TIRANA, January 14
The history of Durres is long and varied. For thousands of years, it saw many rulers and visitors from all over Europe and beyond. In turbulent times the city attracted warships and big armies and in times of peace and clear blue skies, it attracted lovers of repose, culture, and the sea. In a city with such immense diversity in its history, visitors take the sea and the beach for granted. However, the beach of Durres has its history that dates back to about 90 years ago. An article published in 1932 by Minerva, the Literary Newspaper of Modern Life at the time, tells the story of how the city on the Adriatic coast started its journey to become the Summer Capital of Albania.
The article ‘At Durresi Bathing Sites’, besides the elegant retreat, the bathing etiquette, and fashion trends, offers a glimpse into the short era of grace and sophistication in pre-war Albania.
At Durresi Bathing Sites
“Mister Niko Lezo reveries that perhaps one day he will be regarded as the founder of Albania’s Summer capital. Mr. Lezo, in this case, has only one merit and achievement: he anticipated the events and three years ago he built the first bathing cabin at Shkembi i Kavajes. He was a boon for the place where now there are more than 100 bathing cabins and where maybe one day we will see the luxurious summer capital of Albania.
Word has it that the true founder of this ours summer capital now and for the future is General de Ghilardi.
The story goes that a place by the sea was sought, where our King would spend a couple of summer months sea-bathing. The choice of the people charged with this matter was Porto Romano harbor in Durres. General de Ghilardi didn’t like that place. His eyes, the trained soldier eyes used to find the places of highest qualities eyeballed the beach at Shkembi i Kavajes.
The sun, the air, the sea, the sand, the means of communication, everything there was more suitable for a royal beach. The General not only made his suggestion, but he also fought for it and insisted that the royal beach was built at that place. In the end, he got his way.
Experience has proven that the general was more than right. Porto Romano would never be such an adequate place for a beach and a summer capital. And here’s the reason why. As the popular saying goes: If you want to live a good life, stay close to the sea or close to the king. Nowadays, the beach offers both, while the number of bathing cabins increases year after year. In Porto Romano, on the other hand, it wouldn’t have been possible to build so many cabins and especially the public municipal baths. Only a handful of Albanians would have desired to be close to the sea and Shkembi i Kavajes wouldn’t have seen such flourishing. Maybe we would have a beach, but we would not have a summer capital. Isn’t it fair to name General de Ghilardi as the founder of our summer capital? Isn’t it fair that this capital, which in the future is going to be very luxurious, is named Ghilardi?
Calmness, plentiful sun, and sky, fresh air, healthy life despite the limited commodities. That’s the popular beach at Shkembi i Kavajes. Instead of the nerve-consuming amusements of European beaches, we have a quiet Albanian life on our only beach. A family life that doesn’t cross the border of household intimacy and friendly relationships. Each family inside and in front of its cabins enjoys the air and water caresses in peace and complete security. Except for a few ill-educated libertines not according to the Albanian tradition, people come and go, take a stroll or a bath without peeking around or at other cabins. And life flows sweetly without much concern or trouble. Friendly visits, reading, or needlecraft fill in spare time.
But this calm life of physical and moral health is the prerogative only of women, children, and a few happy people who don’t heave their hearts torn by hidden or disclosed passion.
Some people have no cabin, but stay day and night at the beach to lead a worrisome life.
Such miserable fate that they fully deserve, is caused by the fact that they want to use the beach for political hunting. Since morning, they go and observe who goes and who doesn’t go to the royal baths. When they spot a relative of the king, they greet him in great fake respect, because they think the electoral campaign for the upcoming elections, can be done better at the beach than in Tirana.
Slaves of their ambitions, they don’t know what it means to enjoy life and nature. Most of all they don’t know that if it is good, the highest good is to lay the body and the soul below the Albanian azure or star-filled sky, as poets say.
The bathing life is relatively good even in the public municipal baths lead by Rexhep Beu as the clients like to address him. But except for Sundays. Sunday feels like doomsday filled with noisy merry crowds. Service lacks in terms of organization, even though the staff does their best to satisfy the clients. That’s fruitless because most clients seek Europe at Shkembi i Kavajes. They have forgotten that with a bit of goodwill one can get satisfied. Three years ago there was nothing on that beach. Now there are rooms with beds and a delightful restaurant, cold beer, and cheap melons. In a few words, we have a place where we can spend an enjoyable day off, where the bodies get in direct touch with the air, the sun, and the … eyes.
Maybe next year we are going to have a small modern palace, but remember that would come with hefty prices. So let’s enjoy and await…
Original article: Ne Banjat e Durresit, Minerva newspaper, 1932
Source: The National Library