Lonely Planet Writer

Former communist-era nuclear bunker opens as a museum in Tirana

A former nuclear bunker in Albania’s capital Tirana opened on 19 November as a museum which sheds a light on the political persecution of the communist regime’s opponents during the Enver Hoxha era.

Interior of Bunk'Art 2
Interior of Bunk’Art 2 Image by Antonio Cakshiri

This top secret bunker, with the code name ‘Pillar’, was built between 1981 and 1986 and intended as a shelter for top interior ministry officials in case of a nuclear attack. It now documents the Albanian police history and exhibits photos and equipment used for political persecution of Albanian citizens during the second half of the 20th century. The museum – called BunkArt 2 – is also intended as a memorial to the tens of thousands of people who were imprisoned and executed by the communist regime. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of bunkers were built across the country during the rule of its dictator Enver Hoxha, which lasted from 1945 until his death in 1985. His isolationist regime lived in constant fear of a potential invasion by both the Soviet Union and the United States.

Bunk'Art 2
The former nuclear bunker in Tirana, Albania, is now a museum.  Image by Antonio Cakshiri

Over the last couple of years, the current Albanian government under the Prime Minister Edi Rama has opened several of former communist-era sights to visitors. One of these is Sazan Island, a former military base near the town of Vlora on the southern coast of Albania. The ghost island is dotted with bunkers and has abandoned buildings that used to house military personnel.

Bunk'art 2 is now open to the public.
Bunk’art 2 is now open to the public. Image by Antonio Cakshiri

Another impressive sight is Bunk’Art, also a massive cold war bunker built in the 1970s for Albania’s political and military elite. It’s located on the outskirts of Tirana and has been turned into a history and contemporary art museum in 2014. Also in the capital, the House of Leaves was once the headquarters of Albania’s secret police (known as Sigurimi) and is now a unique museum of the totalitarian state’s control of the population surveillance, espionage and a network of informers.