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Eventually it will house a Mussolini museum.

The Times

Wednesday, January 23, 2002


Il Duce bathed himself in glory


AFTER half a century of neglect, Benito Mussolini's Rome villa is being restored as part of the rehabilitation of Italy's Fascist dictator. Rescued 19th-century frescoes inside the dilapidated Villa Torlonia, including in the bathroom, give a vivid impression of the images of Ancient Roman and Greek splendour which Il Duce enjoyed as he sought to give Italy back its imperial glory.

They are to go on public view when the villa has been fully restored, a process that is expected to take three years. Mussolini remains a controversial figure in Italy, with school textbooks tending to gloss over the two decades of Fascism from the early 1920s until 1943.

There is growing interest in his life, including his grisly death in 1945, when he was captured and shot while trying to flee. Although Mussolini had a mistress and often spent nights with her at the Palazzo Venezia, his "office", he loved the Villa Torlonia, his Rome residence from 1925 to 1943, where he lived with his wife Rachele and their children.

In letters, he describes his pleasure at rising early to ride or play tennis in the grounds. In 1944 it became Allied headquarters as British and American troops fought their way up the Italian peninsula, but then fell into disuse.

When it was bought by Rome City Council in 1977 it was in an advanced state of decay. Today the villa gardens are a public park, and the summerhouse has been restored. The £3 million restoration project will include "secret tunnels" constructed for Mussolini.

The villa, on the Via Nomentana, was designed in 1802-06 by Giuseppe Valadier for Prince Giovanni Torlonia, a banker and landowner. The frescoes are by such artists as Luigi Fiorini, Pietro Paoletti and Giovan Battista Caretti.

Eventually it will house a Mussolini museum. The move follows a Milan exhibition on education in the Fascist era, a biography of Mussolini by Sergio Romano, a former diplomat, and pilgrimages to Mussolini's tomb at Predappio, his home town in Emilia-Romagna. The villa on Lake Garda where he lived during his final days in power under Nazi protection has become a luxury hotel.

Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.


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