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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 13:17 GMT
Mussolini's 'march' on Rome 80 years on
Mussolini busts
The bunker contains Mussolini memorabilia

More than 57 years after his execution by members of the Italian resistance, the dictator Benito Mussolini and his legacy remain a difficult issue for Italians.

Most Italians just try to forget about it but they have just had to face up to this tricky subject again, as 28 October was the 80th anniversary of the event which brought him to power.

Mussolini and supporters
The 'march' reaches Rome

On 28 October 1922, Mussolini led his "March on Rome", which brought the Fascist leader to power and enabled him to stay there for 23 years.

For many years after the fall of fascism, Italians turned their backs on their recent history. The fascist party was banned, the history curriculum in Italian schools even stopped at World War I.

But gradually in the 21st Century old taboos are being broken.

Myth of the march

The ironic fact about Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922 was that he and most of his black-shirted followers travelled to Rome from Milan by train, first class.

There was no march.

But to satisfy his inordinate vanity, Mussolini, a master of propaganda, later created the myth of the march on Rome.

He inflated the figures from the reality of a few hundred black-shirts to a mythical army of 300,000 fascists led by him in person on horseback.

The post-fascists insist they've made a clean break with the past.

Senator Giovanni Consulo, a member of the post-fascist government coalition party which now calls itself the National Alliance, says that the march on Rome represents an episode in Italy's story, " but it's something that no longer influences the current situation".

" I think it's ridiculous to talk now about fascism, it seems to me so far (away), it doesn't belong to the modern culture. I'm proud of our history, the positive and the negative parts of it.

"It's our history, I'm an Italian citizen, I'm proud to be," he says.

Bunker tourism

Apart from a few thousand fascist diehards who visited Mussolini's tomb in his native town of Predappio near Bologna this weekend to commemorate the largely fictitious march, few contemporary Italians are even aware of the anniversary.

But the prospect of guided tours to a newly discovered relic of fascist times, one of Mussolini's wartime anti-air raid bunkers, has aroused interest here.

Mussolini's bunker
Through the keyhole

The air raid shelter is under the headquarters of Mussolini's great exhibition in Rome.

This is about 30 feet under ground and it was built between 1937 and 1939 and they were obviously expecting quite severe air raids.

The bunker has got airtight doors like those in a submarine.

The bunker has been abandoned for more than 60 years, but now the private owners of the exhibition site are thinking of bringing guided tours down here.

One of the first things you see in the bunker is a couple of bicycles.

Frederica Beraduce, who works at the site in Rome, says they were used to power the air-conditioning.

"It was a very prehistoric but very functional way of getting the air here, because we are eight metres under sea level.

"They needed air and electricity and so with these bicycles they could provide air for all the people staying here."

The exhibition on the site was planned by Mussolini for 1942, bit it never took place because of the outbreak of World War II.

Fascism and art

Its distinctive architecture now provides a unique backdrop for the international film industry.

Frederica Beraduce says the architecture was an example and a memory of a war and sufferings and years of suffering for the Italian people.

"For a long period it was almost forgotten. Fellini started in the 1960s and it's like having a set, because it's almost unreal.

"You can see the architecture, the structure, the marbles are almost unreal, it seems fake.

"So a lot of artists now are using it for commercials for films, for videos," according to Frederica.

Mussolini's body
Mussolini was executed in April 1945

An exhibition of fascist art and architecture in Rome last summer attracted tens of thousands of visitors.

The signs are that Italians are slowly coming to terms with both the false legends and the realities of 20 years of fascist rule.

The government recently agreed to let the direct male descendants of the former Italian royal family - sent into permanent exile for collaborating with the fascist dictatorship - back home for the first time next month.

Mementoes of the fascist leader are no longer taboo, his shadow is no longer feared.

See also:

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24 Jul 02 | Crossing Continents
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