The Coolest Thing in Tirana… is a Pyramid

Let’s face it, Tirana isn’t the most exciting city around – especially in the winter. It’s not really known for anything special, and it’s not brimming with tourists. There’s not massive amounts of things to do and see, and it’s probably not the top of many people’s places-to-visit list.

There is one totally cool thing in Tirana, however, and that’s the Pyramid. Bizarre as it sounds, Tirana – capital of Albania, or the Republika e Shqipërisë as they call it [don’t ask me how it’s pronounced, I have no idea!]  –  has it’s very own pyramid. It differs slightly to the pyramids everyone knows about, for example the world’s most famous pyramids at Giza. The most obvious difference is that it’s not all that old. Unlike Giza’s pyramids, which are thousands of years old, Tirana’s pyramid counts its age in decades – and not that many.

Built as a museum honoring the hardline Communist leader of Albania, Enver Hoxha in 1987, after his death in 1985, just over twenty years on and the pyramid is in ruins. Graffiti covered with smashed windows, it looks almost post-apocalyptic. Still, it’s clearly the single most awesome structure Communism ever managed to create. Teenagers skateboard around it, and suspicious-looking guys sitting at the top, pushing down anyone not in their crew who has the audacity to attempt to climb the thing. I don’t think they liked me taking photos of them sitting on top; nonetheless they offered to sell me some illicit pharmaceuticals when they came down and appeared disappointed when I declined. As soon as they were off the pyramid, younger kids started running up the sides of it. I wanted to climb it, but my Doc Martens have seen far better days and the soles now have the grip of a bar of wet soap. Thus I contented myself with photographs – the broken glass around was not conducive to bare feet.

Since the fall of Communism in Albania, the government hasn’t really known what to do with the Pyramid. It hasn’t been a museum in a long time – it was a nightclub for a while, and seems to have been used as a squat since then. In July 2011, authorities decided that it would be torn down and a ‘Protect the Pyramid’ movement has sprung up. While I’m not generally a fan of Communist architecture and believe that there’s plenty of it around that could use a good bit of demolition, I’d have to side with the ‘Save the Pyramid’ movement here. While built to honour an oppressive Stalinist dictator, the city seems to have reclaimed it and it’s become in the eyes of many a symbol of the new Tirana – despite being a broken mess. There’s something honest in what it has become, and while many would argue it’s hardly a positive image of the city in its current state my impression was that it had soul. It’s destruction seemed to me to be symbolic of the collapse of the dictatorship, and it’s current state a deliberate disrespect to the man it was supposed to honour.

Aside from that, I just think it’s kind of cool. And fun to photograph. Demolishing the pyramid would be destroying the coolest thing in the entire city – which could rival Bratislava and Canberra for its excitingness rating.

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