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Theoretical Papers

Vol. 6 No. 1 (2021): Visual Spaces of Change: photographic documentation of environmental transformations

Landscape transformations in Albania. A photographic survey on the traces of Italian travellers in the Balkans




After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Albania became a possible land of conquest for Italy, France, and Austria. Explorations and surveys of the newly liberated territory involved numerous scientific a nd military expeditions. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Reale Società Geografica Italiana had been carrying out a systematic study of Albanian landscape, mainly aimed at geographical research. Relevant Italian scholars and geographers travelled to Tirana and Valona. Antonio Baldacci (1867-1950) between 1892 and 1902, Roberto Almagià (1884-1962), Aldo Sestini (1904-1988) in 1940, Bruno Castiglioni (1898-1945) who recorded geomorphological aspects as an army officer following Italian troops. Two expeditions in 1940 allowed them to collect all the information needed to publish the fundamental monograph “L’Albania”, printed in 1943. Bruno Castiglioni oversaw the geomorphological aspects of the study, Ferdinando Milone covered anthropology and economics, and Aldo Sestini investigated the geographical features of each region. Another landmark contribution is Antonio Baldacci’s Itinerari albanesi: (1892-1902), which described discovering an obscure land, its natural features and the built environment.

The contribution for the sixth issue of Sophie draws on a photographic campaign carried out between July 2016 and June 2018, and currently being finalised in the form of a Catalogue of Landscape Typologies. The author c onducts a photographic c ampaign a long the s ame itineraries covered by the aforementioned geographers, discovering similarities and differences with the contemporary Albanian landscape. Manuscripts, diplomatic accounts, publications, and photographs produced by Italian travellers of the early twentieth century are being compared with the current status of the visual environment. Tourism-related activities have altered the scenery of the coast, particularly the so-called Riviera that connects Vlorë with Sarandë, while other sectors of the northern mainland have remained relatively unchanged.

This ongoing research is expected to inform a general catalogue of Albanian landscapes, intended as a tool for planning future interventions across the country. The catalogue could be a useful tool to build an alternative visual cartography. The Catalogue of Landscape Typologies collects four hundred geolocated shots of selected views, which have been classified and redrawn to identify recurring features and visual landmarks. Images are being disassembled in coherent morphological layers: woods, agricultural plains, cultivated slopes, spontaneous vegetation fields, urbanization areas, water bodies and the profile of the mountains. Contemporary Albania and other countries in the Balkans are rapidly changing the quality of its built environment in an attempt to emerge and progress towards the European standards. On the other hand, one could argue that unique views can be lost along the way.


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