I’m standing in a corridor, lined with doors. One of them creeks behind me and I feel slightly sick. It’s easy to imagine a cell door slamming shut on me, locking me inside while I wait to be tortured and, even in a museum context, my survival instinct kicks into overdrive.
I’m at The Site of Witness and Memory in Shkodra, Albania. It’s a Franciscan Monastery which was claimed by the Communist regime for use as a prison. The land and building have been returned to the original owners, however the space is being shared with a new museum.
The back of the site contains the original cells in which the prisoners were held as well as the reconstructed interrogation room. It is incredibly creepy walking down the corridor between the cells.
Tea Çuni is the director of the museum. Tea is very knowledgeable and informative. She told me that the building is original except for the interrogation room which has been reconstructed from the accounts of former prisoners and a new tunnel connecting the front and back of the building.
The tunnel covers the ground that new inmates would have walked to their cells. It is designed to symbolise handcuffs, blood, broken bones, broken hearts. And when you see the historical documents and accounts in the first section of the museum you will know why. The torture that was carried out here was horrific.
Two of the cells contain shrines. Tea tells me that one is a shrine to Zef Pllumi who wrote the book Live to Tell about his ordeal at the hands of the regime and the other is to Maria Tuci, the only female martyr out of 40 in the Catholic religion. Maria died in 1950 as a result of torture at the age of 22, apparently still holding onto her beliefs.
The museum also screens a historical film from the archive of the Ministry of Interiors. It’s about 10 minutes long and worth watching.
Back on the second floor corridor with the cell door still periodically announcing itself, I think to myself that the people who were held here must have been in a state of terror at every noise. The atrocities committed at the hands of the regime and the lasting effect they have had on Albania and it’s people are reason enough to make sure you visit this museum if you find yourself in Shkodra.
Location: Bulevardi Skënderbeu, Shkodër, Albania:
It’s a little bit difficult to tell that it’s the museum as it doesn’t have the word museum on the front, so this is the building you’ll be looking for: