With a strategic geographic position on one of the few passageways between the Adriatic Sea and the Balkan Peninsula, and on the banks of the Osum River, Berat, Albania became a rich commercial and cultural center from the 6th century BCE. This long history is well represented by its cultural heritage: two forts, numerous Islamic and Greek Orthodox religious buildings, as well as several hundred traditional houses that represent a rare collection of the architectural heritage of the Balkan region.
During the Communist era, the Albanian government promoted legislation to conserve 550 traditional houses, several monuments and the castle in the Historic Centre. Unfortunately, nearly half of the mosques and churches were destroyed after the declaration of atheism in 1967. After the fall of the regime in 1990, the new government ceased all measures in favor of heritage, which led to rapid deterioration of the old city. Unemployment reached significant proportions and caused a number of secondary effects including massive urbanization. Aware of the need for action and technical assistance in these areas, the Albanian government appealed to the international community.
The objective of this project, carried out within the framework of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement in 1999, was to offer training and employment opportunities through restoration of traditional houses in the Historic Centres of Berat and Gjirokastra, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2005, and their infrastructure, in order to establish a model of sustainable development of historic cities. The hope is to replicate this approach in other urban centers in Albania and the region.