From: Alice Taylor
UNESCO Poised to Demand Halt to Gjirokaster Bypass Project and Requests Invitation for Monitoring Mission

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is set to approve a resolution recommending that all works on the Gjirokaster Bypass be urgently halted and that Albania invite a monitoring mission to the property to assess the site to see if construction has caused, or will cause any damage to its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

This is according to the draft resolution published prior to the 44th Session of the World Heritage Committee, taking place between July 16 and 31 in China.

It states that the Albanian government had initially submitted the project for review in 2016. UNESCO recommended that it be reconsidered. In 2019, the government notified them that the project had been suspended. Then in January 2021, the government submitted a request for review of a redeveloped proposal for the bypass project. Additional information was requested by UNESCO but the Albanian government failed to respond.

The resolution notes that third-party information sent to them “sketches a very worrying situation of the project” as the bypass appears to already be under construction. 

They noted that the design implies that the project will have a “potential negative impact on the OUV.”

UNESCO recommended that the state “halt this project until a mission has assessed its impact on the OUV of the property and made recommendations.”

Additionally, UNESCO noted a number of “ongoing and future development plans, governance-related questions, and the conflicting reports on the state of conservation of this property.” As a result, they ask that Albania invite an official monitoring mission to Gjirokaster to assess not just the bypass, but all projects being implemented in the city.

With regards to the other projects, the Committee call on the Albanian government to take previous comments and recommendations for improvements into account. This also includes awaiting further review from their experts before proceeding with various interventions.

The resolution states in no uncertain terms that they “urgently request the State Party to halt construction of the bypass until such a time as a Reactive Monitoring mission has been able to visit the property to assess if the project has caused or will cause damage to its Outstanding Universal Value.”

It continues by requesting that the State Party should “invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring Mission to the property to assess progress made in the state of conservation of the entire property, provide guidance on the development of the IMP, evaluate the efficacy of development controls and monitoring indicators and assess the Gjirokaster bypass project.”

They also call on Albania to submit an updated conservation report and to provide any development proposals to UNESCO prior to their implementation, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines.

The World Heritage Committee is expected to vote on the resolution in the coming days.

Gjirokaster is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such, the government must get official approval before conducting works there. In the case of the Gjirokaster bypass, this has not happened. Furthermore, the Municipality has publicly lied about the project, stating it has been halted, when evidence from on the ground shows the work progressing.

This could jeopardize the status of Gjirokaster. Furthermore, it risks causing irreversible damage to the castle and the surrounding area which have been untouched for centuries.

Unfortunately, it could be too little too late as much of the damage has already been done. The footage above was filmed on 18 July of this year.

Neither the Mayor of Gjirokaster or the Vice Mayor responded to a request for comment.