Updated: May 22, 2020
Several months ago I visited a small unassuming building at an out-of-the-way military base tucked within the steep Neretva River valley slopes of Bjelašnica Mountain, which isn't far from the small town of Konjic, BiH. Within this seemingly ordinary building I was presented with the entrance to the extraordinary underground Atomska Ratna Komanda (or “Atomic War Command” in English), otherwise known more shortly as ARK D-0 or simply 'Tito’s Bunker'. This secret subterranean nuclear command center and protective bunker was built into Bjelašnica Mountain as part of a Cold War defense system to house Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito and the country's political leadership in the case of a nuclear attack. Meant to sustain a direct 20 kiloton nuclear blast, this underground complex was constructed over the course of nearly 15 years, starting in 1953. The Yugoslav state considered its secrecy so paramount that stories relate workers being blind folded before being brought to the worksite and upon its completion in 1979 only 16 people are reported to have known of its existence.
As I wander through the narrow and claustrophobic passageways of the ARK D-0 complex, I am confronted with its 100 rooms which are of every type which you could imagine might be needed to achieve the goal of sustaining a skeleton government of over 300 people for 6 months underground during a nuclear attack. This included conference rooms, kitchens, offices, bunk rooms, elite suites, mess halls, etc, etc, all spread across over 6,500 sq m of subterranean space at a depth of roughly 270m. So little has changed in these rooms that many of them still have their standard portraits of President Josip Broz Tito hanging on the wall. The government of Yugoslavia spent what was at the time roughly the equivalent of roughly 4.6 billion USD dollars, making it the single most expensive construction project the country ever completed.
As I investigate each room, I am continually stunned by the amazing variety of high-tech 1970s/80s-era military equipment that appears to be in an absolutely pristine and unblemished condition. Many of these sets of equipment and devices are so untouched that many have their original instruction manuals and log books sitting right next to them. The ARK D-0 bunker was outfitted with what was at that time the highest and most advanced technology of the era, hosting an extremely impressive array of not only electronic systems and communication relays, but also water purification/recycling devices, air conditioning/filtration, power generators, and much more.
One of the most fascinating sections of the bunker I walked through was the area which was set aside as Tito's personal offices and living quarters. Modestly decorated, there are no over-the-top frills and adornments here... simply a series of comfy and inviting rooms where Tito and his wife Jovanka to live, sleep and relax in relative comfort in the event of a nuclear attack, with facilities here as well for him to conduct his day-to-day presidential business that such an attack might entail. I find each room perfectly preserved, with plastic and sheets covering much of the furniture, which, in all likelihood, has barely ever been touched or used since it was installed.
While President Josip Broz Tito nor the political leadership of Yugoslavia ever required the services of the ARK D-0 bunker, it was nonetheless kept on standby at all times just in case disaster struck. Interestingly, being that this facility was not completed until 1979, Tito was, by this time, in a very poor health condition and passed away the very next year in 1980 at the age of 88. As such, Tito never once himself personally visited the bunker which came to be so inextricably connected to him. Meanwhile, as Yugoslavia began its process of dismantling in the early 1990s, which precipitated the start of the Bosnian War in 1992, the bunker began to be repurposed as a strategic location for military re-supplying and as a medical base.
However, even despite the war, the bunker was largely kept in pristine condition. Sources recount that in 1992, during the Bosnian War, the JNA ordered the military unit who were manning the bunker to destroy it, but instead the JNA personel at the bunker defied the order and surrendered the facility to the new Bosnian government. After the war, the new government of the newly independent Bosnia continued to keep the existence of the bunker hidden from the general public. It was not until 2007 that existence of the bunker was made public and plans were released that it was to be turned into a public museum and gallery space. Reports indicate that it was so well hidden and kept secret by Yugoslav authorities that even locals around the Konjic area were completely unaware of its existence.
Opened in 2011 to the public for the first time, the bunker continues to retain much of its original Yugoslav-era military technology and equipment, as well as its furnishings and Tito’s private quarters. In addition to the complex operating as a museum to the bunker itself, the space also hosts an artistic exhibits are scattered around the huge complex. Not long after its opening in 2011, the ARK D-0 held its first inaugural Biennial of Contemporary Art. Artists from around the world used the various rooms and spaces of the bunker to display their works which often merge and integrate into the space of the bunker itself. According to the website of the project, "the Council of Europe proclaimed the Project D-0 ARK Underground as a Cultural Event of Europe for year 2011." This unique Yugoslav time-capsule and one-of-a-kind art gallery is among the most singular museum experiences in Bosnia, with one local writer describing the ARK D-0 as "one of the best preserved examples of the social, ideological and military system of Socialist Yugoslavia". Having visited the bunker myself, I can say that this is most certainly an unparalleled experience and most certainly a MUST SEE if you are spending any appreciable time in Bosnia. If you are at all interested in war history, Yugoslav history, vintage interior design, architecture, underground exploration, old military installations, or all of the above, then this is most certainly the place for you!
Info on visiting the bunker:
If you are interested in visiting the ARK D-0 bunker, the first step you need to take is to make tour reservations with the tourist office of Konjic which is called "Visit Konjic". Reservations can be made through their website at THIS link, or by calling their office directly at +387 62 922 992. Reservations can fill up fast during the summer, so call ahead for reserving the best dates and time slots. You can make reservations for groups up to 10 and as few as for just one. Cost per each ticket is 11 euro. English language tours are available, so make sure to mention it if that's what you are looking for. Tours last roughly 60 to 90 minutes and on a daily schedule of 10am, 12 noon, and 2pm. When the time for your reservation approaches, make your way to the Visit Konjic office at least 15 to 20 minutes before your scheduled tour time in order to check in with the guides. The exact coordinates for the office are 43°39'03.4"N, 17°57'48.5"E, which is situated on the ground floor of an old stone building along Donje Polje street just east of the Old Bridge over the Neretva. From the Visit Konjic office, you will be shuttled by the guides to the military base where the bunker is located. In addition, the official website for Tito's ARK D-0 bunker can be found at THIS link. It is important to mention that you cannot drive up to the bunker site itself on your own, as it is inside an active military base, so you MUST go through the "Visit Konjic" tour group (or other official local tour guide) in order to access the bunker.