Pope's Albania visit prompts long-awaited facelift for Tirana square

Sat Sep 20, 2014 7:47am EDT
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By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters) - Pope Francis has worked a small miracle in Albania even before his arrival here on Sunday -- spurring bitter political foes to join forces to spruce up the rundown square where he will celebrate Mass.

Since communism crumbled in 1990, Albania's Democrats and Socialists have repeatedly thwarted each other's plans to restore Mother Teresa Square to its original glory.

But with the pope picking Albania for his first official visit to a European country, the Socialist-led government and Democrat-held capital set aside their differences to undertake a multi-million-dollar overhaul of the site.

The dilapidated state of the square has long been a source of anger among Tirana residents. In the past few weeks, however, workers have removed a much-despised and broken central fountain, a fast-food restaurant and improvised shops and cafes.

The facades and columns of the Italian-designed University Building, the Institute of Archaeology and the Arts Academy – blackened by exhaust fumes and dirt – have been sprayed clean and hundreds of broken tiles have been replaced.

"Luckily his visit has given Tirana a facelift; its shine is back," said Dorina Tocaj, a young mother pushing her baby in a pram as workers hurried to complete the final touches.


Albanian students stand behind a banner that reads "Albania in NATO" in Mother Teresa square in Tirana April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Arben Celi