Korçë, Albania: come for the tolerance, stay for the Modernist architecture

The people of Korçë are proud of their tolerance and I like it in them.  “We are a tolerant people” we heard several times and surely this is true.  After all, this Southeastern town is famous for having the first girl’s school in Albania and still has an intellectual and cultured vibe (bookstores and museums, hooray!)

As much as I admire the way Korçë embraces the ideal of tolerance, I still felt, well, underwhelmed.  Korçë, like all of Albania, has very little diversity.  There don’t seem to be many immigrants and while there certainly poorer and more affluent people, the extremes of wealth and poverty on display in many other European countries were not in evidence here.  True, Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians live together in harmony, but this is the case in all of Albania, not just Korçë.  I live in a neighborhood in Chicago where 80 languages are spoken, and a dozen religions are worshipped within a few blocks of my apartment.  This is my scale for what a diverse community living in mutual consideration means.   No disrespect to the lovely people of Korçë, but how can you brag about tolerance when your community is so homogeneous?

orthodox

The best part of traveling is surprise.  Korçë’s tolerance underwhelmed me and so did its Orthodox cathedral, which was very….large.

mosque

Korçë’s Iliaz Bay Mirahorit Mosque, circa 1486, is the oldest mosque in Albania.

nope

However, we didn’t view the interior of this cultural treasure, since apparently Korçë’s famous tolerance does not extend to allowing lipstick wearers like myself inside a historic mosque.

postoffice

Korçë’s real surprise treat?  Modernist architecture!  This swanky, swinging bank is a modernist gem.

yellowpink

Can you just dig the airstream style balconies?

yellowpinkdtl

Check out this detail!  Oh yeah!

culture

Now a cultural center, this former City Hall was built in the 1930’s in high modernist glory.

kinema

Living up to its name, the Kinema Magestic, built in 1927, was once a hub of Korçë’s cultural life.

buck

And speaking of majestic, these crafty hens greeted us at our guest house from their perch near our room’s door.  Just goes to show you that the travel surprises are always the most satisfying.

 

How we got to Korçë: furgon from Gjirokastër.

Where we slept: Guest House Bujtina Leon.  Price: €42 for a double. Recommended: yes.

 

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9 comments

  1. I, too, was underwhelmed by Korce. However, I fail to see how religious diversity doesn’t count as diversity. Religious differences have certainly resulted in a great deal of killing and a great many wars. Given that, any community that peacefully harbors religious diversity deserves congratulation. Just because you live in an unusually ethnically diverse area does mean other kinds of diversity don’t count.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I absolutely agree with you, mytimetotravel. I think that peacefully harboring religious diversity deserves huge congratulations and respect. My question was how this is unique to Korce, rather is seems the entire country of Albania deserves congratulations. Also, Albania deserves credit for harboring and protecting Jewish Europeans during WWII.

      I actually quite enjoyed Korce, esp. the medieval museum.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately the museum was closed when I was there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such wonderful Art Deco buildings! Then they can’t possibly ban lipstick. I guess that sign forbids vampire bats from attacking dinosaurs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man that pink wavey bank was just too fabulous!

      That’s it, I’m glad someone was able to interpret that sign for me: vampire bats are not welcome to attack dinosaurs here. Thank you!

      Like

  3. I would have interpreted the sign as “no kissing” or “no smiling.” But I like the restriction on bats attacking dinosaurs better. Did you actually try to get in or did you self-regulate?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We self-regulated. I am fine with taking off my shoes and covering my head in any house of worship but no way I’m I going in without lipstick!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Petros Gos · · Reply

    Hello it’s the first time i stumble upon your blog and it’s mainly because of this post as i am from Korce.First of all especially since the city has been greatly renovated in the last two years i would expect to see more photos from the ottoman bazaar,the antique bourgeois residences in the old city,the french style 19th century villas,the Rinia park etc.It feels like you didn’t try learning the city thoroughly as those are considered to be the main attractions of Korca due to the fact that while Albania remained an Ottoman province in the ending of 19th-beginning of 20th centuries cities like Korca and Shkodra were quite westernised when compared to the rest of the Albanian cities due to the connections they had with Europe and America.This would have shown in the society structure as well as the architecture which has been preserved wherever possible something practically non-existent in most post communism Albanian cities.Korca was considered to be multicultural due to the large numbers of Greeks and Vlachs that resided in the city for many generations as well as due to the French/Italian influences.Their interactions with the Muslim Albanians is what gave and still gives Korca it’s air of tolerance.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for stopping by and for the information about Korca. We did visit the Ottoman bazaar, though my favorite attraction was the medieval museum—one of the greatest museums I’ve ever visited. Sadly, the museum does not allow photographs so I can’t write a proper post on it. We also loved visiting the orthodox church in nearby Mborje.

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