ROME — Beneath the Palazzo Venezia in the heart of Rome, Benito Mussolini constructed his 12th and "most secret" bunker that lay hidden until recently, officials say.
In 2011, while restoring Rome's Palazzo Venezia — a medieval papal palace that later housed the office of Fascist dictator Mussolini and now operates as a national museum — superintendent Anna Imponente and architect Carlo Serafini discovered a trap door in the building's caverns.
Through the one-meter by one-meter wooden door, they and a few workers outfitted with flashlights walked down a short passage to a square divided into nine rooms 15-20 meters below ground level.
"When we saw the concrete, it was all clear," Serafini told La Stampa. "It's the twelfth bunker of Rome — Benito Mussolini's last bunker."
During World War II, a paranoid Mussolini had 12 bunkers built to protect him from the threat of air bombing raids. This series of fortified bunkers were made with advanced engineering techniques that would protect the structure from explosives as well as keep poison gas from entering.
The bunker discovered beneath Palazzo Venezia was unfinished, with holes left in the walls for plumbing and electricity, though the ventilation system works perfectly, La Stampa reported. The walls in some places throughout the 80-square meter space — large enough for two people to live — are 2 meters thick.
The Royal Air Force had asked permission from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943 to bomb the palazzo and the Villa Torlonia, Mussolini's residence. The plan to bomb the buildings was never carried out due to the Palazzo Venezia's historical significance and the damage it would cause to the city.
Like other bunkers Mussolini built, the 12th bunker is expected to open to the public in the fall. Besides interactive touch screens for tourists and an air siren to simulate bombing raids, the bunker will remain as it was discovered.
Top image: Mussolini and Hitler in Munich in 1940. National Archives