April 24 - The Albanian government is preparing to sell 99-year leases for about 40 of its historic castles and ancient monuments to ease the burden of their costly upkeep. Hayley Platt reports.
The rich history of Albania's Petrela Castle attracts thousands of tourists every year. The state-owned heritage site south of the capital Tirana dates back to the Byzantine Empire. A local businessman has helped boost numbers by adding a restaurant and rebuilding one of the towers. The Albanian government was so impressed it's now planning to sell 99-year leases for about 40 other historic sites to private investors. Neritan Ceka is a professor of archaeology and adviser to the Prime minister. SOUNDBITE:ADVISER TO THE PRIME MINISTER AND PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY, NERITAN CEKA, SAYING (Albanian) : "I want to clarify that we are not privatising, the state doesn't privatise monuments. Everyone who calls it "privatisation" does it to politicise and complicate the issue. We are talking here about investments, most often from the private sector, that help us service tourists without harming the cultural monument." But the plan faces strong opposition from local historians and archaeologists. Albania has unearthed many ancient artefacts over the centuries from the Hellenistic, Roman and iron ages. Professor Iris Pojani says historic terrain deserves protection. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND CULTURAL HERITAGE, IRIS POJANI, SAYING: "In Albania as in other countries of Europe access by private sector to the cultural heritage industry is a trend that cannot be stopped, but especially in our country this access should be carefully regulated by the state." The owner of the restaurant at Petrela believes the scheme can actually help to preserve Albania's important heritage sites. (SOUNDBITE) (Albanian) OWNER OF RESTAURANT IN PETRELA CASTLE, FATBARDH KUPI, SAYING: "The law about castles' privatisation is very good for us, because we rent them, but also we maintain them. This practice is used all over the world, only the private sector can maintain them." One of the draws of Albania is that it's landscape is relatively unspoiled by globalisation. How to better serve international tourists without spoiling the heritage sites they're coming to see promises to be a hotly discussed challenge. Hayley Platt, Reuters.