Question: Which country’s landscape is dotted with more than 750,000 abandoned military bunkers?
Stroll along any sandy beach, rolling hill, or city street in Albania, and you’ll see them: weathered concrete bunkers swelling unnaturally from the earth. These dystopian domes—all 750,000 of them—are the handiwork of one man: Enver Hoxha, the Communist dictator who lorded over Albania for nearly 40 years.
Hoxha rose to power at the end of 1944 when much of Eastern Europe was reeling from World War II and embracing communist ideologies. From the onset, Hoxha adopted a hardline style of communism that made even his closest political allies squirm. Over time, his radical ideology drove him to break with more moderate communist governments—including the Soviet Union and China—and to be openly hostile toward neighboring countries, including Yugoslavia and Greece.
As Albania became more and more isolated, Hoxha began to fear that it would be invaded by its enemies and former allies, so he initiated a policy of “bunkerization” in 1967 so the nation would be prepared to defend itself. Over the next 19 years, domed concrete bunkers with narrow gun slits—most of them only large enough to hold one or two people—were installed across Albania … and as the countryside was militarized, so, too, were Albanian citizens. Children as young as 12 were taught how to station themselves in the nearest bunkers to fight off invaders, and local families were expected to maintain and defend the bunkers on their property. By the time the bunkerization project ended in 1986 (shortly after Hoxha’s death), there was one bunker in Albania for every four people—and not a single one had ever been used.
Today, the bunkers are a fixture in Albanian life, and they’re not going away anytime soon: The cost to remove them would overwhelm Albania’s emerging free-marking economy, and so they sit—on sandy beaches, rolling hills, and city streets—reminding residents and visitors alike of Albania’s paranoid political past and fueling the country’s desire to leave it behind.
In the independent documentary below, you’ll hear how locals perceive these curious domes—as well as the paranoid political atmosphere that gave rise to them. From the financial impact of national militarization to the creative ways the bunkers are being used today, find out what it’s like to live among these martial mushrooms.
See the bunkers with your own eyes on OAT's new Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia adventure or Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece cruise, or on the post-trip extension of OAT's Crossroads of the Adriatic adventure.