October the 23rd, 2023 – Did you know that right on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina sits a very unusual abandoned airbase, resistant even to nuclear fallout? The former Yugoslav Željava air base has become quite the hit among tourists.
As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, back during its active golden age, the Željava air base could accommodate dozens of Soviet-made MiG-21s in imposing kilometre-long tunnels. At all times, it had sufficient reserves of water, air and electricity, secured by four concrete doors weighing 100 an enormous tonnes.
Around the former Željava air base, five landing strips extended into Croatian territory
“It was a real reach,” recalls a former pilot who worked at that military base for almost ten years back in the 1980s. “It was equipped with the best military and civilian technology you could imagine back then”.
When Yugoslavia collapsed during the war in the early nineties, the Željava air base was destroyed. “Everything was burned down,” the pilot recounts. “Only its tunnels and walls remain there”.
Houston, we have a problem…
In the following years, the Željava air base was all but entirely forgotten, attracting only a few tourists and history lovers in search of some forgotten Yugoslav heritage Then, in 2016, one film changed everything. The Željava air base served for the filming of the film “Houston, We Have a Problem!”, made by Slovenian director Žiga Virc, and it became famous once again.
Since then, it is estimated that 150 thousand tourists visit its dark corridors, huge rooms and equipment corroded by rust. Stuck in a time some lust after and others would rather forget ever happened, the Željava air base is a testament to an extremely tumultuous period in Croatian history.
Local officials are making efforts to attract at least part of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to other nearby areas with good marketing. Car races are already commonly held at Željava, and they think it would be a perfect place for festivals to be held, server rooms to be hosted or even a Cold War Museum to be opened. Until that happens, tourists with a flashlight in hand wander through the damp corridors, taking care where they step and searching for pieces of the stagnant history of Croatia’s former socialist period.
A miracle of engineering
“It’s a true miracle of engineering and it’s honestly crazy the way that it has remained standing as it has, just frozen in time,” Zagreb-based photographer Angelo Virag said of the ex-YU air base. His cousin from Australia also admires the “wild infrastructure, authentic, having been left untouched for thirty long years”.
Hamdija Mesić from nearby Bihać (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is also inexplicably drawn to that huge, abandoned building which has been totally left to the mercy of time. Such a thing does not exist anywhere else. An aeroplane enthusiast, Hamdija hopes the site will be revived as an airstrip, advocating that the two runways on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina be fully renovated.
To renew or not to renew? That is the question
“I like it just the way it is because there aren’t signs everywhere telling you where to go and what to see,” explained Maria Moreno, a 33-year-old Spanish interior designer, adding that the place “would lose its charm if it became a properly regulated tourist attraction.”