Albania

Culture || Gjirokastra Tunnel Vision

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Gjirokastra is a charming city for tourists for different kinds of things. The castle and all the beautiful white Ottoman houses, for example. And also the Pazar with all the nice people who let you feel right at home. When visiting the city, most tourists would stick to these things. However, there is one aspect of the city that is quite unique. You wouldn’t see it right away, but if you look closely you will find lots of them.

So, what am I talking about you might think? Of course: Bunkers. A thing Albania is well known for. Most bunkers you will see while traveling through the country lie in the countryside, but in Gjirokastra there are a lot of bunkers and tunnels within the city as well. Former (slightly paranoid) dictator, Enver Hoxha, had built these constructions underground for the people to be safe when an attack would occur. The local people should’ve been able to reach a bunker within a couple of minutes, so that is why the whole town is filled with these tunnels.

When I was there in september a friend of mine mentioned them to me, but when I started looking for them I couldn’t find anything at first. Until a couple of weeks later. I saw one and after that I found a lot. When I asked Albanian friends and other local people about it, they always seemed uninterested and didn’t get why we were interested in these things. When they were younger they used to play in the bunkers and had to hide in them when the occasional drills were announced. I can imagine that people in Gjirokastra don’t like them, because they are so dark and cold. How would it be to always have to hide in these concrete things as a child? But to me (and others as well) it is so interesting, because you can’t find it anywhere else.

Now they are pretty much abandoned by the locals and free to explore for (adventurous) tourists. Some tunnels are easy to reach, some are up on the mountain, some look just like a cave, some are totally made of conrete, some are easy to enter and some are half collapsed. Most of them are dirty, moist and inhabited by bats. Don’t be suprised to find whole skeletons (of cows) when exploring the bunkers.

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Communist tunnel under the castle
The biggest tunnel in the city can be found under the castle. It was made into a museum a while ago, but still doesn’t have regular openingtimes unfortunately. This was the tunnel made for politicians and the more important people, so to say. It is much bigger and more luxurious than the other ones. It is very impressive to see!

And also still in very raw condition. It looks like people just left the place all of a sudden, with the result that you can even find all kinds of moldy furniture with documents spread over it, because of the moist conditions. I really hope this tunnel will open for the public in the near future. I thought it was a very interesting place and if you have the chance: go visit!

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Would you dare to go in?

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If you want to read more about this subject, I found these articles to be quite interesting:
From Bunkers To Businesses
Wired: Paranoid Dictator’s Communist Bunkers

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