Some churches are so beautiful that it’s impossible not to venture closer, regardless of one’s beliefs, and to enter inside to admire the art and architecture. And here, in the east of Europe, where there are far fewer churches in the Western European style, visitors can enjoy something very different in the shapes and colours of Byzantine design. There were exceptions to this though, and one of the most interesting of these in this corner of the Balkans was the cathedral of St George in Korca.
Created and built by a local architect, Naum Trasha, works began at the end of the 19th century and it was completed in 1905, a time of great change in Albanian history, with the waning power of the Ottoman Empire and the recent beginnings of the modern Albanian nation. Indeed, in 1914, the first mass in the Albanian language took place here.
In many ways St George was Trasha’s finest and signature work. What made it so special for the time and place was the precision with how the stones were placed, with each and every element, from the dome, towers, and each tiny rosette being made of a light grey stone. It was said to represent perfect harmony and gave the impression that the church was carved out of single stone block.
And so Saint George quickly became a reference point in terms of urban architecture in the re-vitalised city of Korce. But also as a focal point for the city’s people, as the square in front of the cathedral, at one end of the market, housed the prefecture, municipality, court and finance directorate, amongst the many bars, hotels and stores.
Behind the construction of Saint George were the many contributions and donations of the city’s populace, but the most important name attached to the efforts was the philanthropist Anastas Avramidhi Lakçe. As the works began, word had gotten back to Istanbul that the Christians of Korce were actually building a fortress. Numerous assurances had to be made, with Lakçe promising to fund gas works for Korce.
Anastas Avramidhi Lakçe
Unfortunately, today the cathedral is no more. In 1971, during the Hoxha regime, the church was destroyed and the public library built, which still stands there today. The only remains of the cathedral are the memories of the older generations and our photographs.
Text: Ema Muslli
Ema was born and raised in Korce. After her studies in Tirana she returned to her home city and now works as a Public Relations officer at the Regional Development Agency.