Edi Rama’s Transformation: From Supporter of Preservation to Destroyer of Tirana’s Historic Center

Prime Minister Edi Rama was one of the most avid supporters of preserving the historic center of Tirana back in 2000, when he was Minister of Culture and Sports.

Today, President Ilir Meta brought back to public attention an excerpt from a talk show just before Rama left the ministry to become a mayor.

Almost 20 years ago, Rama appears to have defended the indispensable preservation of National Theater, National Stadium, Skenderbeg Square and the whole center of Tirana for its “historic values”.

Speaking with journalist Blendi Fevziu, the then–Minister of Culture and Sports Edi Rama describes the Meta government’s initiative to turn the center of Tirana into a “monumental ensemble”, which would legally ensure the preservation of the whole area and put a ban on interventions in it.

“Monumental Ensemble means that the center will be fully restored and preserved, including the cobblestone layer of the main boulevard, buildings’ facades, street lights and so on. Any projects within the limits of the center that could be proposed in the future, besides the usual approvals will need to get the approval of the Institute of Cultural Monuments, which is the only institution with the competency to propose to the Ministry of Culture to declare [an area] monumental ensemble, as well as to enforce the criteria for the treatment of ensembles.”

Rama also emphasizes his personal stance on the issue of preservation of historic values of the center of Tirana:

“I would like to let you know that this initiative complies with the Institute’s research and the full will of the Prime Minister [Ilir Meta] to put a strong veto on behalf of the government, as well as by my side personally, in defense of preserving the historic center of the capital. The Municipality of Tirana [then led by the opposition] should have done this a long time ago […] This initiative of the Albanian prime minister and government will bring the boulevard of Tirana out of darkness.”

Soon after he became Mayor of Tirana few months later, Rama proposed plans that drastically changed the center of the capital, laying the ground for numerous high-rise buildings to be built, in violation of the “monumental ensemble” status of the area.

Before the end of his third mayoral term, Rama started the full transformation of the city center, which ended with him pushing forward the plan implemented by Mayor Veliaj to turn the Skenderbeg Square into a pedestrian zone.

The National Stadium was also part of the monumental ensemble but Prime Minister Rama replaced it with the National Arena, using his government’s usual private–public partnership (PPP) scheme.

The monumental ensemble included the National Theater also. However, the government scrapped its legal protection in 2017 in order to enable the construction of more high-rise buildings by private companies through the same PPP scheme of unsolicited proposals.