Climb into Albania's communist history while enjoying a spectacular ocean view.
Bunkers are a constant sight in Albania. Some are derelict and disintegrating, while others have been restored to accommodate museums, cafes, hamburger joints, and tattoo parlors. Made of cement, iron, and steel, Albanian bunkers were built to last—and last they did. It is estimated that between 1967 and 1986, totalitarian prime minister Enver Hoxha oversaw the construction of more than 700,000 bunkers scattered throughout Albania, many of them clustered along its land borders and coastline. They still dot the country’s surface. At the Big Bunker in the scenic Llogara pass, visitors can get up close to this history while enjoying a spectacular ocean view.
Three types of bunkers were built during Hoxha’s reign: the three-meter-wide Qender Zjarri, intended as a firing position; the eight-meter-wide Pike Zjarri, built for the purpose of controlling and commanding; and larger structures that often accommodated tunnels. The Big Bunker, true to its name, belongs to the less common third type.
The Big Bunker is a compound strategically located on a slope of the Ceraunian Mountains that faces the Adriatic Sea. At an elevation of more than 2,000 feet, it offers the perfect vantage point for spotting ships, probably because Hoxha feared that Italy would invade Albania by sea. A dilapidated three-story building makes up the Bunker’s main structure on a particularly scenic hairpin turn of the road. The floors of this building are covered with rubble and broken glass, and the stairs to access the upper floors are in a dangerous state of disrepair.
Looking down towards the sea for approximately 100 feet, one can spot the Bunker’s large concrete tunnel protruding from the slope of the mountain. A couple of goat trails lead to the opening. The tunnel is empty, even though it looks as if it was built to accommodate some large equipment. At the bottom, the tunnel branches off in different directions, a common characteristic of these bunkers. The tunnel, like the rest of the site, boasts a stunning view of the coast, its green and blue sprinkled with cement.
Know Before You Go
The Big Bunker is located on a windy mountain road. Visitors say beware of car engines overheating on the snaking road during hot days. Expect debris and broken glass at the site, don't wear sandals, and bring a flashlight for some help exploring the bunker. The site is not wheelchair accessible, but one can drive there for a quick stop and enjoy the view.
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