Albania’s most secretive military base under communism opens up to tourists
- The Sazan Island, which initially opened to foreign tourists in 2015 for the first time in 70 years, will now be available for scheduled visits for six months from May 1 until the end of October.
TIRANA, April 6 – As Albania gears up for its 2017 tourist season and hopes to make one of the country’s most promising industry a year-round enterprise, authorities are also opening up key military facilities to tourists.
The Sazan Island, a military base in southern Albania managed by the defense ministry was first used by the Italians until World War II before becoming the country’s most secretive base under communism when it was fortified with bunkers and tunnels designed to withstand a possible nuclear attack that the Albanian communist authorities feared.
The Sazan Island, which initially opened to foreign tourists in 2015 for the first time in 70 years, will now be available for scheduled visits for six months from May 1 until the end of October.
The tiny now uninhabited 5.7 km2 island and the Karaburun peninsula form the first and only national marine park of Albania.
The marine park features ruins of sunken Greek, Roman and World War II ships, rich underwater fauna, steep cliffs and giant caves, ancient inscriptions of sailors on shore, secluded beaches, and breathtaking views of the coastline.
“The park covers a marine area stretching 1.9 km along the coastlines of Karaburun Peninsula and Sazan Island on the southwestern side of Albania where the Adriatic and Ionion Seas meet. The biodiversity, landscape and heritage of this area are unusual for the Mediterranean. But despite its riches, the area was severely threatened by fishing and development activities,” says the UNDP.
Economy and Tourism Minister Milva Ekonomi said the opening of Albania’s most famous island will give a boost to the tourism industry which registered a record high 4.7 million tourists and more than €1.5 billion in travel income in 2016.
“We are making available something very good for Albania’s year-round tourism. We are on the verge of the summer tourist season kick off and Albanian tour operators and travel agencies are looking for more tourist products and access to Sazan Island has been a continuous request,” said Ekonomi, signing a deal this week with the defence ministry, the island’s manager.
“The fact that we are allowing tourists to spend time in Sazan while on tourism in Albania is undoubtedly a huge incentive for domestic tourism,” she added.
Defense Minister Mimi Kodheli described Sazan as an opportunity for both tourists and fauna and flora researchers.
“The Sazan Island is undoubtedly a tourist attraction not only for its positioning, but also for its specific flora and fauna which helps not only tourists but also foreign researchers,” said Kodheli.
Albania’s first female defense minister said the opening of the island also served increasing awareness about security in the country at a time when geopolitical tensions are increasing.
“In addition to being a very important source of revenue for the GDP, tourism should of course reflect the face of security that tourists find when coming to Albania. The world and the Mediterranean coast is now troubled and concerned over all geopolitical events in this area and many tourists prefer not visiting high-risk countries. What we must guarantee is the security of our coastline, something which we are working on every day,” said Kodheli.
Back in 2015, Albania also opened up as a tourist attraction a Cold War secret bunker outside Tirana that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack.
Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past decade being nicknamed as “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.”.
The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera south of the country.
Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.