Secret army tunnels prove tourist draw

Fri Aug 27, 2010 6:52am EDT
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By Sasa Kavic

ZAGREB (Reuters Life!) - Secret army tunnels carved into the remote Croatian island of Vis by the Yugoslav army have become a draw for tourists and locals alike since opening to the public.

Vis, the furthest inhabited Croatian island from the coast, was isolated from the outside world from the 1940s until 1991 when Croatia became independent, used as a military base with 20 km (12 miles) of underground tunnels, caves, mines and storage facilities.

With crystal-clear waters and winding roads, the island of Vis appears a perfect Adriatic vacation spot but its strategic location in the southern Adriatic influenced its fate, with a turbulent history leaving its mark on the land and the people.

Over the centuries, Vis has been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Austrians and Italians until it was finally given to the newly created Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the 1920s.

A period of relative tranquility was interrupted by World War Two when the island became the main hideout of the leader of the Yugoslav resistance movement, Josip Broz Tito, who went on to become the leader of Yugoslavia from 1953-1980.

Realizing the strategic importance of the island and the usefulness of its many caves and coves from his years there fighting the Germans, Tito kept a tight grip on Vis, making it one of the main naval bases of the Yugoslav People's Army.

This effectively turned the entire island into a closed military zone, out of bounds for both Yugoslav civilians from the mainland, and foreigners. Many areas were prohibited even to the island's residents.

Preparing for war with Vis as the front-line, the Yugoslav navy burrowed and excavated for decades, turning the island into a maze of caves, underground tunnels, bunkers and submarine hideouts.   Continued...