Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In October, we shift our focus to the offbeat, highlighting everything from (allegedly) haunted spaces to abandoned places.
Showcasing fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s military uniform, his beloved motorbike, an iron cradle and a spooky bedroom mirror, Villa Carpena is clearly a museum unafraid of the dark side of history.
But if the ick factor of visiting a place with connections to Adolf Hitler’s wartime ally isn’t enough, the owners of this mansion in Italy’s northeastern Emilia Romagna region say there’s also a strong chance of bumping into his ghost.
Located in Carpena, a tiny district in the city of Forlì, the property is rumored to be haunted by several ghosts of the Mussolini family – the late Italian leader included. And locals claim to have proof, as well.
Stacked with all sorts of personal objects and art works that belonged to the family, Villa Carpena was the Mussolini family’s country retreat.
Today, the Liberty-style yellowish mansion, also called “The House of Memories,” lures history buffs and scare-seekers.
Since it was purchased by an Italian businessman in 2000, its new owners and other invited guests claim to have experienced intense paranormal activities and supernatural happenings, some of which a team of self-proclaimed ghostbusters says it witnessed and recorded.
The face in the mirror
“This place is alive with their presence, they are all still here and we can feel them, they are constantly watching us,” says Domenico Morosini, current owner and operator of Villa Carpena with his wife, Adele.
“I feel they respect us. We are not afraid but we don’t want to disturb these spirits, so I avoid entering the villa when it is nighttime.”
The couple, who live in an adjacent new building on the mansion’s estate, spent years on a global scavenger hunt to track and recover lost original pieces that once belonged to the Mussolini family, which they’ve used to furnish the villa.
Italian interest in Mussolini, who held his country in thrall from 1922 to 1943, until Italy’s World War II failures led to him being overthrown and arrested, has intensified in recent years. While many continue to condemn his fascist legacy, he remains a figure of fascination, for better or for worse.
After purchasing one of Mussolini’s historical uniforms at an auction in the United States, Morosini says he took it back to the mansion, spreading it out on the bed Mussolini shared with his wife, Donna Rachele, the same bed in which she died.
“That day there was a medium with us, and the person felt sick, had to sit down and whispered ‘he is here’. Straight after, the dark shadow of Mussolini’s face appeared in the bedroom vanity table mirror and has been there since, as if it were printed on the glass, more than a mere reflection,” adds Morosini.
Tourists on guided tours of the villa are invited to peer into the shadowy face, too, to get a glimpse of the distinctive square jaw, high forehead and prominent nose of the infamous dictator, who was executed as he tried to flee the country with his girlfriend in the final days of World War II in 1945.
Morosini says he has witnessed other eerie events, too: “I have heard gusts of strong winds inside the villa during the day, and noises of footsteps along the corridors.”
Rachele Mussolini and several of her children lived in the villa for decades following their post-war return from exile on Ischia island.
Morosini says he has a passion for “memorabilia from the past” and bought the mansion from one of Mussolini’s sons, extensively renovating it with antique furniture and decor.
Skis, socks, vintage motorbikes
Regardless of their beliefs in the paranormal, visitors get to see the rooms where Mussolini’s kids slept, “baby” Mussolini’s iron cradle built by his cobbler father, his skis, violin, private studio and a number of lavish gifts that he received during his rule, including a tapestry from Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and a sacred Mount Fuji boulder donated by Japanese Emperor Hirohito.
Also on display are family clothing items such as handmade socks and hats, chandeliers, art works, old photos of Mussolini riding a bike, the Mussolini couple’s vintage scooters and cars, and the tractor used by Rachele, who came from a humble farming family.
Benito Mussolini, who hailed from the nearby village of Predappio, built Villa Carpena in 1924 after marrying Rachele, who was living in an adjacent farmhouse deemed by the newlyweds too small for a growing family with children.
Rachele’s former dwelling now hosts the museum’s ticket office and gift shop, which sells Mussolini-branded gadgets and postcards of old family photos.
The mansion, which Morosini defines as “large yet simple, reflecting the daily life of what was actually quite an ordinary family,” is set within a lavish park with gravel lanes.
The garden features a gazebo where Mussolini used to read the morning paper on a stone table and the straw and drywall “children playhouse” with kitchen and bathroom he built for the children.
The park, where a wisteria planted by Mussolini survives, used to be a rural patch of land used by Rachele’s family to grow vegetables, fruit trees and breed livestock. Her old aviary is still there, swarming with turtle doves.
Ghostbusters and touchy spirits
After Morosini bought the place, he says weird things started to happen. Word rapidly spread that the estate was haunted, luring the curiosity of professionals who specialize in the paranormal.
In 2013 a bunch of ghostbusters asked to visit and reportedly stayed overnight, claiming to have captured disquieting events in the dark.
“We recorded on tape what sounded like the feeble voice of a woman, when we played it, the old villa keeper freaked out and jumped from his chair, whispering that he had recognized the voice of Rachele,” says Andrea Pugliese of Ghost Hunter Padova, a group of Italian paranormal investigators.
The noise of a plane was also recorded, says Pugliese, noting that it could have been linked to Mussolini’s son Bruno, who was an aviator and died prematurely in a plane crash in 1941.
Thermal images were also taken that night, he adds, showing several red hot patches on Mussolini’s favorite motorbike handlebars and tank, which according to the investigator could be a sign that his spirit had touched it, moved by nostalgia.
“The most incredible event occurred when we placed a torch on the dining table where the family ate; we asked for a sign and at our requests it suddenly turned on and then off again,” says Pugliese.
When the ghost hunter team arrived and started setting up the equipment, he says he perceived a “vibe of hostility as if we were not welcome, but in the evening the ambiance changed and became less tense.”
Pugliese prefers not to talk about “ghosts,” but rather of “anomalies” and “presences” that are still attached to the house where they experienced happy moments and do not want to abandon it.
“They’ve remained tied to that past, far from atrocious things, and it’s no secret that Rachele herself was an esoteric woman who held seances and kept salt pots in the house to ward off evil,” says Pugliese.
Morosini confesses that after allowing the ghostbusters inside the villa he felt sick for an entire year, noting it struck him only much later that the spirits may have been unhappy about the intrusion.
But Villa Carpena is not the only place in Italy rumored to be haunted by Mussolini.
On the ancient Via Appia road connecting Rome to Latina, a city founded during fascism, locals claim to often hear and see Mussolini’s ghost cruising past on his red Guzzi motorbike – goggles and leather cap included – to go to meet his lovers at night.
‘You can breathe history here’
Marco Buonasorte Moriconi, who handles Villa Carpena’s guided tours, says visitors are curious to discover the “human, private side of Mussolini” who’d escape to the mansion to spend time with his family. He apparently never invited any of his fascist cronies over.
“You can really breathe history in here, and people I accompany all perceive this, beyond their political creed,” he says. “What is striking is how everything in the villa seems to be frozen in time.
“You can see Rachele’s pension book hanging on the kitchen wall, the phone used by Mussolini to call the government headquarters in Rome and even the bomb splinters removed from his body during the Great War (World War I).
“There are so many original historical pieces and each one comes with its own story; we strongly invite people to explore this incredible place,” adds Moriconi.
The upper floor of Villa Carpena hosts a cultural research center that’s filled with over 5.000 historical documents and vintage magazines for people interested in digging further into the fascist era and the Mussolini family.
Villa Carpena, Via Crocetta, 24, 47121 Forlì FC, Italy; +39 333 305 2908
Top image: Villa Carpena, the Mussolini family’s country retreat. Credit: Marco Buonasorte Moriconi/Villa Carpena