A network of underground bunkers, previously used by former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, has opened to the public in Rome.
Work started on the fortified shelters 74 years ago.
In 1940, one year into the war, the Italian dictator had an old wine cellar at his Villa Torlonia estate turned into an air-raid shelter. A separate bunker, equipped with a double set of steel, gas-proof doors, and a sophisticated air filtering system was also built. A third bunker was never completed.
“As Italy went to war, Mussolini decided to build a shelter for himself and his family, and he decided to adapt a cellar – a wine cellar – to create this air-raid shelter. But it’s not built of materials that guarantee protection from bombs and it was therefore decided to build another bunker inside the building, and certain re-adjustments were made,” explained Marco Placidi, president of the Sotteranei di Roma non-profit organisation.
Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, said publicly during the war that he would wait on his balcony for any bombs to strike rather than seek refuge underground. In fact, as soon as the first bomb hit Albania, he fled to the safety of his bunker.
For the Mayor of Rome, opening the bunkers is an essential part of remembering the past. “We really believe that what happened last century is something that should not happen again, ever, and this is why it’s so important that we are here today and we need to educate our children about concepts that are so important like freedom and the fact that everybody has been created equal,” said Ignazio Marino.
In the end, the shelters didn’t save Mussolini. The fascist dictator was killed by communist partisans while fleeing allied forces in April 1945, and his body was strung up by its feet for public viewing in Milan.
His bunkers are now open to the public in Rome.