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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Bunker of Monte Soratte: Used for Fascists, Nazis, the Italian Army, Nuclear Shelters, and now Tours

We recently found ourselves on a third Mussolini bunker tour.  We headed about 25 miles north of Rome to Monte Soratte, a singular mountain over 2,000 feet high that stands alone on the Lazio plain--even Goethe remarked on it. [The two prior bunkers we visited were under the Casino Nobile of Villa Torlonia and under the King's then villa in Villa Ada, both in Rome.]

That's a schematic of the bunker, its galleries and depth, the mountain above,
behind our guide - we are in the bunker here.
One of the many large entrances to the bunker.
 The mountain is sometimes called the "balcony of Rome," and deserves that name for its 360-degree views. [photos below] We knew there were "bunker" tours on Monte Soratte, but didn't quite know what we were getting into. More than 2 hours underground later, we knew.

Built between 1937-43 to house the Fascist government, should Rome come under siege, the bunker as exists occupies almost 500,000 cubic yards.  Mussolini's plans called for virtually an underground city that would have been at least 4 times that size, but July 25, 1943 intervened.  That's when he was deposed and Italy broke its pact with Germany and Japan.  A few days later, the Germans started occupying Italy.

A photo of the Germans using the bunker.

The bunker became Field Marshal Albert Kesserling's headquarters after those he had in Frascati were bombed on September 8, 1943.  As a result, the bunker is now known as the "German bunkers," though, as our guide was quick to point out - entirely Italian-built.  Italians have always been expert miners (since the country is basically a mountain range) and put their skills to work here in constructing the many kilometers of high-vaulted rooms and passageways.
Even vestiges of toilets remain.  The "footprint"
toilets appear to have been in use even then.

On May 12, 1944, over 100 B-17s (if we understood our guide's Italian correctly) attempted to bomb the German headquarters.  So impenetrable were they, only 100 German soldiers died of the 1,000 inhabiting the bunkers.  The Allied troops entered the bunkers on June 4, 1944, the day the Allies came into Rome.  The Germans set the bunkers on fire, destroying the interior.
The association and volunteers have added manekins and equipment of the
period to give visitors a feel for the use of the galleries of the bunker.

The nuclear retrofitting included concrete floors, walls and
ceilings that are not attached to each other (lit in this photo).
There is also a Doomsday Clock and other markers of nuclear
disaster in this part of the bunker.  We assume mainly to educate
school kids.
Other uses of the bunker took place after the war.  It was a munitions depot for the Italian Army (until 1967), and a the fallout shelter (never completed) for the Italian Government in the case of a nuclear attack on Rome.

This wall of data came from a now-destroyed bunker under
Monte Cavo in the Colli Albani.  It is from the 1970s, when Italy
as part of NATO was assigned an area (mainly Hungary) from which
to defend Western Europe from Eastern Europe.

The gallery dug out by use of this "trenino" in an attempt
to find the hidden gold.

And then there's the story of over $1.5 billion in gold ingots being buried by the Germans - who supposedly stole it from Italian banks - in the bunker.  At some point, the government started digging out another part of the bunker - with a little train ("trenino") in hopes of finding the gold.  The story involves all the Germans who were engaged in hiding the gold being killed, except one who fled, and then he was found decades later by Interpol in his apartment with his head severed.

Our indefatigable guide, showing us an incomplete tunnel,
with its steel rebar, and a newer part of the tunnel,
from the period when
the nuclear fallout shelter was being constructed.
About 10 years ago, a group of volunteers started restoring the bunkers, established a not-for-profit association, built a museum, and now give daily tours, a remarkable achievement.  You can find out more on the association's Web site, though there's nothing in English.  All tours so far are in Italian (and 2 hours worth is a lot of Italian!), though I noticed on TripAdvisor that some people have arranged private tours in English. 

As if that weren't enough for a day, we took advantage of the Monte Soratte Riserva to take a 3-hour hike.  We had been on Monte Soratte perhaps 10-15 years ago, before there was any information about a bunker.  We remembered the 'hike' as relatively easy. 

The 6th century church of San Silvestro, at the peak of Monte Soratte;
built on the ruins of a temple to Apollo.  From this peak, one can see Lazio
in all directions.

This time, with more marked paths, we managed to go up an extraordinarily steep slope and to see ruins of several hermitages, a medieval church, and an active monastery.  

Dianne (more photos below)
One of the lovely trails through a forest of, we think, beech trees.
A mock-up of a charcoal kiln on a "didactic" side trail we took,
explaining the "carbonari" - the charcoal workers.

Steeper than we recalled!

The one town on the mountain - Sant'Oreste - seen from the beginning of
the paths up the mountain.

And, yes, we got there with a car-share car.  That's Dianne
trying to figure out how to end the rental, and having to deduce
the Italian words for "ignition" and "car door" in the process.


Tony said...

Very interesting... thank you, as usual. Please re-read the text; both in the email version and on the web there is some discontinuity when you are writing about the gold possibly hidden... different type faces, and paragraphs that start in the middle or don't end.....

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Hi Tony - Thank you for your comment. I tried re-doing the spacing - which I think was the problem (it looks so different in the editing version vs the final). If you have the time and energy to look at it again, let me know how it looks to you.