TIRANA, Albania – The mysterious Sazan Island has been home to a Soviet military base and possibly a chemical weapons facility. Can it now become a tourist hotspot? Albania’s National Coastal Agency has revealed plans to open a former military base as a tourist attraction this summer.
Sazan Island is ideally situated on the Strait of Otranto in southern Albania, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet.
And while it’s still technically a military base, with two sailors and a night shelter for navy patrols, its operational capacity is nowhere near its glory days, when 3,000 troops were stationed on the island for up to six months at a time.
It was developed during the country’s communist era when fears of nuclear attacks from the West ran high.
As such, the Cold War-era two square mile island is littered with 3,600 bunkers designed to withstand invasion.
The Italian Army was first stationed there in the 1930s, while in the 1950s, the base was used for monitoring Italian and American ships.
While the trenches and tunnels show just how much money the government spent fearing such an invasion, tourism officials are now hoping that Westerners will come flocking – to both see Sazan and also the country’s many nearby beautiful beaches, towering mountains and rich history dating back to ancient Greece.
‘What once was an isolated, unreached spot, a mystery to almost all Albanians but a few then-communist leaders, may now turn into an attractive place, especially for foreign tourists,’ says Auron Tare of Albania’s National Coastal Agency.
Teaming with lush biodiversity, officials are hoping that, as well as attracting history buffs, Sazan can also become a bird watching and diving destination.
There are also plans to turn the extensive network of tunnels into wine cellars.
The island is home to rare birds and reptiles and its coastal waters fluctuate between a pleasant 10 to 25 degrees Celsius year round. There are also breathtaking views to be had given its rocky coastal landscape.