Deep beneath the sleepy Albanian town of Gjirokastra, an abandoned military bunker — a damp, earthy and cavernous network of ghostly tunnels — greets tourists.
It is a haunting link to a communist past frozen in time.
Not traditionally known as a tourism destination, Albania is beginning to welcome an influx of foreigners — many of whom are fascinated by the Balkan nation’s colourful history.
The bunker satiates the curiosity of any Cold War historian, immersing visitors in the 1970s and ’80s, a time when Albania was at its height ofisolation from the world. The bunker is one of about half a million located throughout Albania. (Albania’s final Leninist-style government finally collapsed under severe economic turmoil in 1992 and the country is now a candidate to become a member of the European Union.)
“The bunker was a sheltered place to party leaders and military leaders in case of a possible attack by any foreign army,” says Fatjon Hoxhalli of the Albanian National Tourism Agency.
Built by former dictator, Enver Hoxha, to protect his citizens from Western or Soviet invasion, the bunker’s concrete caves are a testament of a bygone era, one of deeply felt paranoia.
Desks strewn with dusty and cryptic military documents, cobwebbed generators, and stray cats populated the bowels of this musty attraction that spanned dozens of rooms and corridors.
“[The Cold War Tunnel] is the only one in Albania opened to visitors and it makes people understand why we shouldn’t go back to a certain era,” says Elena Bardhi, director of projects at Albanian Tourism.
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