ROME (Reuters) - Benito Mussolini's personal air raid shelter is opening to the public, 74 years after Italy's former fascist dictator started building a network of fortified underground rooms to protect himself and his family from wartime bombing.
Rome's department for culture said opening the site under Mussolini's luxurious villa and gardens would remind locals and tourists alike of "one of the darkest pages of our history".
Mussolini ruled over Italy from 1922 until 1943. He joined World War Two on Adolf Hitler's side and passed race laws under which thousands of Jews were persecuted.
Fearful of Allied bombing, the leader also known as "Il Duce" decided to adapt a wine cellar into a shelter complete with anti-gas doors, Marco Placidi, president of non-profit organization "Underground Rome" told Reuters TV.
"It was clearly very inconvenient because the bunker was located in the garden some 100-150 meters away from the living quarters," Placidi told Reuters TV.
Mussolini decided to build another bunker, and then a third, which was still unfinished by the time he was arrested in 1943. He was later killed while fleeing Allied forces in April 1945, and his body strung up by the feet for public viewing in Milan.
The third bunker, constructed 6.5 meters underground, is protected in places by four meters of reinforced concrete. The culture department said that, had it been completed, it would have been the most resistant air raid shelter in Italy dedicated to one family.
"With the fall of Fascism it was never fully completed so today we can see it the way it was left in the aftermath of the arrest of Mussolini," Placidi said.
The original bunker in the converted wine cellar will open to the public for the first time on Oct. 31.
Two other shelters, which opened briefly in 2006 and had to close because of environmental problems, are due to reopen on the same date.
Reporting by Roberto Mignucci and Carmelo Camilli; Writing by Isla Binnie