Rome - World War II bunkers built to protect Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and Italy's royal family in the heart of Rome can be explored by the public through a new website launched on Tuesday.

The website locates each bunker on the map, gives a description of the shelter and includes links to video footages or images of the structure.

With all but one of the bunkers closed to the public, the video footages offer a rare glimpse into the sites.

One clip of the bunker at Rome's main Termini rail station showed an underground station control, emergency electricity generators, and air filters of carbon and lime - used to counter gas attacks.

“Mussolini liked reinforced, underground bunkers and wanted to copy Hitler, so 12 anti-aircraft posts were built during World War II,” said journalist Lorenzo Grazzi, who set up the website.

“They were shelters for the elite,” he said, showing journalists around the only bunker currently open to the public, which lies under Palazzo Valentini.

The retreats were made up of existing structures adapted for protection from air raids, and bunkers built specifically for the task.

“In that period, people were most worried about firebombs and bombs which released toxic gases. The bunker we are in now was equipped to protect those inside from dangerous gasses,” Grazzi said.

“The reinforced doors are watertight and there was a system to filter the air” driven by an electronic mechanism charged by two tandem bikes attached to the floor, which generated energy when cycled, he said.

The Palazzo Valentini bunker, built in 1939-40, is made up of two large rooms and a series of tunnels which run alongside the archaeological area of the Domus Romane, ruins of houses dating back to the Roman imperial era.

The emergency exit comes out opposite the famous Trajan's Column, next to the enormous Victor Emmanuel white marble monument in Rome's Piazza Venezia.

The bunkers were not used very much. The first bombs to fall on Rome, dropped by allied forces on July 19, 1943, fell just six days before Mussolini relinquished power. - Sapa-AFP