2016 World Monuments Watch
Spaç Prison was a notorious labor camp established in 1968 by the Communist government of Albania at the site of a copper and pyrite mine, in a remote and mountainous area in the center of the country. While only one of many such sites, the political prisoners held at Spaç included some of the most prominent Albanian intellectuals of the twentieth century, granting it a special place in the collective memory of that era. The site of the labor camp, on a terraced slope below the tunnel entrances to the mine, was so remote and unforgiving that no perimeter wall was needed to secure the complex, only barbed wire fencing punctuated by occasional guard posts and a front gate. The French-Albanian artist Maks Velo, who was taken into custody in 1978 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment at Spaç, later described it as “the most terrible camp in Europe and I think in the world during this period.”
In May 1973, Spaç Prison became the site of a famed prisoners’ revolt, one of the first moments of resistance to the oppression of the regime. Nevertheless, Spaç continued to operate as a labor camp until the fall of the communist party from power in the early 1990s. It was completely abandoned several years later. Today, even though it has been designated as a heritage site, the complex is in an extremely advanced state of deterioration due to the elements and the abandoned and vacant buildings have lost almost all of their fixtures.
The 2016 World Monuments Watch recognizes a new effort involving institutions, civil society, and private citizens to create a modern institution of remembrance out of the remains of Spaç Prison. As no other site currently exists as a place of memory for former political prisoners in Albania, there is a pressing need to advance knowledge, raise public awareness, and create a demand for the transformation of this site into a center of remembrance and education.
Since the Watch
The first protective interventions at the site since it was closed took place in June 2017, thanks to local support provided by the Swedish Embassy in Tirana. They included site clearance, emergency roof repairs, and temporary structural stabilization of several buildings. Earlier that month, the Minister of Culture of Albania visited the site and declared it to be a priority for the Ministry of Culture over the coming years. Thanks to new research and documentation, a proposal to expand the protected zone at the site was submitted by the nominators in 2016.