Albania Has a Bunker Problem
Paranoid dictator built one for every four inhabitants
Enver Hoxha was the dictator of Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985. The most iconic legacy of his rule are strange little concrete domes. Under Hoxha’s direction, Albania built 750,000 of the bunkers to defend a country the size of Maryland.
Even today the chunky mushrooms are everywhere … and they’re nearly indestructible.
The bunkers are all built to a standard design in small or large variants. Albania’s communist regime plopped the prefabricated fortifications all over the country, especially along the tiny country’s coastline.
But as the years wore on, Hoxha also insisted on placing thousands of bunkers in slightly more problematic spots — on city streets and in cemeteries, playgrounds and vineyard.
Under Hoxha’s leadership, Albania had made enemies with NATO to the west and the Warsaw Pact to the east. The country was completely encircled. Thus the bunkers.
Constructing all the bunkers required three times as much concrete as France’s massive Maginot Line fortifications did.
But the fortifications never really had any military value. “These were open bunkers, and a helicopter could identify and destroy them immediately,” Rahman Parllaku, the former deputy chief of the Albanian army’s general headquarters, observed in a 2009 interview.
“While other nations were building anti-nuclear attack shelters, Albania was dotting the territory with 750,000 pillbox bunkers, which were inappropriate and completely out of sync with the warfare style of the period.”
There are some obvious problems with designing a military strategy around hundreds of thousands of bunkers. How long could one defender hold out alone in a bunker? How could all the disparate, scattered positions be resupplied? How would they communicate?
Under the Hoxha regime, the military owned and maintained the bunkers. Citizens were expected to defend their local bunkers in the event of an invasion. When the regime fell, the deeds to the little forts fell to whoever owned the land.
Most of the pillboxes are in poor repair and are slowly sinking into the ground. In some places, though, small business have taken over and retrofitted the larger bunkers. A restaurant here, a tattoo parlor there. It’s common for shopkeepers to paint the outside of their bunkers, sometimes quite beautifully.
There are so many bunkers, they’re good hiding spots — and perfect getaways for Albanian teenagers to fool around in. Kind of like the backseats of American cars. Amusingly, tiny bunkers turn up as tourist souvenirs. Take a trip to Albania and be sure to pick up a bunker ashtray or t-shirt.