Mussolini bunker opens to visitors in Rome

Guided tours of main bunker along with two earlier shelters

An air-raid shelter used by Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini will reopen to the public from 31 October, along with two adjoining bunkers, one of which has never been open to visitors.

The massive wartime complex is located under the grounds of Villa Torlonia, the private villa used by Mussolini and his family, on Via Nomentana.

Formerly a wine cellar, the first bunker was built under the villa's laghetto (small lake) in 1940, following the outbreak of world war two. It was equipped with armoured doors, anti-gas filtration and air regeneration system, battery-powered lights, telephone, bed and toilet.

However its limited space convinced Il Duce to build a second shelter in 1941, in the central area of the villa's basement. It was surrounded with 120-cm thick walls of reinforced concrete and also had an air purification system.

At the end of 1942 work began on a more advanced bomb-proof bunker, about 20 metres below the grounds in front of the villa. It had a complex design with interconnecting tunnels and was built with reinforced concrete walls up to four metres thick in places.

Work stopped on 25 July 1943 when Mussolini was forced from power, leaving the unfinished bunker still missing its doors and technological equipment such as the ventilation system.

The main bunker and the second shelter were open to the public briefly in 2006 but were closed abrubtly, apparently due to the presence of radon in the air. The shelter under the lake has never been open to the public.

Now all three bunkers can be visited together after works were carried out to make them safe to visitors.

Guided tours begin on 31 October but must be booked in advance. The visit lasts one hour and costs €7. In addition to Italian, tours are available (on request) in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Hebrew. For more information and to reserve tel. 347/3811874, email bunker@sotterraneidiroma.it or see website.

Last year the city released photographs of Mussolini's secret wartime bunker under his headquarters in Palazzo Venezia, three years after the hidden trap door leading to the shelter was rediscovered.