S2E7. They need us
Out of the 7 most endangered European cultural heritage sites, 3 are located in the Western Balkans. Europa Nostra campaign sheds light on the need to protect and save them
welcome back to BarBalkans, the newsletter with blurred boundaries.
From Italy to North Macedonia, from Spain to Kosovo, seven European cultural heritage sites are in danger and need to be saved.
While waiting for the 2022 report, it is good to take stock of the 7 Most Endangered campaign, launched by Europa Nostra with the European Investment Bank Institute as a founding partner.
The Western Balkans dominate this year’s report, with 3 out of 7 heritage sites which will receive a symbolic grant of 10 thousand euros each.
«Losing them means not only being deprived of traditions, buildings and art, but also of the European community’s bond», the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, effectively summed up.
That is why we must raise awareness, visit and save them.
We can start from here, with the Balkan 3 most endangered.
Mirogoj Cemetery (Zagreb)
Designed by German architect Herman Bollé and built between 1876 and 1929, the Mirogoj multiconfessional cemetery complex in Croatia’s capital is an example of European neoclassical architecture.
The Historic Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj is composed of a central open space surrounded by arcades. One of its special features is the harmonious relationship between the pavilions, the domes and arcades.
Artists, writers, musicians, scientists, sports personalities and politicians have been buried in Mirogoj and this contributes to the site’s cultural and emotional role as the national Pantheon.
In March and December 2020, the city of Zagreb was hit by two major earthquakes (we talked about them in one of last season’s episodes), which caused severe damage to the site.
The arcades, the pavilions, the Church of Christ the King and many tombstones and sculptures have been heavily damaged.
The Croatian Ministry of Culture intervened with emergency measures, but it was not possible to make a full damage assessment, due to the adverse weather conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is why the Ministry of Culture nominated the Historic Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj to the 7 Most Endangered 2021.
«This cemetery has an important historical, social and emotional significance as the first multiconfessional public cemetery in Zagreb and as the resting place of numerous historical figures», the Board of Europa Nostra noted.
For this reason, in addition to the Croatian government’s «first crucial steps» to protect the site, «international solidarity is greatly needed to rehabilitate the Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj».
Dečani Monastery (Kosovo)
The Dečani Monastery was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004.
Built in the first half of the 14th century, this Serbian Orthodox monastery is one of the “Medieval Monuments in Kosovo”, together with Gračanica Monastery, the Patriarchate of Peć and the Church of the Virgin of Ljeviš (Prizren).
It shows an encyclopedic ensemble of frescoes in Serb-Byzantine style, a Romanesque-Gothic architecture and it is surrounded by a dense forest.
Continuously inhabited for almost seven centuries, the Dečani Monastery is currently functioning, with daily liturgical services and an active monastic community. It is an important place of worship, open to pilgrims and visitors of all faiths.
Since June 1999, the Dečani Monastery has been continuously guarded by the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping troops. Besides security concerns, the monastery is facing ongoing risks of unsuitable local development.
Especially worrying is the plan for an international road, connecting the municipalities of Dečani in Kosovo and Plav in Montenegro. The road would cross the special protected zone and pass next to the monastery gates.
In the summer of 2020, works have been suspended and an agreement was reached to build a by-pass for this road. In addition, a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Kosovo confirmed that the property of 24 hectares of surrounding land belongs to the Dečani Monastery.
The European network for historic places of worship Future for Religious Heritage nominated the Dečani Monastery to the 7 Most Endangered 2021.
The judgement by the Board of Europa Nostra is particularly significant:
«As part of the EU enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, it is urgent and imperative to ensure a holistic protection by all parties concerned of this endangered World Heritage Site, through full respect of the rule of law and other key European values».
«Adequate protection and accurate communication and education related to the multi-cultural and multi-religious heritage in Kosovo are a prerequisite for reconciliation and dialogue, leading to lasting peace and prosperity in the wider region».
Central Post Office (Skopje)
The Central Post Office in Skopje is a perfect representation of the Brutalist architectural style of the post-war era. It was designed by North Macedonian architect and artist Janko Konstantinov and finalized in 1974.
The structure is made of reinforced concrete, in the shape of a lotus flower. It symbolizes the reconstruction of the city of Skopje after the heavy earthquake which caused damage to the city and its infrastructure in 1963.
The building served as the administrative Counter Hall for the Telecommunications and Postal Centre of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, during the Yugoslav era.
This example of 20th-century modernist architecture is of vital importance to the architectural landscape of Skopje, as well as for the European heritage.
It survived a massive fire in 2013. However, the original glazing of the dome, the murals by the interior designer Borko Lazeski, the custom-made furnishings and lighting were destroyed.
Today it is even more endangered. For eight years, the building has been uncovered and exposed to atmospheric events. It is also threatened by deterioration and erosion caused by rising groundwater of Vardar River.
A consortium of cultural heritage organizations, institutes and consultants, together with the Ministry of Culture of North Macedonia, has nominated the Central Post Office in Skopje to the 7 Most Endangered 2021.
The future of the building is uncertain due to the degree of its damage and the complexity of renovating this type of architectures. For this reason, it is necessary to raise public awareness about the importance of protecting the building.
The project is to functionally redesign the Central Post Office as a centre for cultural and social activities, with a focus on both local and international audiences.
In order to design this project for sustainable community development, it will be needed the support of national institutions and of scientific and professional communities, but also involvement of citizens through crowdfunding.
«The Central Post Office is a bold symbol of the rebirth of a city post-earthquake. This site needs to be reborn a second time», the Board of Europa Nostra stated.
Pit stop. Sittin’ at the BarBalkans
We have reached the end of this piece of road.
This stop showed the importance of the bond between the Balkan cultural heritage and the European campaigns to promote and restore the heritage sites.
This is why today BarBalkans has turned into a festival, putting Balkan traditions on the table.
The Balkan Street Food on Tour is an on-the-road event born in Germany, which is carrying Western Balkans’ culinary specialities around the continent.
From ajvar to rakija, from burek to baklava, the best local street food cooks will make all Europeans taste the dishes and drinks of the peninsula’s gastronomic tradition.
All of this on the backdrop of traditional and pop Balkan music, with live bands and DJ sets.
After Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, the Festival is expected in Vienna and - hopefully by next spring - in many other European cities!
Let’s continue the BarBalkans journey. We will meet again in a week, for the 8th stop.
A big hug and have a good journey!
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As always, I thank you for getting this far with me.
Here you can find all the previous newsletters. If you found today’s episode interesting, I suggest you this read: