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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Mussolini's museum pieces
Mussolini's bed.
Visitors are drawn to Mussolini's bedroom
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BBC Correspondent Brian Barron
By the BBC's Brian Barron in Rome
line

Rome's newest museum has opened its doors for the first time, and the most controversial exhibit is the ornate bed used by the Italian Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.


I have happy memories of living in the house - I love my father

Romano Mussolini
Son
The museum is just one of the houses in Mussolini's private compound and now renovation work is starting on his vast private villa next door.

Even after half a century of neglect Villa Torlonia remains a neo-classical masterpiece.

For 18 years, this leafy paradise sheltered one of the twentieth century's most brutal leaders.

Pin-ups

The authorities in Rome say British and American troops wrecked the villa's interior when they captured the city in WWII.

Pin up painting drawn on a villa wall.
The pin-ups are to be preserved
In one room, pin-ups painted by a GI will be preserved in the renovation process as historic artefacts.

But the biggest draw for visitors to the compound is Mussolini's ornate bed. It has also proved the most controversial.

Italy's foremost expert on fascism, Professor Emilio Gentili, deplores moves to humanise a ruthless leader whom he calls a monster.

"Mussolini was a dictator who destroyed freedom, who destroyed parliamentary government and was a great megalomaniac."

Reminiscing

Known as Il Duce, Mussolini was a one-time journalist who created Europe's first fascist state.

In the 1920s and 1930s he was praised for modernising Italy.

But he murdered political opponents and inspired his ally, Hitler, to even greater crimes against humanity.

One of his sons, Romano Mussolini, retraces the carefree years he spent there as a child under the watchful eye of a dictator who stopped at nothing.

"I have happy memories of living in the house", he recalls.

"I loved my father. He always had lunch with me and my brothers and sisters in the dining room every day. I'm pleased the villa is going to be restored because the building is a work of art in itself."

But for other Italians, it's a history project that has woken ghosts they would prefer to forget.

See also:

23 Feb 01 | Europe
Roman road leads to row
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