The National Museum of Medieval Art in Korça is one of those places where the modern and the old blend seamlessly, creating an otherworldly, timeless space. It is an ultra-modern venue, though one which restores life to the Byzantine era. Originally built in 1980 and reconstructed in 2016, it is located in the main “Fan Noli” boulevard in the city. This, the newest museum in the country, preserves the country’s most sacred treasures, artworks which have miraculously survived countless obstacles to be where they are today. Their history is perhaps more exceptional than in many other countries as, in Albania, these works were forbidden and many destroyed during Communism. But not in Korça, where many were saved, kept hidden away for many years. As such, they truly commanded a unique museum!
And, that it is! The word that best describes this museum is harmony. Its exterior is harmonious with the surrounding environment and the traditional constructions of the southeastern city. Its interior is separated into halls of varying colors, which serve as stunning backdrops to the hundreds of centuries-old objects adorning its walls. The play of colors in this museum is so masterful that it cannot be fully conveyed in words. Suffice it to say that the eyes greatly benefit from the beauty and harmony. Ingeniously designed by the German architectural firm Bolles + Wilson, the museum offers “different experiences” at every turn, all resulting in a journey chock-full of intense encounters. It is designed in such a way that your feet naturally take you where you should go. On your way, you realize that you are surrounded by a perfect joining of beauty and history of which you simply do not tire. Quite the contrary, the difficulty lies in returning to reality!
Within the museum, there are more than 7,000 works of art and cultural objects, mostly icons, as well as wood, stone, metal and textile works that depict an entire history of Albanian iconography. The Golden Wall, which covers two floors with its 9.5m height, exhibits the impressive 16th century collections whose sheer volume is astounding. This is followed by the White Balcony, where the oldest icons of the Museum, those of the 14th century, are exhibited. Here, you will find one very rare and symbolically significant icon from the Church of Saint Mary, which has been recently compared to the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, “Salvator Mundi”. It features St. Michael (Shën Mëhill), who in one hand holds the globe with Christ’s initials engraved in it and, in the other hand, a sword. The Black Labyrinth Pavilion exhibits the works of the famed Albanian artist Onufri, whose signature bright, fiery red is especially radiant against the ominous background. This labyrinth is a corridor that particularly facilitates the special attention required of the twenty icons of the 16th and 18th centuries displayed here. The Red Room, in the center of which is located the 18th century iconostasis with carvings of apocalyptic motifs, is one of the most exhilarating and warm environments of the Museum. It is, quite literally, the red hot center of it all. The conclusion of the journey occurs, fittingly, in the Parade Room, a divine setting that holds two masterpieces by the Zografë brothers. You will spend some time gazing at this works! As the great Constantine emerges, along with his soldiers, on his long journey towards Christ’s crucifixion, you find that your beautiful journey through the mysterious world of medieval art has, mysteriously, come to its end.