Giving the Past a Future: Historical Preservation at Kulla Isuf Mazrekaj – Drenoc, Kosovo

Here’s a very thorough description of how Adventures in Preservation’s latest adventure went!

The Runaway Bunny

Like anything that’s been around for several centuries, the Isuf Mazrekaj kulla is finding that it needs to adapt in order to survive. These stone towers, potent symbols of traditional Islamic Kosovar culture, were particularly targeted during the recent war, and now only a couple dozen survive. The Mazrekaj family has survived warfare, regime changes, and economic instability, and so has their kulla, but now that Kosovo has found independence and relative stability, helping the kulla participate in modern tourism is the surest way to ensure the survival of the historic structure, and the prosperity of the family who have held it for three centuries. Adventures in Preservation, an American company partnering with Cultural Heritage Without Borders Kosovo, brought seven volunteers to spend two weeks working on the kulla alongside the Mazrekaj family, guided by conservation architects and local craftsmen. The result? A historically-minded rehabilitation of the 18th century…

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American Grand Hotels of the Gilded Age

The American Grand Hotel

Some of the greatest architectural treasures in American history were produced in the Gilded Age, including grand hotels, which would ultimately attract a certain social class and grand hotels are considered an American concept and invention. These grand hotels were built to accommodate America’s wealthy, and their construction coincides with America’s industrialism, and the expansion and growth of incredible wealth that was seen in the gilded age. These hotels were also meant to be efficient, well-managed machines that provided timely meals, clean rooms, and an attentive and inconspicuous hotel staff. These grand hotels were built to attract wealthy businessmen, socialites, political leaders, and even some unsavory characters.


Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Built 1902

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The Rhythms of Life: Drenoc

One of our jammers’ impressions of Drenoc, where they’ve been volunteering for two weeks on the kulla restoration project.

The Runaway Bunny

As I write this I’m sitting in the communal living room of an 18th century kulla, a traditional Ottoman-Albanian tower-house, in the small historical village of Drenoc in the west of Kosovo. The “guest room,” as they call it, is a large elegant space in the top floor of the tower, with a perimeter of sheepskin cushions for sitting on. The floor is covered in red woven carpets, while the datk wooden beams of the ceiling add to the cozy atmosphere.

The shoes come off at the door, so we’ve all padded softly up here in socks and house slippers. Our hosts have explained that this room was the traditional cultural hub of village life – the place where disputes were settled, business deals struck, and marriages arranged – while Turkish coffee stimulated the mind and eased conversation.

This is where we’ve come to work for two weeks. The magnificent…

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Rock Me, Amadeus: How Mozart Helped Me Become a Rock and Roll Preservationist

A guest post by Sheryl Davis

Travel played a big part in my journey to become a historic preservationist specializing in rock ‘n’ roll landmarks. In May 2006, ten years ago this month, my twin sister Sherry and I decided to make a pilgrimage to the three music capitals of Vienna, Salzburg and Prague for the “Mozart Year,” a worldwide celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday anniversary. It was when literally walking in Mozart’s footsteps and hearing his music played with his own instruments in the places where he lived, worked and played, that I first realized how I might combine my interests in music history and architecture into a unique career path all my own.

Sheryl in Salzburg_May 2006

Sheryl in May 2006 overlooking Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg, Austria, from Hohensalzburg Fortress (c. 1077)

I thought, while we do not have nearly the depth in years of music history or indeed architecture as European, African or other indigenous countries do, from those ancestral influences we have created many genres of American popular music such as rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, blues, country, gospel, bluegrass, zydeco, Cajun, soul and R&B which have arguably been some of our country’s greatest contributions to the world. Who’s to say that in 250 years, people will not want to see and experience the places that tell those stories, to have that authentic sensory experience just as we had during our Mozart pilgrimage? It was a formative moment in my life to be sure, and at that point my career path was set ablaze,

When we returned home I immediately set out to explore the field of historic preservation while remaining conscious of my specific interest in the places significantly linked to American popular music, especially rock ‘n roll, for which I’ve had an affinity since childhood. It led to an internship, field school, a graduate degree in historic preservation and now, approaching four years out of school, first efforts in documenting and preserving rock ‘n’ roll landmarks in the US.

My first site visit to Circle G Ranch_May 2013

Sheryl in May 2o13 at the “Honeymoon Cottage” at Elvis Presley’s Circle G Ranch, opening to the public this summer after an international effort to preserve it

Last month I accepted the position as Interim Museum Director at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association (IRRMA) in Arnolds Park, Iowa. IRRMA, now nearing its 20th anniversary in 2017, was the first state non-profit created to preserve its rock ‘n’ roll history and the first to induct its landmarks into its Hall of Fame. That pioneering legacy and vision for expanding the landmarks programming in the future is what really drew me to the job.

So as I celebrate National Preservation Month with so many others around the country, I will also be taking to Facebook and Twitter to celebrate this ever-important anniversary and hallmark year in my life and the composer who inspired it. Come join me!

Sheryl Davis is a historic preservationist dedicated to documenting, preserving and interpreting the architectural legacy of rock ‘n’ roll, and more broadly, American popular music. In addition to her new position as Museum Director at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association, Sheryl provides consulting services for music heritage projects in the US and abroad. You can find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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Heritage Travel Volunteers

If you are looking for a unique travel experience, you may enjoy being a historic building conservation volunteer with Adventures in Preservation. Even if you are cramped for time, there are options to fit every kind of time restraint from a week to several months. Work is interesting and exciting. Usually there is more than one project happening simultaneously, so you can pick the one which interests you. A half-day or full-day is usually given to a sightseeing excursion.

This is an experience for those over 18. However, with special permission, sometimes families can participate together: grandparents, parents, and teenage children. No experience is necessary. Technical experts will guide the beginners. These projects are created through partnerships with organizations holding limited resources. They are fulfilled through a 501c(3) corporation so many expenses are tax-deductible.

For retirees, these opportunities offer both a challenge and a way to serve. This is a chance to help raise the economy of a nation by restoring a heritage building which then may become a center for tourism. For the student of history, it opens a way to gain additional experience, increasing the value of a history degree or diploma. For the heritage professional, it is a way of augmenting skills and adding to a resume.

If someone is majoring in history, this type of activity is the perfect complement to the educational training. It can also open new doors in the field oDSCN8307 Russian Chapelf a degreed major.  It is a chance to enhance knowledge and work experience. It may offer an opportunity for language interpretation. Other skills that may be used or enhanced are surveying, conservation cleaning, churchyard recording, and assessments.

An example of a current project is the conservation of the Kumayri Cultural Museum-Preserve in Gyumri, Armenia. It will consist of eight (8) 12-day sessions beginning May 18, 2016. This is part of a project to restore the city’s architectural heritage. There are 1,200 historically significant structures.

The city endured an earthquake in 1988. Half the city was destroyed. The after-effects remain, leaving little funding to deal with restoring the historic buildings. The focus of this restoration is recognizing that once these heritage buildings are restored, tourism will bring life and a stronger economy back to the region. This will have beneficial rewards for the inhabitants of the area.

There will be more than one session. The first phase of the restoration will be documentation and study of the 7th century church that is in the historic district. The documentation phase consists of taking photographs, making drawings, taking measurements, and collecting data. This will help in the restoration process. The historic district contains some of the last remaining authentic buildings in Armenia. Priorities will be developed as to which buildings hold tourist appeal and architectural value and which should be restored first.

Benefits to participating in this type of a project include personal satisfaction knowing that you become a vital part of Gyumri’s economic growth strategy. You get to know an area first-hand, rather than through a brochure. Lodging is within walking distance. A workshop will be held prior to the actual trip for training purposes. You will learn new skills, experience new cultures, play a role in saving a historic building, help build a local economy through tourism, expand your horizons, build self-confidence, and add to your education or professional resume. This is vital conservation work and it can complement diploma or degree training.

Have you been looking for an experience that combines travel with learning new skills? Then consider becoming a historic preservation volunteer. It will become the experience of a lifetime.

This article was contributed by Cheryl Jones, a free lance writer and blogger.

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For Preservationists, Every Day is Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

Preserving built heritage is a good thing for many reasons, not least among them the environmental benefits of keeping a building in use. Doing so is not only in keeping with the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, but it also preserves the energy that went into its construction and keeps valuable materials out of landfills.


As  Carl Elefante famously said, “The greenest building is one that’s already built”.

Adventures in Preservation has been using preservation as a powerful tool for protecting the planet since 2001. Why not join one of our hands-on building conservation projects this year and help keep the Earth a little greener?


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When a Library Is Reduced to Rubble, and Books Turned into Ash…

Zeina Elcheikh discusses the consequences of war on movable cultural heritage.

“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings). When the German poet Henrich Heine wrote these words in 1823, he did not thought that they would become a prophecy, dreadfully fulfilled when the Nazis launched the burning book’s campaign in 1933: an event followed by atrocities in which people were, indeed, burned. Yet, this incident has been preceded and succeeded by many others though history where not only people, but also books and other movable artifacts have been targeted. Today, the challenges confronting fragile movable heritage in times of conflicts, seem to have a chance of resolution in our digital era.

The Library of Alexandria was one of the largest and most significant libraries in the ancient world. Part of its fame comes from its burning down, which has become ever since a symbol for the destruction of knowledge and culture. Centuries, in 1258, and further to the east, when the Mongols conquered Baghdad under the command of Hulagu, the House of Wisdom and its valuable manuscripts were destroyed; its scholars were also killed. It had been reported by the survivors that the waters of the Tigris had become black from the ink of the books thrown into the river. Over time, this type of destruction has become crueler with the evolution of warfare. The Belgian town of Leuven suffered from mass destruction  in August 1914. In five consecutive days,  the city was demolished and its library was destroyed. In May and June 1933, the book-burning campaign of the Nazis was an attribute of an authoritarian regime to censor an allegedly opposing culture.


Leuven Library 1914 Wikipedia image

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