Skenduli House

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September, 2019

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Skëndulaj House is one of the most intricate buildings in Gjirokastra, Albania, as it combines Ottoman engineering with wonderful local architecture and craftsmanship. It was built in 1700 by Skënder Skënduli, the patriarch of one of the wealthiest families in southern Albania. It underwent a partial restoration in 1827 to the façade of the upper residential floor. The house is noted for its 64 windows, 40 doors, 8 chimneys and 7 fireplaces. The chimneys in particular reflect the grandeur and status of the family and house. Remnants of mosaics representing the family’s strong trade relations with Venice are still to be seen and the whitewashed house had lots of external timber.

The house was commandeered by the communists for some time and used as the ethnographic museum before being returned to the family, although it is no longer inhabited by them. We paid our entrance fee of 200 Lek/£1.50 to a very hoarse young girl, a 10th descendant of the family, who took us around with a Serbian couple who arrived at the same time.

On the ground floor was a room with an arch, which would have been used for refrigeration, and a bunker room. Another bunker above provided additional protection. We then visited all the rooms, set out very much in the traditional way:

Woman’s room – with its bright red carpet and low Ottoman style seating around the outside covered in red rugs. In every room were cupboards for storage of blankets as the family would have slept on the floor.

Dining room – although this looked like a kitchen, we were told this was outside.

The water storage tank collected rainfall during the winter which would be transported throughout the house. The rainfall would usually last during the dry summer months, and a funnel at the drop of the pipe could be adjusted so that it didn’t collect water if they had too much.

Gentlemen’s room with its wooden balcony where the women could do a headcount, so they knew how many coffees and rakija to prepare.

Summer terrace – with its stuffed white dog looking out, which apparently kept the birds away during the winter when most of the house is shut up.

The winter terrace, below the summer terrace, had heating.

The grandparents’ room – this was very small but had its own chimney to keep the old people warm. It also had a set of stairs so the children could sleep there.

The large honeymoon room which would be used by the newlyweds until the next couple got married. The first newlyweds then moved into an adjacent room.

The ladies’ guest room used for weddings etc with its own Haman and 17 windows.

The men’s room for the wedding celebrations. One had an ornate and colourfully painted chimney which we were not allowed to photograph. It also had an elaborate wooden ceiling with pomegranates: the fruits and flowers are said to bring luck to children.

Whilst there are a number of these houses that can be visited in Gjirokastra, this is definitely a must see.

Helen Jackson

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