Ever wondered what lengths a communist ruler would go to amid the constant paranoia & the threat of the enemy haunting them? Well, Bunk’Art 1 is five levels & 3000m2 of underground protective bunker, the product of Enver Hoxha’s fear of nuclear fallout.
Albania’s landscape is heavily punctuated with the aftermath of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime, most notably in the shape of 700,000 bunkers dispersed throughout the country. For a long time, the Albanian population saw their presence as something entirely normal. This was until the sinking realisation that such a costly defense method, and one against an enemy that never came, was more than just unique, it was disturbing. Tourists and journalists alike, stand in awe of these strange objects, sticking out of Albania’s stunning landscape like mushrooms cropping up after rainfall.
In Albania, historical truths come about similarly to the afore mentioned mushrooms, one after the other and in plentiful numbers. The bunkers became part and parcel of daily life in Tirana, a regular aspect of the landscape. Then in 2014, came the opening of Bunk’Art 1. And a rather significant, but little-known truth came out to the Albanian population, the quite literal ‘concrete’ paranoia that possessed Enver Hoxha. This lurking paranoia that engulfed the former ruler was evident for all to see and Bunk art’ lies at the centre of it all, a world full of secrets in Hoxha’s everlasting unfinished project.
The underground bunker, built as a shelter for Hoxha and his government in case of a nuclear attack, was never used for its intended purpose as no such attack ever came to pass. Its construction commenced in 1978 but, with Hoxha’s death in 1985 halting all work towards its completion, the bunker was left in waiting, missing both an entrance and an exit.
After the completion in 2014, the bunker was transformed into a historical museum and art gallery, now known as Bunk’Art. Located in Tirana’s periphery, the bunker runs five stories beneath the surface of Tirana and boasts a total of 106 rooms, all within an incredible 3000m2 space. The entrance to this underground palace leads to a lengthy, tall and dimly-lit hallway. The welcome is eerie enough, to say the least! The historical exhibitions and artistic installations that lie within, reveal Albania’s history, starting with the Italian debarkation in 1939 and the diplomacies of war during 1941-45. This leads on to the German invasion and Albanian resistance, the dual struggle for power and Albania’s liberation during 1943-44 followed by the post-war period. The countries historical linage culminates with the establishment of the communist regime and its eventual overthrow in 1991, the latter being the crux in Albania’s unresolved story.
The most fascinating rooms of the museum are undoubtedly those belonging to Enver Hoxha, and the former prime minister, Mehmet Shehu. The military liaison room, telecommunications room, the officers’ and chief of staff’s room all make for a fascinating visit. They combine to portray a previously inaccessible firsthand experience of Hoxha’s, and his governments, alternate life, something that was a parallel of the real life they lived. The former Assembly Hall is now transformed into a concert and theatre hall. The museum’s creator is Carlo Bollino, an Italian publisher who has worked in Albania for the past 20 years. A person who knows Albanian history but one who possesses the necessary emotional distance needed to create an accurate and unbiased museum experience, one which corresponds with the dark history it houses.
The bunker offers a general sense of a communist country’s nature and indeed its paranoia of those creeping Western ideals throughout the Cold War period, a period riddled with a constant threat of the enemy. But more deeply than that, it delves the visitor into a journey through Enver Hoxha’s mindset during his reign, which ultimately answers to the country’s unsolved enigmas of its 45-year long communist stint. To continue this in-depth journey into Albania’s enigmatic Communist past consider the museum’s sister exhibition Bunk’Art 2 and don’t forget to check out The House of Leaves Museum, the former base of Albania’s secret police.