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Underground Rome: the Bunkers of Villa Torlonia

Underground Rome: the Bunkers of Villa Torlonia

In Rome, many places of the city’s past history are hidden, often little known

In October 2019 I went to visit, thanks to a guided tour, the bunkers of Villa Torlonia, after having already visited the bunker of Villa Ada and the bunker of Monte Soratte. Why do we speak of the Villa Torlonia bunker in the plural? Because inside the building a single and only shelter was not built, but three structures were made (or at least this was the idea): two bunkers (built between ’40 and ’41) and a shelter (started after and not completed in ’43). Brief historical overview of the villa: the Torlonia family bought it from the Colonna family, and it was Alessandro Torlonia “junior” who gave it to Mussolini (who paid the family 1 lira a month so that the latter would not lose property due to the adverse possession).
Mussolini left the villa in 1943 and, when the Torlonia officially returned to his possession, it was abandoned for about thirty years. The first bunker was installed in 1940 in the spaces that initially housed the Torlonia family wine cellar. Unfortunately, he had problems: it was not built with reinforced concrete, so in case of bombing it would have been of little use, and it was too far from the family residence (about 150 meters from the noble casino). These bunkers were designed to be temporary shelters only. The entrance to the second bunker was inside the Casino Nobile so that Mussolini and his family could access it without having to leave the casino (and therefore without having to make long journeys in the open). For our visit, therefore, we enter through the secondary door. This structure was started when the bombings on Italy became more insistent, and the firefighters were commissioned to build it. Still, they were unable to finish it due to the inconsistency of the territory. Once we get down, we are 6 and a half meters on the floor, under 6 and a half meters of reinforced concrete: we are practically inside one of the safest places in Rome.
Mussolini, however, did not have time to use it: first because he was in Belluno with Hitler and then he was arrested. Here we then witness the sound reconstruction of a bombing, lasting 3 minutes. Continuing the visit, you get to below the noble casino, where there are the rooms that (before becoming bunkers/refuges) were the service areas of the Torlonia family first and the Mussolini later.
In the first room, there are copies of leaflets distributed by throwing them from planes. It is known that the citizens of the first bombing of Rome did not give weight for two reasons:
1) There is the Vatican State;
2) the city has a high artistic and cultural heritage;
The rooms of the real refuge are located precisely in the centre of the noble casino, under the ballroom. Given its position, which would have attracted the bombing, the bunker was, however, slightly moved. In the refuge, a desk was placed so that it could be worked on and, in a corner, there are two tanks of the Torlonia kitchen.

If you want to find out more about Rome and its “secret” places, I suggest the book “Secret Rome“: I let myself be inspired several times for walks around my city, finding fascinating stories and places.

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