World Bulletin / News Desk
Enver Hoxha, the infamous dictator of Albania, had a grand plan for the island of Sazan: to turn into a rocky fortress against the Western powers that he feared might invade his fiefdom.
The biggest island off Albania, covering a total area of 5.7 square km, it lies strategically between the Adriatic and Ionian seas in the middle of the territorial waters of Albania and Italy, or the so-called “Otranto Strait”.
The island has long served as a military base. Italian forces occupied it in 1920 and it was only on October 22, 1944, towards the end of the Second World War, that Hoxha’s Partisans declared its liberation.
While Hoxha proudly declared that Albania now held the “keys of the Otranto Strait”, referring to Sazan, he started work on transforming the island in a heavily fortified area.
The Soviets helped out with munitions and expertise, while dozens of tunnels - some of them anti-nuclear shelters - were built on the island. What Hoxha knew to do best, of course, were his trademark bunkers. Around 3,600 of them were erected on the island.
However, the war machinery being built in Sazan needed people, and during the 46 years of the dictatorial system, around 10,000 of them had to live in the area.
The families of soldiers, admirals and generals filled the island, while infrastructure followed, including houses, culture halls, schools, hospital and community facilities. Human life flourished amid the struggle to secure electric energy and drinking water.
However, for the rest of Albania, Sazan was a place of mystery and legend. For people not related to the life on the island, this was a restricted area.
The fall of the Communist regime did not lift the curtain on Sazan, either. The Albanian army continued to use it as a military base, while the Italian and Albanian police now used to track illegal activities and movements between the two countries.
In 2015, the government for the first time briefly allowed tourist boats from the Bay of Vlora to dock in Sazan and people could see the hidden island and swim from its beaches. But in 2016 the island was closed off again.
This April, however, after the Ministries of Defence, Economy and Tourism reached an agreement, they decided to open up the island once again for tourist purposes from May to October. Vlora-based tourist agencies immediately grabbed the chance.
Once the sealed-off home of military personnel, the island of Sazan, off Vlora, is becoming a major attraction for Albanians and foreigners alike.
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