Italy, one of my home countries, is a delightful treasure chest, filled with unexpected and surprising little spots that normally escape the eye of the mass.
It was the year 1937 when Benito Mussolini decided to start the construction of a bunker which would be unique in his kind. He probably got the idea from Adolf Hitler as he was coming back from visiting the Fuhrer around those months. In fact, after meeting in Munich, Hitler took Mussolini to a state visit; they toured around Germany and it is quite possible that during the visit Mussolini got a glimpse at Hitler’s underground bunker/art gallery, where he collected many pieces of art taken from all around Europe during the occupation.
The visit inspired him, and soon after Mussolini returned to Italy he began the construction plan of his own bunker right on Monte Soratte. The bunker would serve as a private art gallery and as a refuge against bombing.
They say that Mussolini chose this hill for several reasons andthese are the results I could gather around sources:
1- Mussolini himself thought the hill looked like his own head. In fact, it is not strange to hear it called Monte Mussolini.
2- Some friends who study energy and esoteric explanations to life have told me that Monte Soratte is a big bag of energy that serves as self protection: rumor has it the hill was targeted and bombed several times but due to its unique energetic field bombs never hit the ground but instead they all exploded at mid air. They say that it could probably be explained by the immense calcareous formation that leads to an infinity of natural tunnels that somehow dampened any sort of impact.
From afar you can appreciate the abandoned military stations
And the actual town of Sant’Oreste, evacuated by the Nazis in 1943 to make it a secret refuge now it’s a lovely little town.
This is Sant’Oreste today
Mussolini probably had a typical Roman catacomb design in mind for its own bunker as the result is a classic hypogeal refuge. It’s chilly and creepy at the same time. The first thing that got my attention were the warning signs all over the place, both in Italian and German.
The tunnels are well constructed. They lead to an underground citadel where I found radio stations, hospital beds, control centre, cantine and more amenities.
This place, a true piece of Italian engineering, was also exploited by the Germans: after the armistice in September 1943, the German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring settled in Soratte and forced the local inhabitants of Sant’Oreste to flee the area. He and his troops remained “secretly” inside the bunker for about ten months hiding in the many tunnels they found. He liked the place enough to continue some construction works and even added a restaurant decorated with fake windows for him and his troops.
The bunker proved to be highly valuable as it served as unbreakable shield against the 12 May 1944 bombing carried out by two Allied B-17 teams departed from Foggia, Puglia, in the southeast of Italy.
At some point the Commander escaped but not before giving one last order: burn and bury the crates and boxes that contained gold stolen from the Banca d’Italia.
It is still debated whether such treasure really existed.
Today you can visit this chilly fascinating place very easily though not all tunnels are available for tourist visits.