Wine has the unique ability to, at the same time, stand inside and outside of history.
This past week Villa Torlonia, a museum and estate near Rome, opened to visitors the doors of its World War II-era bomb shelter. Before the underground hideout served as a refuge from possible air attacks, it served as a wine cellar for infamous dictator Benito Mussolini.
The extent of the dictator’s wine collection is not known, nor is it known how many bottles the cellar housed.
Mussolini was no doubt pleased to stroll the halls of the cellar during his family’s 16-year residence in the luxurious estate. With the onset of WWII, Mussolini feared an aerial attack on his home. For this reason, he ordered the construction of a bomb shelter to protect himself and his family from US and English bombing raids.
The renovated cellar is 180 feet long and was the largest bomb shelter in Italy at the time. It contains three escape routes and was able to provide oxygen to 15 people for up to 6 hours.
Italian authorities decided to open the shelter to mark the 70-year anniversary of the country’s liberation from fascism. The Torlonia bunker is “a piece of history available to Italians and to tourists so as to not forget, 70 years later, one of the darkest pages of our history.”
The Torlonia estate in general is a tourist attraction not only for its dubious past guest, but also because the property is a beautiful example of neo-classical work by Italian architect Guiseppe Valadier for successful banker Giovanni Torlonia.
Construction on the property began in 1806 and came to completion more than 25 years later.
The grounds include a theater, a conservatory, a tower, a Moorish grotto, a sports field and two granite obelisks built in memory of Guiseppe and his wife.
A 3rd- and 4th-century Jewish catacomb was discovered on the property.
The estate was given to Mussolini in 1925 and conceded to the Allied High Command in 1944. The buildings fell into disrepair after the Allied Forces left in 1947. Rome’s local government purchased the estate in 1977. Torlonia was renovated in the 1990’s.
Tours of the wine cellar-turned-bunker are available by appointment and are offered in six languages – English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Hebrew. The tour lasts one hour and costs 7€. Tours take place the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the month. For more information, go to http://www.bunkerdiroma.it
Credit: Snooth – Articles