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Mussolini's Crypt

 
   - darkometer rating:  9 -
 
An extremely controversial site: the final resting place of Italy's dictator Benito Mussolini, in the family crypt in his home town of Predappio near Forli. 
  
Even more than seven decades after his highly inglorious demise, the “Duce” is still almost religiously revered here – to a truly scary degree. I hadn't been quite prepared for this before I went, or maybe I would have given it second thoughts. But since I did go, I thought I should still report back here. 
  
However, I would like to make it absolutely clear right from the outset that this does not mean that I endorse any glamorization of Italian fascism or any revisionism of Mussolini's role in the run-up to and during WWII. Please take note of that!    
More background info: See also under Mussolini, and also cf. Villa Torlonia, Rome and Milan
  
After Mussolini had been executed by partisans on 28 April 1945 and his corpse was put on public display hanging upside down on Piazzale Loreto in Milan, his battered body was then buried in an unmarked grave in one of the city's cemeteries. 
  
However, less than a year later some fascists found out the location of the grave, dug the body back up and stole it. After a “dead body hunt” lasting several months, Mussolini's corpse was eventually recaptured by the authorities. They then hid it in regularly changing places for about a decade, before finally agreeing to return the remains to the Duce's widow. 
  
So he was finally moved to the family crypt in his home town of Predappio, a posthumous honour that hadn't been expected, given the political/historical circumstances. Whether it was a good idea is still debatable.
  
It is obviously an extremely controversial site. As could have been predicted Mussolini's tomb has become a pilgrimage site, a “holy shrine” for both die-hard backwards-looking old fascists and (equally hopeless) neo-fascists alike. At least the local authorities banned the selling of fascist souvenirs there a few years ago. But there is still a lot of overt Duce-worship visible in the plaques and the guest book inside the crypt. 
  
Just to imagine what it would have been like had Hitler been buried in such a tomb … it doesn't bear thinking about. No wonder the Berlin authorities are so reluctant to commodify the Führerbunker site for tourism.
  
Another European dictator of Mussolini's calibre, however, has also been given an incongruously honourable tomb: Franco, Spain's fascist leader until his death in 1975, who is entombed inside his oversized Valle de los Caidos complex.
  
Sites like these are not easy to visit (if you're not one of those incorrigible fascists yourself, that is – and I hope you're not!). And it is debatable whether one should go there and/or whether others should be encouraged to do so. 
  
I'm really in two minds about this. On the one hand I can see the moral dilemma – and personally I felt rather uncomfortable at the site. 
  
But on the other hand it is still interesting to witness with your own eyes such an exceptional site. And after all, taking an interest in the real world, as it actually is (whether we like it or not), is the main driving force behind most dark tourism. So why not … do go – as long as you keep a healthy distance from all the glamorization of fascism ...
  
  
What there is to see: Once you've found the entrance to the crypt, which is clearly enough marked “Entrata Cripta Mussolini” on a door to the side of the chapel at the back of Predappio's cemetery, you have to descend a small staircase to the basement level, where the actual crypt obviously is. 
  
Inside you first see loads of other Mussolinis. It is after all a family crypt. Most are either grouped together in wall niches or have their own single big stone sarcophagus. Benito's sarcophagus, unsurprisingly, takes pride of place in a vault branching off from the centre of the crypt, lit up by bright white background neon. In front of his tomb stands an altar-like desk, covered in the Italian Tricolore flag with a guest book on top. 
  
The actual tomb niche/vault is protected by a metal bar onto which several wreaths are attached (I also spotted a football club's scarf!). So you can't get closer than to where the Duce's feet would be.
  
Dominating the inside of his vault is a large white-marble bust of the deceased dictator. It's oversized and probably supposed to be flattering in that fierce expression of grim determination the sculptor gave him (in typical masculine fascist style – cf. Foro Italico!). But I just found it as ridiculous as all the footage of Mussolini giving speeches that I've ever seen. These mannerisms just don't work on me. 
  
Some of the second-league Mussolinis' tombs also have marble busts, but these are smaller and stylistically less bathed in brute testosterone than the big man's. Some are also accompanied by framed photos of the respective family members.
  
Some real spooky items are to be seen to the sides of the big Duce bust: There are small rectangular display boxes set into the wall and here, behind glass, you can see some genuine Duce relics: a pair of battered black leather boots (presumably his, together with a small cross and some illegible document), a neatly folded black shirt (remember, Mussolini's fascists were also known as the Blackshirts), something that might have been a black hat, and a small jewel-case-like box (what it might contain I have no idea).
  
As if that wasn't already enough, there's also another room branching off the main crypt hall opposite the tomb and this really is a full-on Mussolini shrine. It's designed like a chapel (maybe it is one, given the crosses and candles) but is also full of Duce memorabilia, photos, inscriptions, slogans, and even little trinkets such as a toy lion and little bells. The image of “Il Duce” posing with his right arm held upwards features prominently in several images. (He originally adopted it from an alleged Ancient Roman salute, but it became mostly associated with Hitler's Nazi Germany where it was copied as early as the mid-1920s and then quickly made compulsory once the NSDAP was in power).
  
When I visited the Mussolini crypt there was a larger group of visitors ahead of me, some of whom just couldn't get enough of taking snaps with their phones, so while waiting for them to finish and move on I browsed the guest book for a while. All what was written there was in Italian only, but certain key words such as “onore e gloria” give you an idea of the general worshipping tone. There was even a shakily hand-drawn swastika in there! It makes you shudder.
  
Finally, when you then take the steps back out on the other side of the crypt you pass numerous plaques on the wall continuing the Duce-worship theme. Some brass plaques totally brazenly hail their “Duce a noi” (again, see also Foro Italico!), some are clearly from some (ex-)military groups, others are private. The image of the man with his right arm up also features here. 
  
However, once you step back out in the open, the whole spooky aura dissipates like a short-lived apparition. Relieved, I took a deep breath and walked back to the car. But I must admit that the whole experience, short as it had been, kept haunting me for quite a while afterwards.   
  
  
Location: in Predappio's cimitero monumentale, a good mile (1.8 km) south of the town centre and ca. 10 miles (17 km) south of Forli, in the eastern part of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy.
  
Co-ordinates and Google maps locator:
44°05'26.5"N 11°58'44.3"E
  
  
Access and costs: a bit off the tourist trail, but easy to get to by car; free of charge. 
  
Details: To get to Predappio, and more so to the cemetery south of the town, you really need your own means of transport if you want to have a minimum degree of flexibility. There are buses going past the cemetery too, but they are infrequent and if you do not want to linger unnecessarily long at the site, the connections are just too impractical. 
  
When driving from Forli just keep going on the SP9 route all the way through the town of Predappio and beyond until you get to the cemetery on your right. There are two car parks, one by the new cemetery and another, larger one a short distance further along by the main entrance. To get to the crypt you can use either, but it's easier to find coming from the main entrance.
  
From there you just need to proceed straight ahead diagonally through the old cemetery on the main path which ends at the smaller of the two chapels. The entrance to the crypt is to the right of the chapel door and is clearly enough marked. 
  
There is no admission charge, and the opening hours of the crypt should be the same as for the cemetery as a whole: daily from 8 a.m. to at least 4:30 p.m. (in winter), or 5:30 p.m. (March/October) and 6:30 p.m. in summer, respectively.  
  
There are no longer any fascist souvenirs for sale at the site – and going by the warning signs a CCTV system is apparently in place … probably to deter some idiots from either going over the top in their Mussolini worship, or anti-fascists from vandalizing or damaging the site. A sign inside the entrance also demands “silenzio”, but that other group I saw when I was there didn't make much of an effort in heeding this command. 
  
  
Time required: depends on how many other visitors there are, what they are like, and how much Mussolini worship you can handle. I could have done with just five minutes, but had to wait rather long for that larger group to file through before me. 
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The nearest place of particular interest for dark tourists is Bologna. However, its dark sites are mostly of rather different types (one medical, the other plane-crash-related). 
  
Not too far from Bologna to the north-west, though, there are some important sites commemorating victims of WWII, fascism and the Holocaust, namely the former POW/transit/concentration camp memorial site of Fossoli and the Museum of Deportation in Carpi
  
These can make for a suitably sobering antidote to the very dodgy elements of glamorization at the Mussolini crypt. Even if Mussolini cannot personally be held responsible for the Holocaust that was unleashed on Italy by Nazi Germany after Mussolini was first deposed, he still had paved the way for this and teamed up with the German Nazis in so many other ways before. And none of that should be forgotten or relativized.
  
This should also be borne firmly in mind when considering whether or not to go to Predappio's other Mussolini shrine, namely his birth house. I drove past but couldn't quite bring myself to pay the admission fee and go in (and it wasn't the admission fee that put me off!). 
  
Driving through the centre of Predappio you can also spot a few examples of fascist show-off architecture that Mussolini “generously” imposed on his home town. 
Compared to the much grander fascist-era architecture in e.g. Rome, however, these are hardly all that remarkable.
  
In general see also under Italy.
 
   
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The area around Predappio was immensely popular with cyclists when I was there (May 2015). Whether that is generally so or whether it was just in preparation for some racing event or so, I can't say, but the winding roads were clearly chosen deliberately as a suitable training route for ambitious or even pro cyclists in their dozens if not hundreds. The landscape is moderately pretty too. 
  
Otherwise the nearest firmly established tourist attractions would be San Marino as well as the Italian Adriatic coast to the east and the cultural cities of Modena and Bologna to the north-west. 
  
  
 
  • Mussolini crypt 01 - Predappio cemeteryMussolini crypt 01 - Predappio cemetery
  • Mussolini crypt 02 - chapelMussolini crypt 02 - chapel
  • Mussolini crypt 03 - entrance to the rightMussolini crypt 03 - entrance to the right
  • Mussolini crypt 04 - the Duce tomb is the centrepieceMussolini crypt 04 - the Duce tomb is the centrepiece
  • Mussolini crypt 05 - a dark placeMussolini crypt 05 - a dark place
  • Mussolini crypt 06 - with guest bookMussolini crypt 06 - with guest book
  • Mussolini crypt 07 - relicsMussolini crypt 07 - relics
  • Mussolini crypt 08 - black shirtMussolini crypt 08 - black shirt
  • Mussolini crypt 09 - shrineMussolini crypt 09 - shrine
  • Mussolini crypt 10 - memorabiliaMussolini crypt 10 - memorabilia
  • Mussolini crypt 11 - altarMussolini crypt 11 - altar
  • Mussolini crypt 12 - more relativesMussolini crypt 12 - more relatives
  • Mussolini crypt 13 - yet more of themMussolini crypt 13 - yet more of them
  • Mussolini crypt 14 - devotional plaquesMussolini crypt 14 - devotional plaques
  • Mussolini crypt 15 - creepily recent expressions of admirationMussolini crypt 15 - creepily recent expressions of admiration
  • Mussolini crypt 16 - fascist architecture in PredappioMussolini crypt 16 - fascist architecture in Predappio
  • Mussolini crypt 18 - birth houseMussolini crypt 18 - birth house
  

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