When Benito Mussolini was deposed as Italy’s dictator in 1943, the Nazis set him up as puppet ruler of the northern chunk of Italy they still controlled. He was installed at Villa Feltrinelli, a grand neogothic pile on the shores of Lake Garda, says Sven Michaelsen in 032c magazine. Guarded by 30 SS officers, Mussolini spent his days watching Charlie Chaplin films and nipping out by boat to visit a nearby mistress. He fled in April 1945 as allied troops advanced north, but was caught and shot dead by communist partisans.
The villa was returned to the Feltrinelli family, a banking dynasty who had built it in 1892. The new master of the house was Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, nicknamed the “perfumed revolutionary”. He used his billions to finance anti-imperialist guerrilla movements and hosted writers including Tennessee Williams at the villa, as well as gatherings of young communists.
In 1972, aged 45, he blew himself up while trying to sabotage an electricity pylon with dynamite. The villa was sold and became a luxury hotel. (Rooms start at €1,400 a night.) In 2003 Mussolini’s son Romano rang its buzzer. He had played the villa’s piano every day when his family lived there – his father often accompanied him on the violin. The 75-year-old was allowed in to play it once more. Then he wandered round the house, alone, “so that the memories could surface”, recalls the hotel’s manager, Markus Odermatt. Afterwards “he asked for a glass of water, thanked us, then left”. He died three years later.
🐆 Giangiacomo Feltrinelli also founded a publishing house. He arranged for the manuscript of Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago to be smuggled out of Russia, then translated and published it in 1957 to huge acclaim. The following year Feltrinelli published Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, widely considered one of the 20th century’s greatest novels.
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