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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mussolini Crypt: Admirers Worship at Dictator's Altar

One passes a tranquil field just before arriving at Mussolini's crypt.  

Sergio Schiavone says the air is pure at Mussolini's grave
A stern expression set in stone hovers above Benito Mussolini’s tomb. Next to that hard marble bust, the dictator’s admirers keep his memory alive.
Sergio Schiavone, for one, pays homage at the crypt in the fascist dictator’s hometown in north central Italy, Predappio.
The indirect lighting illuminates his face as he exclaims in the underground vault, “Here one breathes the purest air.”
He continues in Italian, “Cueste era grande.. This was greatness.” He spreads his arms, stretching them as wide as they would open. A shadow of Sergio’s body falls on Mussolini’s stone-covered coffin.

Before his own death, Sergio, 77, wanted to visit Mussolini’s grave. With his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, he made the pilgrimage from a home in Rome filled with photos of Mussolini. Sergio’s father had served in Mussolini’s volunteer militia.
The fascist Blackshirts ( the Voluntary Militia for National Security ) reputedly used violence and intimidation against Mussolini’s opponents as they carried out the dictator’s agenda, 1925-1943. Mussolini became prime minister in 1922, but it was later that he seized powers that allowed him to put an end to political parties, censor the press and prohibit other civil liberties.
Whatever his methods may have been, Sergio contends the dictator imposed order and discipline, which do not exist today.

Mussolini's remains were finally buried in this cemetery 12 years after his execution.

Streets Named after Mussolini 

My journey to Mussolini’s tomb began after I noticed a hotel and a street named after the dictator in a nearby town, Castrocaro Terme.
Then a couple of kilometers from Castrocaro, I met a shop owner sitting on a bench in an ancient, cobblestone alley in the medieval village, Terra del Sole.
The man, perhaps in his 50s and born after the Mussolini era, urged me to visit the dictator’s crypt. He referred to Mussolini’s rule as “a respectable dictatorship.”
Italy would not have its current problems, such as government corruption, if Il Duce (“the Duke” ) were ruling now, he said. The man, who asked not to be identified, repeated, “Bendito Mussolini, Bless Mussolini.”

Soon after I met Giuseppe, 61, a retired police officer and resident of nearby Forli. He was in Castrocaro to treat tendonitis at the thermal spa ( See older post, “Spa’s Italian Soul Full of Green Heart, Amore.”)
I asked Giuseppe, who was born in Mussolini’s hometown, how he feels about the dictator. “Cosi cosi, so-so,” he said. Then he said he does not like him.
Giuseppe’s grandfather, labeled a “communist” by the fascists, was persecuted. Giuseppe’s mother was Jewish, and her brother died in the Auschwitz concentration camp when Mussolini was allied with Germany’s Adolf Hitler during World War II.

From Mutilation to Adoration

 My curiosity was aroused, so one day I caught a bus from the city of Forli to Predappio, where Mussolini was born in 1883.
The bus curved around 23 kilometers of Apennine Mountain views alongside villages and fields of sunflowers, wheat, and corn as I pondered the journey of Mussolini’s remains.
Mussolini’s body finally returned to his birthplace 12 yeas after his corpse was displayed in front of angry mobs.
Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petracci, were trying to escape near the end of World War II from the advancing allied army. However, they were caught on April 27, 1945 near a Lake Como village, and two days later, they were executed along with other fascists in a firing squad.
After the corpses of Mussolini and the other fascists were kicked and spat upon, six of the 15 were taken to Milan. They were hung upside down on meat hooks in a gas station in Piazzale Loreto while citizens stoned them.
Mussolini’s body was then buried in an unmarked cemetery. Loyalists found it and dug it up a year later. Afterwards, the remains were moved around until they were located nearly a year later in a trunk in a monastery in Lombardy.
Authorities then held them for 10 years. Finally, they were given to Mussolini’s widow, who buried them in the family crypt.

My reflections stop with the bus in Predappio's tiny downtown. I find Pizzeria Tamy and lunch ( spinach pasta with cheesy cream sauce, grilled tomatoes and eggplant topped with herbs, roast chicken.)
Sauro ( photo, right), who runs the small restaurant with his two sisters, tells me that Mussolini "was a good politician when he started." He continues in English, "but he lost his head in the end when he joined the Germans." I ask what he thinks of the adoring people who visit Mussolini's tomb. "It is too much," he declares.

 As I walk 2 km or so to the grave, I pass a medieval church, then small residential buildings, two or three stories high. Irises bloom in front of them; mountains rise behind them. I stop at a bench where Natascia is waiting for a bus with her son, Kevin (photo, right). I ask Natascia, "Dove (where )....?" Natascia, a local resident, completes my sentence. After all, "everyone" comes to town for the same reason, she says. Predappio ( with a population under 6,500 ), receives some 100,000 visitors per year.

"Mussolini did a lot of good. He created employment," Natascia says in Italian. "If he were here now, we would not have a crisis."
Soon Italy's recession seems far away as I look down a steep hill, where horses graze inside a green frame of trees ( photo, top of story.)
Across the street from the field, the wrought iron gates of a cemetery lead to the two-story Mussolini family crypt.
Four men carrying motorcycle helmets enter the underground vault that holds the dictator's remains. They rode from the Venice area, about 150 kilometers away.
One of them, Perry of Los Angeles, has lived in Italy for 30 years; he says he simply came along for the ride with his friends.
The trip is an annual pilgrimage for two of his friends, including Antonio, 60. He says the first part of Il Duce's rule was good; the second was not.
According to Antonio, the good part included creating employment and construction projects, such as draining swamps to build cities.
To Antonio, the bad part was Mussolini's alliance with Hitler and his participation in World War II. The pro-war dictator referred to fascism as "education for combat."
"War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and puts the stamp of nobility upon peoples who have the courage to meet it," Mussolini has declared. "War is to man what maternity is to woman."

Meanwhile, near the tomb of the war-loving fascist, a statue of a priest perpetually crosses its arms peacefully across its chest.
Plaques dedicated to the dictator cover three walls: "Forever Faithful to Italy's Il Duce ....comrades from Mantova;" "With us always...a group of friends from Campolieto."
The plaques, the pilgrims, the stern-faced bust together create an enduring altar to Il Duce.
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben
copyright 2012, Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter


  1. Italians lived the absence of the body as a presence, so continuing the love story between Italians and their leader, which was very carnal in many ways,” Luzzatto wrote. That story ended when the body was returned to the family and “it became fixed and sepulchral,” primarily in the guest books at the tomb, where visitors can sign and leave comments.
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  2. Time changes perspectives if he were here today I doubt that they would be justifying his iron hand and adoring him