Summer of Discovery

A guest post by Victoria Falcon, an up-and-coming preservationist who tried her hand at archaeology this summer

With no real plans for the summer, I took to the internet to find an opportunity for hands-on preservation experience and stumbled upon the Adventures in Preservation website  and found their joint project with The Fairfield Foundation. Without thinking about it too much, I signed myself up for both sessions at Fairfield.

Dave Brown, co-founder of The Fairfield Foundation, had contacted all of the participants in advance to let them know that there would be a smaller than average group on site in June but this would allow us each to focus on our interests. I then explained to Dave that I had little knowledge of archaeology, that my main interest was preservation but that I was interested in learning as much as I could. And  learn we did. Throughout the week, if I, or Callie or Kelly showed interest in doing something, we were given the opportunity to do so.

I began my first week at Fairfield, digging through Layer C, the rubble layer outside the house. With no archaeology knowledge I was a bit worried, but with excellent teachers like Dave, Thane and Anna, my concerns soon faded. By Tuesday afternoon, we had removed enough of the rumble to see a fallen wall section that needed to be mapped. Given my interest in technical drawings, I was paired with Colleen, a Fairfield Foundation intern, to map in the fallen wall.


Documentation work at Fairfield Plantation. Photo: The Fairfield Foundation

Wednesday morning offered a nice break from our digging with a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg to work with Jason Whitehead, head of the colonial brick yard. Not only did we tour the brick yard and receive a full explanation of the brick- and mortar-making process, we were able to jump in and mix clay with our feet.

With everyone in agreement, we chose to forego any additional adventures Wednesday afternoon and head back to Fairfield: the call of the fallen wall segment was too strong to resist. The mapping took the rest of the day and by Thursday we were able to begin removing the bricks from the fallen wall section. By end of the workday on Friday, it was hard not to be impressed by the amount of progress we had made during the week. From a rubble layer that was difficult to work on, to a flat surface that exposed the burn layer from 1897.

Examining the burn layer at Fairfield. Photo: Victoria Falcon

Examining the burn layer at Fairfield. Photo: Victoria Falcon

My second week at Fairfield began with exposing more of the burn layer (Layer D). Working in the burn layer, I found more artifacts in mere minutes than I had found in my entire previous week. After cleaning the burn layer, we moved onto documenting it through drawings and photographs. Given my previous experience documenting the fallen wall section (and my interest in doing so), I teamed up with Emma, a Fairfield intern, and we spent our time carefully mapping out the burn layer in preparation of removing it to expose the 1897 soil.

Following our Wednesday morning spent at Colonial Williamsburg, we took the ferry across the bay to visit Bacon’s Castle in Surry County. Bacon’s Castle is a Jacobean style home, built in 1665. Bacon’s Castle is one of only two standing structures featuring the diagonally set chimneys stacks that Fairfield also featured. To be able to stand and look at a building, that was smaller in size than Fairfield, and marvel at the grandeur, was amazing. We could only imagine how impressive a house Fairfield had been.

Brickwork at Bacon's Castle. Photo: Victoria Falcon

Brickwork and diagonal chimney stacks at Bacon’s Castle. Photo: Victoria Falcon

After a long workday on Thursday, we all agreed that it was worth the short drive to visit Rosewell. Rosewell suffered a fate similar to Fairfield and would burn in 1916. The ruins are Rosewell are much more intact than those of Fairfield and the structure has been preserved to a point in which the standing walls are stable enough that you can venture inside of the home. It had a haunting glory to it that I won’t soon forget.

Victoria Falcon is a senior completing a bachelor’s of fine art in studio art at University of Tennessee at Martin, with an emphasis in art history, and a bachelor’s of science in business management. Upon graduation she plans to attend graduate school to receive in her master’s in preservation. She hopes one day to work for a non-profit organization focusing on preservation.

Learn More

2016 Archaeology at Fairfield Sessions

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Mar Elian In Memory, and In Memorium

“Oh! So you don’t understand. I thought you were deaf”. These words  used to be the opening of an anecdote every time I recall my experience, in a peaceful place, once upon a time, in the middle of the Syrian Desert.

In March 2006, I joined the Syrian archaeological mission in the project of Deir Mar Elian (deir: monastry) in Al Qaryatain (literally: the two villages). At that time I was a freshly graduated architect, with some experience in archaeological documentation and excavation gathered through a couple of student jobs over few years. I used to recall, with enjoyment, the above words of the querwani (originally from Al Qaryatain) worker, who assisted me in measuring out in the field. He yelled several times, asking me to move, and I kept shouting “What?” After several exchanges of screaming between us, he stood up staring at me. He found out that I wasn’t deaf, or suffering from serious hearing problems (as he told me later). It was simply that I couldn’t understand a single word of his dialect. I used to recall the story with laughter; now my heart is hollow.

In May, this year, the so called ISIS attacked the town, a place where Muslims and Christians have long lived peacefully together. Men were killed, women and children kidnapped, and Father Jacques Mourad, the wholehearted priest of the monastery, was hold as a hostage. In August, the same group bulldozed the Monastery, which had been, for both Muslims and Christians in the village, a place to visit, as it is believed to be connected with healing miracles of Mar (Saint) Elian, known among Muslims as Sheikh Ahmad.

The Sarcophagus of Mar Elian. The metal charity box seen on the right of the picture, has on the lower part the cross and the light, on the upper part “Allah” . The word in Arabic, in both faiths, means “God”. Photo:

The Sarcophagus of Mar Elian. The metal charity box seen on the right of the picture, has on the lower part the cross and the light, on the upper part “Allah” . The word in Arabic, in both faiths, means “God”. Photo: International Business Times

In 2001, a British project in the Monastery began its work directed by Emma Loosly. The work was followed later in a joint mission, managed from the Syrian part by Woroud Ibrahim. The most significant archaeological findings were the sarcophagus of Mar Elian and the small gate of the monastery, a door of the cloister of cedar wood decorated with animal and floral motifs dating back to the 7th century (now the National Museum of Damascus). Among the main objects that were found in the church are a cover of a relic box that was found under the floor of the sanctuary, as well as the graves of the monks, a cross and a bronze fibula, a glazed oil lamp made of clay, polychrome glass fragments, a comb made of bone, and fragments of embroidered garments.

The door of Deir Mar Elian (at the National Museum in Damascus). Photo: UNESCO

The door of Deir Mar Elian (at the National Museum in Damascus). Photo: UNESCO

While harsh weather and lack of resources deprived the querwanis of wealth, they bestowed them with kind-heartedness. The monastery itself is neither on any world heritage list, nor a famous tourist destination. Yet, for the locals, it was indeed significant, and any stranger, or curious visitor, was warmly welcomed.

The brutal destruction of the Monastery, is more than the loss of material evidence of the past, which had peacefully survived over 1500 years, shared and cherished by one group of people with two faiths. The destruction of the monastery is a rupture in the continuity of an inhabited, and lived, heritage, where stones and artefacts could not ever speak out for themselves, without the memories, stories and believes of people who were there.

In April 2006, the same year of my querwani stay, I took a short leave back home for my engagement party. When I came back to Al Qaryatain, a servant in the monastery asked me when my fiancé (today my husband) and I were planning to get married. I just laughed and said it’s a matter of mutual understanding. He immediately said “look, if things are not okay from the very beginning, he shall stay with his parents, and you stay with us!” Although things went okay, and we got married four months later, a small part of my heart did indeed stay there. Wishing to know that they safe. Wishing to see them, one day. Until then, Mar Elian will remain a story to tell. Once upon a memory….

Zeina Elcheikh, Syrian architect and planer, holds a Integrated Urbanism from Stuttgart University. She worked with German International Cooperation and the French Institute for the Near East in Syria, and the UNESCO office in Egypt. Zeina is currently a PhD student at the Institute for History of Architecture, Stuttgart University. She is also a member of AiP’s Advisory Board.

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Swan Song to Summer: A Visit to Swannanoa in the Blue Ridge Mountains

A Gilded Age mansion built of gleaming white marble and decorated with sumptuous materials—including a 4,000 piece Tiffany stained glass window—sits at the juncture between Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Overlooking Charlottesville, this surprising 52-room country estate built in the Italian Renaissance revival style in 1912 was intended as a gift to Sarah “Sallie” Dooley from her husband financier and philanthropist James Dooley.

Swannanoa mansion, photographer R. L. Hiserman. Courtesy Library of Virginia, Richmond.

Swannanoa mansion, photographer R. L. Hiserman. Courtesy Library of Virginia, Richmond.

It’s really not the kind of thing one usually sees on Skyline Drive or the parkway—National Park Service architecture, 19th century cemeteries, wildflowers and even bears are generally more common.

Swannanoa, named so for Sallie’s love for swans, is opened to visitors by owner Phil Dulaney for a few weekends during the warm weather months. The mansion is mostly empty, and there are corners of peeling paint and torn wallpaper and faded hand-painted flowers in the Breakfast Room. The Marquette floors are intact but the staircase to the tower is a bit iffy. My Dachsund Klaus doesn’t mind—he scampers up the steps for the view.

The grand staircase. Photo: Laura Macaluso

The grand staircase. Photo: Laura Macaluso

The primary house for the Dooleys is in Richmond; another large creation called Maymount, which today contains a bed built to look like a gliding swan, originally in Swannanoa.

Swannanoa is unique; it exists somewhere between living and dying. A team of 300 artisans—likely contingencies of European immigrants with the skills to carve fountains, lay herringbone patterned floors and paint walls—came to build the mansion at a cost of $2 million. The cost to preserve the mansion today would be many more millions. Perhaps tens of millions. Much more money than can be raised by selling a few house tour tickets. A visit is a fitting end to summer. After leaf peeping season passes, the house will be closed up, winter will set in, and Swannanoa will wait, like the rest of us, to see another spring.

The music room. Photo: Laura Macaluso

The music room. Photo: Laura Macaluso

Laura A. Macaluso is a Ph.D. candidate in the Humanities at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. She is currently completing a book about the Portrait of Cinque/Sengbe, a painting from 1840 which depicts the leader of the Amistad mutiny, one of the few successful slave revolts in western history (AASLH/Rowman & Littlefield). She was a Fulbright Scholar to Swaziland in 2008-2010 and enjoys learning and writing about cultural heritage from across the globe.

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The Historic and the Plastic

Guest blogger Laura Macaluso muses on plastic and the role it may play in preserving and interpreting cultural heritage.

Photo Laura Macaluso

Photo Laura Macaluso

In the past few weeks, I’ve watched the slow dismantling of a 19th century church built mostly of wood and, at the same time, have seen several 3D scanning projects recreate historic objects in plastic. The dichotomy of watching a historic structure slowly disappear piece by piece and an old object coming to life via 3D plastic printing, seems to be a statement about 21st society. In my last blog post I mentioned the growing use of 3D scanning and printers at museums and historic sites to recreate objects in plastic, especially useful in an age of terrorism and the destruction of museum objects and looted archaeological sites. But, I’ve also recently watched a video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw being pulled from its nostrils, blood pouring out, as a woman with pliers tries to free the deeply embedded thing. And, we’ve all seen the image of a dead seagull, whose gut was filled with small plastic pieces from the beach. My stomach turns viewing both. Plastic is not perfect.

But, then on summer vacation my brother—a machinist by trade—told me the story of how NASA is going to send a 3D printer into space, and when astronauts need a specific tool or item, the organization will send a digital file to the space ship, and the astronauts will load and print what they need, thereby saving much needed room, weight and maybe even preventing future disasters (I bet both the astronauts and NASA wished they had had a 3D printer during the Apollo 13 flight—and that they had never used the number 13 to being with!). Further, the recent archeological discovery of a reliquary—a small box to hold relics, or objects imbued with sacred properties—in the coffin of Capt. Gabriel Archer at Jamestown, Virginia became a plastic model that I was able to touch and even open a week after its excavation, thanks to 3D printing technology. Not even Jamestown archaeologists will be able to look inside the real thing—its silver composition is too fragile to force open (but they know what is inside thanks to x-rays).


Photo Laura Macaluso

It seems that plastic does exactly what we want it to do, and as we are discovering with developing technologies, it will do things we haven’t yet dreamed. But, like all technologies, there are downsides that are downright scary. For one thing, plastic has no soul. Watching the church disappear for yet another strip mall type development (Route 221 in Lynchburg/Forest is quickly becoming clogged like the Post Road in the Northeast), it seems easier to sense history in the bones of the framing. Its nave is now exposed to the elements, and I imagine its spirits have left the building, dispersed on the wind. Of course, plastic is as real as 19th-century church timbers, but, it doesn’t age as well. Plastic takes on no patina, and its cracks and jagged edges look worn and dirty, like garbage. It’s hard to repurpose plastic into something else unless we’re talking about full-on recycling. But, plastic is already historic; having been developed in 1907, it has long since passed the official 50-year mark to become part of history, as a building does.

I don’t know who used the church or when, and it may be a strange exercise to think about a wooden church and a plastic recreation of a historic object, but these things exist side-by-side in our world and each plays a part in the human experience.

This post is dedicated to the life and work of Khaled al-Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist tortured and beheaded by ISIS (Islamic State) on August 18, 2015.  

Further Reading:

Adrienne Lafrance, “A Skeleton, a Catholic Relic, and a Mystery about American Origins,” The Atlantic, July 28, 2015 .

For views of more objects recreated in plastic via 3D scanning and printing, see the Virtual Curation Museum.

Laura A. Macaluso is a Ph.D. candidate in the Humanities at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. She is currently completing a book about the Portrait of Cinque/Sengbe, a painting from 1840 which depicts the leader of the Amistad mutiny, one of the few successful slave revolts in western history (AASLH/Rowman & Littlefield). She was a Fulbright Scholar to Swaziland in 2008-2010 and enjoys learning and writing about cultural heritage from across the globe.

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Come, Tell Me How You Live: Agatha Christie’s Archaeological Memoir of the Middle East

A guest post by Laura A. Macaluso

Agatha Christie is the Western world’s most beloved, prolific and best-selling mystery writer. Iconic titles such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile evoke distant lands and ancient cities—a unique perspective shaped when the already-successful writer met and married archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930. Christie’s popularity is based on the set of traits she possessed as a writer; in addition to deftly painting pictures of another time and place, Christie was also a master at creating memorable characters and small moments, when conversations between passengers on a luxurious train could lead to intrigue and even murder. Christie’s books—literally hundreds of titles in print, spanning a 50-year career from the 1920s to the 1970s—remain popular and accessible even today. They have generations of new fans thanks to the British television series based on her Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence characters.

Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan at Tell-Halaf. Wikimedia  Public Domain Image

Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan at Tell-Halaf. Wikimedia Public Domain Image

But, her second autobiography, an easily digestible memoir called Come, Tell Me How You Live is a reminder of just how long Westerners have been involved in the Middle East—and not just as tourists or writers. In a short window of time, before drone warfare and 21st-century style terrorism, there were many active archaeology projects uncovering the history of Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where people first began living in cities and where writing was invented more than 5,000 years ago. In the 1930s, Christie accompanied Mallowan on his archaeological excavations in Syria and Iraq. She spent many seasons in the field as an assistant cleaning, sorting, labeling, and photographing excavated materials which would eventually go into museum collections such as the British Museum.

Right now, after almost a year of watching the Islamic State (or ISIS) attack with determination and an extreme agenda to wipe out all history that predates Islam in Syria and Iraq, I am reading Come, Tell Me How You Live with some resignation. Christie’s book, which she calls “this inconsequent chronicle,” is a light-hearted account of the archaeological life, of the people they meet and the little challenges most Westerners find when placing themselves in someone else’s country. While Christie wrote the book with such a title to answer people’s questions about how she and Max lived when on excavation, in a broader way, Come, Tell Me How You Live, is also the question that all of us heritage and history lovers ask when we visit historic sites, museums and old cities. We visit these places to get a glimpse into how people lived and thus to learn something about them. ISIS and other extremists such as the Taliban do not care to know the answer, and therefore never ask the question. Brutality and destruction is the result.

Christie wrote the book right after the end of World War II in England, after her country had endured bombings that leveled many historic buildings and old cities. Her glance backward to the interwar period was no doubt tinged with nostalgia; the last line in the book is “Inshallah, (God willing) I shall go there again, and the things that I love shall not have perished from this earth.” I do wonder what Christie would say right now about this past year—which happens to be the 125th anniversary of her birth—watching the destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East on social media, in Nimrud and Ninevah and Dura Europos, some of the very places where her husband worked.  Archaeologists both in and outside of the Middle East are finding ways to mitigate this destruction, by creating inventories and photographs and even by reconstructing in the digital realm buildings and cities. But, Come, Tell Me How You Live gives us instead, a pre-digital world, where the texture of the Middle East—in sights, and smells, and movement on trains and on donkeys and in cars that get stuck in the mud and friendly people and the procurement of food—is an intimate view of a place that is important both to the Western imagination and to world history.

More Information

Agatha Christie Mallowan, Come, Tell Me How You Lived (New York: William Morrow, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1946).

Official Agatha Christie website

For evocative images of the early 20th century in the Middle East, see William Boot, “When Iraq was Paradise,” The Daily Beast.

For more on the current destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, see “Museums Issue Most- Threatened List of Iraqi Treasures,” Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian.Com, June 3, 2015.

Laura A. Macaluso is a Ph.D. candidate in the Humanities at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. She is currently completing a book about the Portrait of Cinque/Sengbe, a painting from 1840 which depicts the leader of the Amistad mutiny, one of the few successful slave revolts in western history (AASLH/Rowman & Littlefield). She was a Fulbright Scholar to Swaziland in 2008-2010 and enjoys learning and writing about cultural heritage from across the globe.

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Post-Disaster Action: Crowdmapping Nepal

A guest post by Divya Jayaram

It is indeed ironic how the fury of nature, in a matter of seconds, can wipe out buildings that have stood for centuries. The recent earthquake in Nepal proved that nature just debunks the futile attempts of man trying to overpower things that don’t belong to him! The destruction and damage of buildings within the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage property  is not just cultural loss for the nation, but a loss to all mankind. Nepal,  a small picturesque country that is 0.04 times the size of India [ 1/5th  the size of Texas], has four inscribed UNESCO World heritage Sites, including three royal cities and several Hindu and Buddhist sites within the Kathmandu Valley. Most of these were severely damaged in the quake.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu before the earthquake. BBC photo.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu before the earthquake. BBC photo.

Disasters are inevitable; however reducing the risks that can cause severe impact is possible with mitigation strategies. The time immediately after a disaster is extremely crucial for cultural heritage.  Managing post-disaster conservation of heritage buildings calls for  preparation and mitigation of  impacts from disaster to heritage buildings.

As an immediate response measure to the earthquake in Nepal, a crowdmapping website – Kathmandu Cultural Emergencies –  has been created. Developed by Aparna Tandon ICCROM] and Rohit Jigyasu [ICOMOS-ICORP], its aim is to collect information on the the damage caused to cultural heritage sites and institutions in Nepal. With restricted access into the country and the ongoing rescue work, it was impossible to access the site to assess the damage for heritage sites. An appeal was made to locals, tourists and visitors, asking them to photograph the damage to traditional houses, buildings, museums, temples as well as any rubble that may contain fragments of a historic site, sculptures, sacred objects, etc., along with their location if possible. Tweetsters and Instagrammers hashtagged their  photographs ‪#‎heritagedamagenepal‬  and‪ #‎culturedamagenepal‬, tweeting pictures of earthquake-affected cultural and vernacular buildings. The information collated will be used to identify the extent of damage based on region, and will also help in planning the post-disaster recovery strategies.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu after the earthquake. BBC Photo

Durbar Square in Kathmandu after the earthquake. BBC Photo

While the initial priority is always to rescue those whose lives have been devastated in this horrific manner, there is also a sincere appeal to capture as much of the destruction as possible so that at least some of the remains can be salvaged once the human search and rescue operation is completed.

Nepal is still suffering significant aftershocks, and lack of basic facilities—food, shelter, water, electricity, communications—particularly in mountainous and remote areas. But this is what we know so far about the fate of Nepal’s World Heritage sites: Together we will work to restore the cultural heritage of a beautiful land and its beautiful people.

Divya Jayaram is a conservation architect based in California, USA.  Her interest lies in heritage documentation, urban historic cores, managing heritage during crises, and community engagements for the conservation of cultural heritage. Divya has a Bachelors degree in Architecture from Bangalore, India and a Master’s degree in architectural conservation from the University of Edinburgh, UK.

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A Letter from Gjirokastra

This is an extended version of a piece that appeared in the June issue of Destination: Preservation, Adventures in Preservation’s newsletter.

If people still wrote letters home from their travels, here’s what we would have written about our recent hands-on building conservation experience in Gjirokastra.

Dear Family,

From the moment of our arrival in Gjirokastra, we could tell that something had changed since our last visit: there was a bit of a preservation buzz in the city. On our way through the old bazaar to our B&B, we saw no less than three building conservation projects underway and heard that there were more projects underway in other districts of the historic area.

New roof going on at the Haderi house thanks to CHwB,

New roof going on at the Haderi house, atop a rebuilt wall, both thanks to CHwB Photo by J Broeker

Our arrival coincided with the final day of the arts and culture festival, and streets were busy with tourists visiting from around the world. We were met with warm greetings from Vita and Haxhi Kotoni, our hosts at Kotoni’s Guest House since 2008, who had a full house of tourists.

Our group of four arrived from far corners of the world: Australia, the UK and the US. Our job, which we happily took on, was to complete documentation and condition assessment of decorative paintings at the Kikino house. From our work station on the third story balcony, we overlooked a sea of historic tower houses and the river valley below. With that spectacular view and delicious cups of espresso and Turkish coffee, we dove into our work and completed our assessment in six days.

Our host at the Kikino house was the charming Vladimir, who along with his wife and two daughters came to the balcony daily to check on our progress and to bring us tasty treats. Unfortunately, none of us spoke enough Albanian to have a conversation with them, but this was to change during the second week.

Ceilidh, Jenny and Sue describing the condition of wall paintings at Kikino tower house

Ceilidh, Jenny and Sue describing the condition of wall paintings at Kikino tower house Photo by J Broeker

Even though our work didn’t really seem like work, we took time off to discover more of Albania’s cultural heritage. We went on a field trip to the Antigone archaeological site. With Kreshnik Merxhani, an architect and conservator from Gjirokastra, and Anisa Ani, a local archaeologist, as our guides, we learned and experienced much more than any “regular” visitor ever would. (Thanks AiP!)

We were also able to visit several small churches in tiny villages hidden in the shadow of the mountains. They are little used, but perfectly reflect a moment frozen in time. (Yvonne photo)

A visit - and some documentation work - in a  small village up the mountain on the other side of the river from Gjirokastra.

A visit – and some documentation work – in a small village church up the mountain on the other side of the river from Gjirokastra. Photo by J Broeker

We visited other tower houses as well Gjirokastra has over 400 of these massive structures; you can see in a single glance why it’s been designated a World Heritage site. We toured the Kore house where Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB) is working and met four generations of the family that built the house approximately 300 years ago. The “elderly” grandmother was so much fun to meet; at one point she kicked off her shoes and hopping up on the divan to show us how the complicated window shutter system worked.

Jenny and “Grandmother Kore” during our tour of the house

Jenny and “Grandmother Kore” during our tour of the house Photo by J Broeker

On another day, we visited the reconstruction project underway at the house of author Ishmael Kadare (his autobiographical novel Chronicle in Stone tells of his childhood in Gjirokastra and is an excellent read) which burned several years ago. We also visited the remains of the Kokolari House and Museum, which tragically burned to the ground just three weeks before we arrived. The loss of 2,500 volumes of books and numerous artifacts was a devastating blow to the city. Two other tower houses are being restored as a hotel and a hostel, with several CHwB stabilization projects saving important houses for future conservation, if funding allows.

So yes, there’s a lot of preservation happening. However, given there are at least 400 other Ottoman-era houses in great need of repair, the six projects we visited are just a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done. With this perspective, you begin to understand the magnitude of the crisis facing the city.

Too late for the tower house on the left, but there is still a chance of saving the one on the right Photo J Broeker

It’s too late for the tower house on the left, but there is still a chance of saving the one on the right Photo by J Broeker

The second week brought two more volunteers, an AiP board member and Ilir Rizaj, a professional photographer from NYC, who is originally from Kosovo. Photography wasn’t Ilir’s only contribution, as his fluent Albanian allowed us to visit with the residents we met as we walked the steep stone streets. Ilir translated an intriguing conversation with Vladimir at the Kikino house, detailing blood feuds in Greece, internment camps and name changes to save the family in Albania, looting of the house at the end of the Communist era, and being delegated as the caretaker of the Kikino house by the 55 remaining family members.

Ilir brought some nifty toys along with him, including a drone. He used the done to take photos and videos of houses that were difficult to access on foot. This documentation will assist the Directorate of National Cultural Monuments, which has an office in Gjirokastra, with damage assessment.

Ilir's drone he drone over the tower houses of Gjirokastra

Ilir’s drone takes flight over the tower houses of Gjirokastra Photo by J Broeker

The second week came to a close with a final excursion to Butrint archaeological site, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, followed by a fabulous farewell feast Vita prepared specially for us. As we took our final walk through the bazaar, many shopkeepers greeted us and wished us well, asking us to return soon. The warmth and hospitality we experienced will remain with us long after our departure.

We wish you could have been here to share the experience! The good news is that we will be bringing another group of conservation volunteers to Gjirokastra next year. Drop us an email if you’re interested in joining this continuing project and we will keep you up to date as plans progress.

Life is an adventure, so come with us and see more, do more and help more in 2016.


Judith, Jenny, Sue, Ceilidh, Yvonne and Ilir

Our mutli-national, all-volunteer building conservation team

Our mutli-national, all-volunteer building conservation team Photo by J Broeker


P.S. After leaving Gjirokastra, we traveled to Kosovo for five intriguing days exploring this small Balkan country. We saw a great need for help saving the heritage that survived the war. We are working on a project that might bring us back in 2016, and we’ll share any progress with you. Hope you’ll be able to add this to your calendar!

Posted in AiP Projects, Building Conservation, Cultural Heritage, Cultural Travel, Experiential Travel, Heritage Preservation, Heritage Travel, Historic Sites, Vernacular Architecture, Volunteer Opportunities | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment