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Albania: Borsh bunkers

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Borsh bunkers | Albania | Europe

[Visited: August 2012]

One of the things we were curious about before visiting the country, was the bunkers that were once built to defend the country. Indeed, on our first busride, we already spotted several bunkers, strange grey concrete mushrooms sticking out of the landscape. During the Hoxha reign in Albania, reportedly 700.000 bunkers were constructed to defend the country against the foreign enemy, which according to the regime could be Yugoslavia, the NATO, or the Warsaw Pact. Albania once had 24 bunkers per square km, but many have been dismantled, especially in the urban areas. We wanted to see them up close, and as soon as we read that the beach of Borsh was full of bunkers, we knew that we should stop there on our way to Tirana.

Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Concrete bunker with metal hooks facilitating placing the beast in its proper place

Leaving our bags in a big restaurant built over a river tumbling down the hillside, we hiked down a steep path before reaching the orchards we had already seen from above. At the top of the path, we passed a first bunker; in the orchard, we saw several, one where only the circular foundation was left in the garden of a farmer. The walk through the orchard was pleasant enough, and when we approached the beach, our expectations were high. We imagined a beach full of bunkers - but when we stepped on the beach, all we could see were beach parasols, beds, bars, and people cooling off in the particularly quiet waters. A little puzzled, we decided to walk south, in search of bunkers. Yes, we found a few remains of the concrete structures with some rubbish, but nothing matched what we had envisioned. We asked at one of the beach bars, who laughed, said that most had been removed, and pointed to the far end of the beach where a few could still be seen.

Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Bunker of the Hoxha regime integrated into the wall around a house

Sure enough, we did see some more bunkers on the way, one in a backyard, several more lined up at the side of the road, like trash thrown out of the window of a passing car. Even though the bunkers are supposedly hard to destroy, the Albanians are getting rid of them; and Borsh is just a beach destination, and no place for bunker tourists like us. We wondered if they should not have been turned into fancy beach bars, or a bunker camping, or something of the kind. The bunkers looked all exactly similar; they were all of the smaller Qender Zjarri or QZ type, while there are also bigger ones of the Pike Zjarri type that we saw in other parts of Albania. The bunkerizaton project in Albania came at a high cost, both materially and personally, was never used for the purposes it served - even though some were used during the Kosovo war and the rebellion of 1997. Many claim that they were often used for romantic reasons; especially when cars were scarce in the country, teenagers went to the bunkers instead for some privacy, and many supposedly lost their virginity in the small space of the totally unromantic concrete and steel housing. Albania is not the mysterious, closed country it used to be, but the bunkers are one of the ways in which its recent history is very visible and touchable.

Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Bunkers in an orchard close to the beach of Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Bunker dug into the earth above the plain of Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Concrete grey bunkers near the beach of Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): The lower ring of the bunker is all that remains of the concrete structure in this garden
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Ruins of bunkers at the beach of Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Bunker on the beach of Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Metal hook on concrete bunker at Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Concrete bunker with metal hooks and number
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Bunker in the bush near the beach of Borsh
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Ruins of bunker at Borsh beach
Picture of Borsh bunkers (Albania): Parasols lined up where once bunkers stood

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