there almost all my life and I have visited the castle every day. The Castle of Preza is located next to the school and it was a daily destination for us. The earthquake damaged the Clock Tower, which has historically been the highest point in the area. Reconstruction works commenced this year, in March or April, too late according to me. There has been no investment at all from the local government. Everything is falling apart, even those objects that have been in good conditions, because no investment has been made.” – states for Faktoje, Amarilda Kulli, 28 years old, a resident of Preza.

Illustrative image of the construction site at the Castle of Preza.

Residents feel anxious in the face of severe weather and natural disasters, but at the same time they blame the administrative reform, which brought about the union with the Municipality of Vora, from which they feel neglected.

“In fact, there has been a lot of damage from heavy rains. We are located in such a hilly area and we have had a lot of problems. I think in the event of another earthquake or rain, the castle as well as all the houses of most of the inhabitants will be destroyed. Everything will be destroyed, because no one has invested there. I feel so sad when I see it in those conditions. It used to be a small town a few years ago; later on, it became a commune and then an administrative unit. Since we joined the Municipality of Vora, the tragedy of Preza befell. Everything is falling apart, even the school.” – adds Amarilda, referring to the rains during January.

Image posted by Elva Margariti on Twitter on 29.11.2019

On November 29, 2019, the Minister of Culture posted an image on the social network Twitter, in which she announced that the entry to the Castles of Preza and Kruja was strictly forbidden, as the November 26 earthquake had caused great damage to them. The image shows the recent collapse of the Clock Tower and a tape around the building, signaling security perimeter.

Illustrative image taken from the Conservation Plan of the Castle of Preza. Source: NICH

On July 6, 2021, the Minister of Culture, Elva Margariti inspected the works in Preza and she stated that the Castle of Preza would be ready to receive visitors within a short period of time, but she did not give a definite deadline when the restoration process was expected to be completed.

Image of the information board at the Castle of Preza. Date: 16.07.2021

During the site visit, Faktoje reviewed the data presented in the information board placed at the entrance of the Castle, which indicates that the duration of conservation and reinforcement works on this site will last 6 months. Based on a simple calculation, the works are expected to be completed by the end of September / at beginning of October 2021.

The information board does not provide any details regarding the financial costs, but it indicates that the project was financed by ‘The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation’ of the American Embassy in Tirana.

Extracted image from “Request for financial support to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of State for Reconstruction”, Ministry of Culture. Source: Local Gate. Page 13.

According to the value addressed in the report of the Ministry of Culture in the Request for financial support addressed to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of State for Reconstruction, the total damage of the Castle of Preza is estimated at 20,000,000 ALL, including the Clock Tower and the Northeast Tower, out of which 1,195,978 ALL are estimated for the emergency project and 1,400,000 ALL for assessment, study and design.

If we compare the value which was initially foreseen by the Ministry of Culture, we can see that the value for the study was estimated 1,400,000 ALL, while in reality the values of the two contracts financed in 2020 and 2021 have cost almost 40,500,000 ALL. The project, which was approved only for research, exceeds the initial figure calculated by the Ministry of Culture itself, which was supposed to include the phase of emergency intervention of the object, as well as the study phase.

Extracted image from “Requests and applications for financial support through funding programs and potential donors”, Ministry of Culture. Source: Local Gate. Page 15.

The same report from the Ministry of Culture states the value of the preliminary cost in US dollars, funded by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund at the U.S. Embassy. According to them, the Castle of Preza project is divided into two phases, in which the first phase of the emergency stabilization of the object cost 12,000 dollars, while the second phase, that of full restoration will cost 140,000 dollars.

The studies of the Castle of Preza funded by the Reconstruction Fund have cost approximately 390,000 dollars, about 238,000 dollars more than the restoration process itself.

Faktoje contacted the organization Cultural Heritage Without Borders, to learn more about the progress of the works. As a start, the restoration project was designed and the draft proposal for the restoration of the structure was drafted. Afterwards, the Clock Tower works commenced. Initially, the construction site was surrounded, the signage and the information boards were placed as well as a scaffolding was placed to carry out the works. This was followed by the dismantling of unstable loose stones and fragments from the masonry.

Illustrative image of the response taken from CHWB.

In a post posted on the profile of CHWB Albania, the implementation unit of works in Preza, there were given explanations on some of the performed procedures:

“Since the beginning of the implementation phase in April 2021, we have carried out temporary reinforcement interventions in the Clock Tower through tensioned steel cables, as well as with polyester strips. We have also started strengthening and restoring the fortification wall between the towers, placing wall joints, strengthening the upper part of the masonry and injecting mortar into its inner core.”

During its field trip, Faktoje spoke with Myrvete Lazaj, a construction technician of the restoration project of the Clock Tower, who explained that up to now: “We have already made the construction joints, the reinforcements to make the Clock Tower ready for reconstruction, as well as the tie rods have been placed.”

Lazaj also explained to us the three main problems they had encountered during the works and which had required more time, which were: making the right mortar sample in order to fit it with all phases of interventions in the object, replacing collapsed stones with similarly ones collected from the collapsed houses of the inhabitants of Preza, which were destroyed by the earthquake, as well as the order from Italy regarding stainless steel rods and tie rods.

How are the works in the Circular Tower proceeding?

Illustrative photo of the supporting structure of the Circular Tower. Date: 16.07.2021

Based on Faktoje’s field observation, the restoration of the Circular Tower had not started yet and compared to the works of the Clock Tower a few meters further, the process of Circular Tower still seemed slow. Supporting structure was carried out and several retaining scaffolding were placed around the object.

Illustrative image of the collapse of the Circular Tower seen from above. Date: 16.07.2021

CHWB, in its official response, informed us that the scaffolding was placed at the Circular Tower and the supporting structures were placed at the outer wall of the Tower. Loose stones and fragments of masonry have been dismantled, as well as arbitrary structures and interventions in the Tower. Excavations and surveys have already been carried out in three areas of the tower, and meanwhile they are making the analyzes and discussions with the specialists of the field on the intervention method.

The same thing was confirmed during the construction site visit by the construction technician, Myrvete Lazaj, who told Faktoje that: “The works of the Circular Tower have not started yet, because the geological study has not been completed and we are awaiting a response from the Institute of Geology.”

Illustrative image of the vegetation at the Circular Tower. Date: 16.07.2021

The surrounding walls of the Castle of Preza

During the field observation, Faktoje photographed some of the problems of the surrounding walls. The southern and southwestern walls had numerous fractures along its entire perimeter.

Another problem was the high presence of vegetation on the walls of the Castle, especially in their internal part.

Illustrative photo of the Castle of Preza. Date: 16.07.2021