We all know that Adolph Hitler had an extensive network of bunkers built for himself and others in the 3rd Reich. Hell, they moved entire military industries underground or inside mountains to protect them from Allied bombers. As any fascist dictator at war with the entire free world is wont to do. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was no different. So to ensure that he would not be killed or captured, he ordered the construction of a series of fortified bunkers where he could hide in case of air raids: one of the bunkers was discovered in Rome, just beneath his headquarters.
Palazzo Venezia, 12th Bunker
When the Allied troops took Sicily near the end of World War II, Benito Mussolini’s power and hold over the country began to wain. America and Great Brittain were on their way to conquering Rome and with so many Italians with relatives in both countries Italians didn’t like the idea of fighting both of them. Italy’s defeats throughout the war started to make the dictator paranoid, thinking that the Royal Air Force would soon launch an attack on his headquarters in Rome and kill him to boot Italy from the war. And as Smithsonian Mag wrote in an article,
His fears were well founded – the RAF had indeed drawn up a plan to launch a bombing raid on the palazzo, as well as his private residence in Rome, Villa Torlonia, using the 617 Squadron of Dambusters fame.
With that, he ordered the construction of a series of massive and thick, and fortified bunkers, one of which was discovered in 2011 beneath the Palazzo Venezia that “houses a national museum and has been a historically significant structure for centuries, having been used by high ranking members of the Roman Catholic Church and other important figures over the years.” This was the 12th bunker of Mussolini that was discovered, proof that Mussolini took his bunking game seriously.
It was a nine-room compound discovered by city superintendent Anna Imponente and architect Carlo Serafini who were inspecting the 15th-century building for a restoration project at that time. How do you miss a 9 room bunker under a famous building for 70 years?
Mount Soratte is a limestone ridge located 27 miles north of Rome. The mountain has six peaks, the tallest being 2,267 feet above sea level. In contrast, there were pits that were around 377 feet deep. During the war, the area was part of No Man’s land, but now, it sits in the middle of a nature reserve.
Beneath the limestone ridge was an underground bunker that Mussolini ordered constructed in 1937. The complex would be the largest bunker in Europe, measuring nearly three miles long and 300 yards deep. When 150 acres were barricaded with a barbed wire, rumors were that it was because the area was turned into a factory for both agricultural and military equipment.
On September 8, 1943, the Germans took over and occupied the bunker when Italy made peace with the Allies. They turned it into the headquarters of the Wehrmacht Command for Southern Europe, where about 1,000 Nazi soldiers were housed. There, they could enjoy restaurants and a theater. They also painted the walls with German villages. The following year, the Allied forces bombed the bunker but knowing that it was basically undestroyable, the B-17 bombers squadron aimed for the tunnel entrances in hopes of killing the people inside with the resulting firestorm. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which perspective you’re looking), the German troops had already left the bunker.
In the 1950s, the Italians utilized the bunker once again, this time to store ammunition, before completely abandoning it in 1962. It was empty for some time until NATO took over, refurbished, and used it as an anti-atomic bomb shelter.
Rumor Has It
There had been multiple rumors about Mussolini’s Mount Soratte bunker. One of which was that some 72 tons of gold from the Nazis were hidden and buried somewhere in that bunker. Stories claimed that the Germans soldiers looted gold bars from the Bank of Italy and hid them there. Another otherworldy rumor was that the gold is actually cursed. There was a story of a German soldier who, after the war, returned to the bunker that once sheltered him to search for the treasure. After a few days, he was found beheaded and incinerated.
Other ones involved Pope Boniface VIII and his journals and Emperor Constantine and how he was cured of leprosy on that mountain.