Italy’s Royal Family ruled throughout World War II alongside Mussolini’s Fascist party and was only deposed when the Italian Republic was established in 1946. Their seat for the final period of their reign was Villa Ada Savoia which was also the location of Mussolini’s arrest on 25 July 1943. On the establishment of the Republic, King Victor Emmanuel III fled to Egypt and his son to Portugal. As a result of the generosity of Egypt, the Villa was given by the King to them and is now the Egyptian Embassy.
In the grounds of what is now Rome’s second largest park are a number of underground structures. These include an old tuff quarry, the Priscilla Catacombs and the course of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct which originally supplied the Trevi Fountain. There is also a fascinating later structure – the air-raid shelter constructed for the Royal Family during World War II. Initially the existing cellars of the Villa were used but around 1941 a purpose-built bunker was built.
The shelter is about 350 metres from the Villa, taking advantage of the cover of a small hill. The Royal Family would not have risked walking this distance during an air raid but would have been driven; the shelter has blast and gas-tight doors large enough to drive a car into it. Little is visible on the surface although a small circular building vents the air circulation system and also houses a spiral emergency exit. There is also a series of raised concrete slabs which would have acted as a ‘bomb bursting’ layer.
Inside the structure is roughly circular, with bathrooms and plant rooms off the main chamber. One indication that this was no ordinary shelter is that some of the concrete was covered with a false travertine trim. For a number of years the bunker was used by the homeless and allegedly for satanic rituals. The site was secured in 2012 and since 2015 Roma Sotterranea have put in over 3,000 hours in order to painstakingly restore the site in readiness for guided tours. The bunker was finally opened in late March 2016 and occasional visits can be arranged through Roma Sotterranea.