If you look into any museum’s story, you will most likely find an interesting tale of a dream or an idea, inherited from one generation to the next, finally materialized in the shape of a museum. Such is the story of the Bratko Museum of Oriental Art, though this one may be even more unpredictable than the rest of them! It is one where personal life, art and war, extends to three continents and returns to where it all began: Korça, Albania. This unlikely fusion of far removed events, cultures, and places makes this museum the most unique of the entire Balkan region!
The Bratko Museum contains about 450 objects representing 17 Eastern cultures of the world. The collection includes Asian apparel, swords and various Indonesian weapons, dozens of paintings and photographs, and many other rarities which, thanks to this museum, are tangible to the local and international public. It may seem odd that Korça, or even Albania, hosts such a huge Asian collection! It all becomes clear once you get better acquainted with this museum’s legendary story. It is, in fact, the personal story of the famous Albanian photographer Gjergj Dhimitër Mborja. His name circulated among the crowds of communist Tirana as much for his supposed love story with a Japanese king’s young daughter as for the fact that he accompanied American generals during the world wars. Though later in life he worked in Hollywood, Mborja initially spent 14 years (1942-1956) in Japan as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s photographer. His passion for Asia, however, continued well after he returned to the U.S. The Bratko Museum collection, gathered by him throughout his travels, is Mborja’s gift to his hometown of Korça. In his will, he requested that his museum be built with his savings and that it be named in honor of his mother, Viktoria Bratko, who never left Albania.
Built in 2003, the Bratko Museum, designed by the architect Kliti Kallamata, is a bold construction that truly represents the three different cultures which it contains, combining an American and Japanese architecture which sits harmoniously within the urban landscape of Korça. It also represents Mborja, well-known for his courage as a photographer who was as deeply involved in the war as he was in the lives of ordinary people and in the collection of fascinating items. Created by the vision of a passionate collector, the Bratko Museum is infused with a great man’s spirit, one who had a profound desire to share his wealth of knowledge and experience with his native land, a man who created something truly valuable, a collection as intimate and private as it is historical and universal.