Albania and its indestructible bunkers

One of the 700,000 bunkers in the Albanian countryside

One of the 700,000 bunkers in the Albanian countryside

One of the first topics we will read or hear about Albania is usually the bunkers. Of course there is so much more to this fascinating country than the concrete mushrooms that litter the landscape and I felt it right to write about some of these highlights first. At the same time however a description of Albania is not complete without mention of these bizarre structures that mark this corner of Europe out like no other.

Surely one of the world’s biggest concrete projects was started in 1950 by the Albanian leader of the day, Enver Hoxha. Convinced that his country was going to be invaded by a malevolent neighbour, he stamped his own authority on a new and unorthodox method of national defence and had a prototype constructed.

According to the stories he asked the chief engineer of the prototype whether the bunker would be able to withstand a tank attack. When he replied with certainty that it would, he ordered the engineer into the bunker and promptly attacked it with a tank. Thankfully for the engineer he was proved correct. And so the rapid roll-out of bunkers began. Over the next 35 years until Hoxha’s death, in the region of 700,000 of these concrete mushrooms sprouted up across the hills and valleys of Albania.

More bunkers on our journey through Albania

More bunkers on our journey through Albania

The attack never came, and after the fall of the communist regime the bunkers lost their military usefulness (if indeed they ever had one). The Lonely Planet guidebook peddles a story that many Albanians lost their virginity in one of these secret hide-outs, but I’d like to give the Albanians the benefit of the doubt and put this in the urban myth bucket. They don’t look like the sort of place you would take your girlfriend if you were setting out to impress.

Passing through Albania on the old buses and minibuses that we used during our trip, I was regularly on the look-out for these grey oddities. They could be spotted by the roadside, on farmland, by rivers and even high up on desolate mountainsides. I was left to wonder how on earth someone managed to drag all those building materials to such inaccessible places – and for what?

Albania has long since emerged from the dark shadow of Hoxha’s despotic rule, and while it still has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of economic development, it’s clearly a country that is looking to the future. As for the bunkers, it seems that those concrete eye sores will be there for a long time to come.

Related posts

Tirana: sightseeing in a place with no sights

In search of Albanian fortresses

Behind the crowds: people watching in the Balkans

Also check out the Concrete Mushrooms website – well worth a read

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

7 Responses to “Albania and its indestructible bunkers”

  1. I never knew about the bunkers actually… But Albania does
    fascinate… Seems like an interesting place

    Stay adventurous

    October 6, 2010 at 10:57 am
  2. Interesting! I didn’t know about this at all!

    October 6, 2010 at 11:30 am
  3. Andy, Did you come across any converted to other uses?

    October 6, 2010 at 5:15 pm
  4. Thanks for the comments and for the fascinating link John. I never saw these, but it crossed my mind that the bunkers would make for a novel hotel – glad to see someone has already had the idea and put it into action!

    October 6, 2010 at 8:23 pm
  5. Saw loads of them while I was there. Very weird place indeed. By the way, when you crossed the border to Macedonia, did you notice that the Albanian border post sign was absolutely riddled with bullet holes?

    October 12, 2010 at 5:37 am
  6. Just checked my photo by the Albanian border sign – no signs of bullet marks but it does look brand spanking new.

    October 12, 2010 at 10:15 am
  7. I loved Albania… fascinating destination! Here’s my take on it if anyone is interested!

    October 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm