Since November 2016, the Municipality of Durrës has started to implement a landmark urban requalification project called the “Veliera Square,” adjacent to the Durrës beachfront promenade and the Venetian Tower. Centerpiece of the project is a giant 2,400 square meter “sail” made from concrete.
Just like the reconstruction of Skënderbeg Square in Tirana, this project was started before the General Local Plan was approved by the Municipal Council. The project will cost an estimate of 2.5 billion lekë (~€18.3 million). In total, 40% of the entire 2017 municipal budget of Durrës will be spent on public works in three public squares, including the Veliera project.
The project for Veliera Square was announced in April 2016 by PS Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako. Already at the beginning of its implementation, this project caused a scandal. Television program “Stop” discovered that construction company Everest shpk had dumped debris from the construction site sraight into the sea. Moreover, it appeared that neither Everest nor the Municipality of Durrës possessed a valid environmental permit. Everest was given a fine of 1 million lekë.
The usual suspects
The Veliera project is a design by Italian architecture firm Archea Associati of architect and convicted criminal Marco Casamonti, who also designed the new National Stadium, yet another real estate project mired in scandal.
The tender to study the actual implementation of the design was won by Erald-G shpk and Arkonstudio shpk, at a price of 24,890,000 lekë (~€182,270), or 99.6% of the maximum available budget of 25 million lekë. All six other companies were, surprisingly, disqualified.
The construction tender was given to Everest shpk and Fusha shpk, the latter of which has also been the recipient of the landmark project of Skënderbeg Square, winning no less than three public procurement procedures in a row. As in the case of the design, Everest and Fusha’s bid won solely because all other three competitors were disqualified. What is remarkable is that in another tender, of the Municipality of Tirana and announced on the same date, Everest had been disqualified because it failed to provide proof that it had paid local taxes. Apparently, the Municipality of Durrës didn’t care about this.
Everest and Fusha will receive 451,529,540 lekë (~€3.3 million) for their construction work, which, as I will show below, will do irreparable damage to the archeological heritage of Durrës.
Violation of the protected zone
As in the case of Gjirokastra, this urban requalification project threatens cultural heritage and sites of archeological importance. For a considerable part, the Veliera project will affect so-called archeological Zone A, which has been been determined by a Decision of the Council of Ministers (VKM) no. 237 dt. March 23, 2011. Although the VKM allows for the reconstruction of infrastructure in this protected zone, art. 2(3) clearly states that only “light constructions” may be installed with a “maximum height of 3 meters.” These constructions need to be
movable and in no case damage underground levels and the landscape, in order to facilitate the conservation, exhibition, public information, and other needs that relate to archeological activities specifically and cultural heritage in general.
Figure 1 below shows the map from VKM no. 237 on top of an architectural drawing of the Veliera project. The pink zone is protected Zone A. The green zone is Zone B, where construction work is only allowed after an “intense survey” of the Agency of Archeological Services, by means of “archeological sounds or other forms of testing depending on the potential offered by the zone and with approval of the National Council of Archeology.”
As may be clear from figure 1, the two pillars of the concrete “sail” that are closest to the city center are inside protected Zone A, with the edge of the tunnel just barely skirting around it. To carry the weight of a 200 square meter concrete sail, the foundations need to be particularly strong. Their construction will therefore no doubt severely damage the underground layers of the city.
Moreover, as is clear from photographic evidence gathered by cultural heritage activists, there has been serious damage done to underground layers squarely inside Zone A, exposing older construction layers of the city, which are protected by law.
The Forum for the Protection of Cultural Heritage is trying to raise awareness for the incontrovertible damage that is being done to the cultural and archeological heritage of Durrës, and has called for the construction to be halted.