Albania’s former leader during the country’s isolated communist years was nuts, and his madness is on display in a unique war museum called BUNK’ART. It’s creepy as hell.
There are two locations – one on the outskirts of Tirana, and one downtown. Both are atomic war bunkers converted to museums. Both chronicle life for Albanians during the communist years. BUNK’ART 1 is more about the military and the former leader Enver Hoxha. BUNK’ART 2 features more on the secret political police that made life hell for people. We did not go to number two – we only saw number one. It was more than enough.
The air was musty and stale throughout the atomic bunker. I could still smell cigarettes, even though no one has smoked down there for years. The ventilation system is the same one installed during its design. The system’s mechanical parts came from China, which was Albania’s only ally for many years. China also provided weapons after Albania broke off relations with Russia in 1968.
The rooms feature the history of Albania from the days of fascist Italy in World War II through its communist years. The rooms mostly used to be mostly military barracks. Two adjoining rooms were to be used as quarters for Hoxha in the event of nuclear war or chemical attacks against Tirana.
I’ve never walked through an atomic bunker before. That alone was creepy. It was built between 1972 and 1978. It was only used for military drills, there was never a war. Eventually it became the museum it is today.
The displays add to the creepiness: music echoes in the halls from the 1940s; propaganda videos from border searches blare from another room; mannequins dressed in military garb stand in the corners; raid sirens blast in a distant hall. Now add to that the dingy feel of the place, the musty smell, and the deaths of workers (prisoners) who built the bunker, and it’s a rather depressing stroll underground. Just bad energy all around. And yet, enlightening. People keep letting madmen rule their worlds.
Hoxha was obsessed with a possible attack. His own room is near the entrance of the exhibit. It’s relatively luxurious: living room, bedroom, private bath. He never slept there, and there are pictures of him on display from the few times he paid a visit.
This museum is an excellent lesson in Albanian 20th century history. After a visit down there, I can better understand how that history affects the culture today. Albanians have embraced capitalism, and they have an inclusive attitude about all religions, which were banned in the communism days.
History on display is a warning to the present about possible futures with potential dictators, tyrants, madmen. I believe my spouse Tedly summed it up best by the comment he left in the visitor log:
To get to BUNK’ART 1, take the bus that says “Porcelan” from just off Skanderbeg Square near the clock tower. The bus cost about $.40. It’s a 15-20 minute ride. At the end of the line, transfer for free (show your ticket) and ask the driver to stop at BUNK’ART.
The official website is here.