On Sunday I was lucky enough to be able to experience two things- firstly being able to go inside the previous residence of the ex-communist dictator Enver Hoxha, and secondly being able to feast my eyes on the incredible “Imperishable Wisdom” exhibition.
The exhibition brought together some extremely important parts of Albanian history and culture that, against all odds, survived for many, many centuries. The books and parchments on display detail 14 centuries of history as well as cultural and religious inheritance in the form of codices, Qurans, and manuscripts.
This collection of beautiful documents and metal-bound books are comprised of texts in Albanian (in Arabic script), Farsi, Ottoman, and Greek and included the purple codex of Berat dating from the VI century, and the oldest Quran in Albania, dating from the XV century.
According to the Director of Central Archives of Albania, Ardit Bido, over 20,000 people visited during the 2 weeks of the exhibition, far surpassing their initial expectations.
The exhibition itself was extremely interesting. These books and manuscripts are breathtakingly beautiful and intricate- more like a work of art than documents designed to impart information. From the engraved covers of some of the books to the highly detailed and colourful illustrations that adorned the delicate pages, it was an honour to see such treasures on display for all to see.
One of the star attractions of the exhibition was the “Codex Purpureus Beratinus”. These two codices were found in Berat, Albania with the first Beratinus 1 dating from the 6th century, and the second Beratinus 2 dating from the 9th century. Together with five other codices, they form a part of the Purple Codices, two of which were preserved and protected for centuries in Albania, one is kept in France, one in England, and one in Greece. These codices represent one of the oldest New Testament archetypes and were an important point of reference for the development of global biblical literature. These two codices are considered as the most valuable treasures of the Albanian cultural heritage and it impresses me that despite years of turmoil, they have endured thanks to the protection and preservation of the Albanian people.
One last thing that I particularly enjoyed about this exhibition is that it was held in the villa of a dictator who banned religion and also disallowed access to this part of Tirana to members of the public. To now display some of the world’s most important religious artefacts, to the public, in what was probably his living room, really made me smile.
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