If you ever visit Albania, one of the first thing you’ll notice are the concrete mushrooms that seem to have sprouted up everywhere from mountain tops to beaches. The road to a country covered in concrete bunkers began with the medieval kingdom of Albania in the middle ages becoming a part of the Serbian Empire, and then part of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. It stayed this way as the province of Rumelia until 1912, then the first independent state was founded after a brief occupation by Serbia. Throughout the first half of the 20th century it went back and forth between a monarchy and republic until being occupied by Italy before WWII. When the Axis powers collapsed, Albania became a communist state. Enver Hoxha was the dictator for the majority of this time (1944-85) until the communist regime collapsed in 1990. The 90’s were a rough time in Albania, but things are changing quickly and it’s one of my favorite places in the world. During the communist reign was when “bunkerisation” was carried out”.
Hoxha was the communist leader of Albania over a 40-year period. The elimination of his opposition and their families was a key element. The secret police (Sigurimi) strictly enforced his rule. He destroyed anyone who threatened his power, but it wasn’t all bad. He focused on rebuilding the country after being left in pieces after WWII. He built the first railway line, eliminated adult illiteracy, and put them on the road to agricultural self-sufficiency. One of his biggest legacies are the over 700,000 bunkers he had built throughout the country. “Bunkerisation” put these concrete mushrooms in ever corner of the country. From mountain top.
Around historic castles.
There was no real military value and were never used for the intended reasons during the 45 years of communism. The cost to build them drained money and resources away from actual needs of the country. One old man told me that they could have built a bridge to Italy with the same materials. At 3, they were taught to be “vigilant for the enemy within and without”, and at 12, citizens were trained to position themselves in the closest bunker to stop invaders. It became a society where nobody could trust each other.
They were built using concrete, steel, and iron, and varied from one-person pillboxes with gun slits to massive underground nuclear bomb shelters to be used by party leaders. The ones you see most of are small concrete domes set into the ground, and look like big mushrooms.
Along with different sizes of the mushrooms were huge bunker complexes with tunnels throughout mountains.
Some have been turned into homes for livestock or farmers.
The big bunkers are awesome to explore and many take you on an adventure into the mountainside.
I love exploring stuff like this, so every few km’s I was stopping and creeping around. If anything, they sure had nice views from inside.
Even though many people questioned them, it was behind closed doors. A general publicly questioned their practicality and was accused of being a Chinese spy and planning a coup, which resulted in his execution. In 2004, 16 tons of mustard gas was found in bunker. The U.S. paid Albania $20 million to destroy it. Even though they were never used during communist times, they found some use afterward. In the 1997 Albanian uprisings, some were used in the fighting between rebels and government troops. They also got use during the 1999 Kosovo War, when Albanian villages along the Kosovo border were being hit by Serbian artillery. Refugees used them, as well as Kosovo Liberation Army fighters. They’ve also become a popular place for “romantic” getaways, since cars were in short supply until recently.