Tombs of the pharaohs, or pathways to the gods for sacrificial rituals. Pyramids are regarded as the most symbolic icon of several of the world’s ancient cultures. Stories of how and why they were built and the powers they hold are fantasied by storytellers, authors, movie creators and by the millions of tourists visiting every year. There is one infamous pyramid, equally the most recognised national symbol of the former-communist Albania as the pyramids of Giza are to Egypt. The Enver Hoxha Pyramid (a.k.a. the Pyramid of Tirana, or locally as Piramida) stands as a reminder of a culture once held by Albania’s people and politics.
Enver Hoxha, Albania’s first president ruled Albania with an iron fist. Hoxha modernised of Albania, getting rid of the pre-war class system of peasants and Kings, women gained equal rights, and massive education reform. Amongst these achievements, he was a stereotypical dictator. State took control of private land, banks and businesses, religion was banned and political opponents imprisoned or murdered. After the fall of ally, the USSR, Albania became more and more isolated from Europe; the cultural differences between Albania and its neighbours amplified, and this is still obvious today. Hoxha died of diabetes in 1985 and left behind an extremely poor and desperate country. Coming from a western modernised country, it may seem odd that after the death of a murderous dictator, the country would build a pyramid to honour him, but this did happen.
The design of the building was the result of a four-person committee, which included local architect Pranvera Hoxha (Envir’s daughter) and was led by her husband Klement Kolaneci. Piramida was not inspired of the ancient pyramids, but inspired by nature. On a rainy day, the clouds parted to let in a ray of sunshine. Kolaneci saw this bright sunny ray surrounded by gloomy grey clouds. The beam, small at the top, growing wider closer to earth inspired the pyramid shape. The final design was based on nearby mountain, Dajti, this design is well seen from above. The glass panels running up and down are to let in the natural sunlight, much like the beam that inspired the design. Because of Albania’s international isolation and the extremely firm 3-year deadline given to the project, very little effort was given to research. The end result was a small concrete mountain in the middle of Tirana. When looking at it, people don’t associate it with Dajti, it misses the mark on this and it resembles more of a post-Soviet brutal-futurist design.
Piramida e Tiranës
Now disused, Piramida was intended to be a museum honouring Envir Hoxha. It has also housed a convention centre, a television studio, nightclubs and once was a temporary based NATO during the Kosovo conflict. It now stands in a state of neglect, coated in graffiti. Some of the artwork includes photo posters, people’s initials and racial slurs, most of the artwork is pretty low skilled and resembles vandalism more than street art. You can sometimes see people climbing the pyramid and using it as a slide, be careful if you join them, it can be very dangerous as many glass panels have broken.
Tirana itself is worth visiting purely to look at the architecture, attempts to make the communist-era buildings look nice is like has resulted in colour palettes like nowhere else on earth. There have been talks by politicians to demolish Piramida, but most Tirana residents are against the idea. While many of the older residents see Pirimida as a symbol of Hoxha, young people see it as a symbol of Tirana. It is as a key symbol of their heritage, a grim symbol, but an important one worth keeping.