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Hidden beneath layers of trash and dirt, forgotten by the world that replaced them, Albania’s many underground bunkers offer a unique exploration experience unlike any other, if you can figure how to get to them.
Buried in the sediment of nearly every Albanian hillside, hundreds of thousands of hidden chambers mark the fear of a man whose era has long passed. I’m not from Albania, but I imagine that when Hoxha built his bunkers, he intended them to embody strength and wisdom in order to set himself at ease. But, in their rubble and decay, they have joined Albania’s castles in reminding the world just how old this country is, and by comparison, how new it is becoming.
As a subterranean enthusiast, one of the first things I seek in a new country are its caves and catacombs. So, naturally, when I was walking along Durrës’s waterfront one day and discovered a network of tunnels dotting the bluffs, I had to explore them. The caves themselves were not of much consequence, little more than a series of holes dug into loosely packed rock. But, after nearly stumbling into a group of like-minded delinquents through an alternate exit, I happened upon a much bigger find.
A concrete platform, a recess into the ground, and a massive door: a bunker. Solid metal, taller than myself and at least a hand’s length in thickness, the whole thing facing the open expanse of the Adriatic. This was exactly the sort of bunker I was after. But there was one problem: the door was welded shut. Though briefly deterred, creativity soon won out. I realized that if I removed enough large rocks, I could shimmy underneath the door. Just like that, I was in.
Once inside, the atmosphere shifts from one of beauty to one of reverence. Anyone who has explored an abandoned place knows the feeling: you feel at once curious to go on and cautious to take another step. What those same people will also tell you is that taking another step is always worth it!
With each pace further from the light of the door, I encountered more mysteries. From the skeleton of a large anteroom to a long tunnel creeping with blackened roots and rusted cables, past what appeared to be bunk-rooms and work-spaces, common rooms, storage rooms, and all manner of unnameable oddities. An entire room full of carbon powder, deep enough to sink one’s foot into. A vertical shaft running further than the reaches of my phone’s flashlight. A rotting map with angular markers and way-points. And everything was cracked, sloped, burned, or empty.
Keep in mind that perhaps this activity is not advisable for everyone. Many of these old military bunkers may be restricted, dangerous or just plain difficult to get into. But, if you are ever in Albania and you feel like having a different kind of unguided tour, consider checking them out. You won’t regret it!
By: Caleb Bush
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