Hoxha's congrete domes
This blog entry refers mainly to the hemispherical concrete bunkers found all over Albania.
I first visited Albania in 1984. One of the most remarkable things I noticed during that visit was the rash of hemispherical concrete bunkers that covered the landscapes and townscapes like a rash of pimples in some dreadful disease.
They were in the fields, along the beaches, on mountainsides, in streets, and almost anywhere you cared to look. They came in different sizes, but all had horizontal slits through which weapons could be fired by their inmates.
The dictator Enver Hoxha, an admirer of Joseph Stalin, who ruled Albania between 1944 and his death in 1985, was petrified lest Albania be overrun and invaded by foreign forces. He did have reason to be concerned. The territory, which is now known as ‘Albania’, has been overrun and invaded by many foreign forces including, to mention a few of them, the following: Romans, Byzantines, various western European forces in the Middle Ages, the Serbs, the Italians, and the Nazi Germans.
Even after Independence was granted to Albania in 1912, and after WW2, various powers have had their eyes on Albania. Enver Hoxha did not want to leave Albania vulnerable to invasions. Hence, he ordered the rash of concrete bunkers and other defence structures (such as tunnels and shelters).
The amount of concrete that must have been used to make these structures must be enormous. In my book “Rediscovering Albania” I have written:
“Hoxha was concerned about the risks of invasion. Even though he declared, “When the enemy attacks you, it means you are on the right road”, he wanted to be prepared for when the attack began…
…In “Between Glory and Fall” by Ilir Parangoni”, there is a photograph of one of the metal moulds used to create the bowl-like cap of these reinforced concrete structures. Parangoni wrote that between 400,000 and 600,000 of these bunkers were constructed during Hoxha’s ‘reign’. Given that the area of Albania is 27,748 square kilometres, and using the lower figure, the density of bunkers was at least 14.4 bunkers per square kilometre. And, as they were not randomly placed, it means that in certain places there were concentrated clusters of these concrete ‘pimples’. Today, many bunkers have been at least partially demolished because not only do they get in the way, but also there is a premium on the steel reinforcement metal that can be salvaged from them…
… The hemispherical bunkers were designed to resist very heavy artillery. When they were being tested, some say that live animals were put inside them while the bunkers were being blasted close-range by tanks. Someone suggested that Enver Hoxha had put the bunkers’ designer inside a prototype and then fired heavy explosive shells at it. The designer emerged unscathed from his invention. This might be apocryphal as is the now largely discredited belief that the builders of Roman bridges were compelled to sleep under their unfinished constructions.”
During my 1984 tour of Albania, we saw bunkers that were clearly in use – they were camouflaged an occasionally covered with netting. Some of the smaller ones were empty, but I suppose were in usable condition. During the visit to some tourist attraction in 1984, as I walked past a small bunker one of my fellow tour members, an elderly lady, popped out of a bunker where she had been resting to get out of the hot sun.
Over 30 years later, in 2016, I revisited Albania. We saw many bunkers, but they were not nearly as prevalent and omnipresent as they were in ’84. Most, if not all, of the bunkers we saw last year were in poor condition. Some were submerging into the surrounding terrain or overgrown with vegetation. Others were falling to bits or had been partially demolished. Many of them were covered with graffiti.
One bunker in Tirana is in good condition. To quote from my book, it was located at:
“… the edge of the park next to the Boulevard, there stands a large governmental building, the Zyrat e Parlamentit (Parliament Office). It was built by the Italians before WW2. The Post-Block Memorial stands close by. This includes three reminders of dictatorship: a short section of the Berlin wall (donated by the City of Berlin); a well-restored hemispherical concrete bunker; and four concrete mine props. The bunker was that which guarded the main entrance to the Bllok. The props were part of the mining complex at Spac, a concentration camp where many of Hoxha’s opponents were forced to do unpaid hard labour. The Berlin Wall fragment signified enforced separation from the outside world.”
Another bunker in Tirana had only just been built when we arrived in May 2016. Located close to the National Theatre, this is a life-size replica of one of the smaller types of hemispherical bunkers. To quote from my book again:
“Opposite the ‘Generali’ building, we spotted a hemispherical (dome-shaped) concrete bunker typical of those which Enver Hoxha placed all over the country to counter invading armies. Surrounded by building materials, I thought that it was a left-over from the era of dictatorship, but it was not. It had been built recently by the current socialist government as a memorial to the past. Its presence annoyed many of Tirana’s citizens, who preferred not to be reminded of Albania’s grim history. It has been a target for vandals.”
Whereas in 1984 you would have had to have been completely blind not to have noticed the bunkers, today you need to be on the lookout for them. Most of them serve little purpose, and just get in the way. Some at the seaside have been modified, and are now used as unusual beach huts. One we saw was on land owned by some friends near Elbasan. They have tidied it up, and use it as a cool summer house during the hotter parts of the year.
What puzzles me is whether these bunkers would have been useful in deterring invaders had Albania been attacked. Would they have been as useless as the Maginot Line proved to be in France when the Nazis attacked? Or, would they have made troop progress difficult through the already challenging terrain of Albania?
In the case of a nuclear attack, they would have served little purpose unlike some of the deep underground strongholds such as I saw near Appolonia, at Porto Palermo, and in Gjirokastër.
Luckily for Albania, nobody tried to invade it after WW2, and the bunkers were never put to the test.