Why you should care

Because even dead dictators can kick-start tourism.

In times of economic crisis even history’s cruelest tyrants can turn into moneymakers. Take Benito Mussolini: Italians get edgy when his name, let alone his legacy, is mentioned, but he’s a bit like the original sin. We know it’s bad, but we can’t help feeling a pull. And so several resorts in Italy — all former prisons of Mussolini’s, and at all different altitudes — are exploiting the Duce’s trademark to lure tourists.

On the Apennine mountains you’ll find a big hotel that looks so much like a barrack you expect a uniformed soldier to greet you, not a tanned concierge. Hotel Campo Imperatore is where Mussolini was kept prisoner for a while after he was forced to step down (hurray!) in 1943. Set at 2,200 meters, the resort rises right on the skiing slopes and is accessible only by cable car — you practically park your skis in the lobby. But while you’re enjoying the scenery, it pops into your mind how ironic history can be.

Traces of tyrant sweat might make the sheets even more appealing to some.

Mussolini was a sports fanatic and wanted Italians to keep healthy and take part in physical activities — he himself loved skiing bare-chested, with a leather cap and aviator goggles. The resort was built during fascism (it has that typical futuristic, rationalist architecture) to glorify sports and family vacationing. That entire skiing area was strongly desired by Mussolini, but instead of going there on holiday, he was locked up behind bars.

Voyeuristic guests can visit Mussolini’s bedroom, where everything looks frozen in time: original 1930s furniture and bathroom facilities (the same toilet seat!), his letters, sofa, bed, linens (no worries, they’ve been washed since Mussolini occupied them, though traces of tyrant sweat might make the sheets even more appealing to some). There’s a plate with his name hung on the door, rather than just a room number. The proprietors, who claim to be amateur historians, not nostalgics, offer guided tours of the resort, during which they call attention to the fascist frescoes that dot the walls — all idyllic images, of course, of peaceful hills, trees of life and housewives cooking and taking care of the hearth. Guests watch re-enactments of the German raid that freed the tyrant (until he was recaptured) and of his demise, a piece appropriately titled “Checkmate the Tyrant!”

Campo imperatore 04(raboe)

Some former prisons of Mussolini’s are now resorts. What will they come up with next?

Source Public Domain

Outside on the porch, where Mussolini used to kill time playing cards with the elders, shepherds and farmers, you can sunbathe and admire the snowy peaks.

Seeking the thrill of sleeping inside his room, on the same bed? Venture back down to sea level. That’s possible on a tiny atoll in the Tyrrhenian Sea where the Duce was shipped for a short stay amid beaches with sand as fine as talcum powder and surrounded by shimmering blue waters. I know, sounds crazy, but Mussolini kept escaping, and so the police ran after him across Italy’s boot, locking him up here and there, until the Communists finally got around to executing him.

Talk about a fine confinement! The former boarding house where he was kept is now a picturesque seaside hotel. The cozy fish tavern was Mussolini’s personal dining room, the upper floors his private office and library. But the most wanted room of all is where he spent sleepless nights, turning round and round in the bed like a rotisserie chicken. No surprise he had trouble sleeping — the bed is somewhat curved, and wobbly.

Price? Very affordable. Who would think that a tyrant’s former suite, constantly overbooked, could come at such a cheap price? For 100 euros you can sleep, eat and live like said tyrant.

I wonder … is Mussolini turning in his grave, or laughing at this twisted tourism? Considering his end, I’m going to go with laughing.

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