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Italy opens 700 hidden cultural treasures to the public this weekend

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Italy opens 700 hidden cultural treasures to the public this weekend
Inside the old air force headquarters in Rome, one of the sites open exceptionally this weekend. Photo: Stefano Cremisini/FAI
11:34 CEST+02:00
This weekend nearly 700 sites that are usually off limits to visitors will open their doors as Italy celebrates its hidden cultural heritage.

On October 13th and 14th the Italian National Trust, FAI, is inviting the public inside castles, villas, palaces, theatres, monasteries, underground reservoirs, gardens, workshops, old power plants, lighthouses, dams, a boat and even a train as part of its Giornate FAI ('FAI Days').

The event takes place twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn, and is designed to draw locals and tourists alike off the beaten path and towards some of Italy's lesser-known treasures.

Many of the sites are ones that people will have admired from outside and longed to peek into, but others are gems that you may have walked past without even noticing – such as the street art that lines the walls by Ravenna's docks, terraces built by the Saracens in Tricarico, Matera, or the old signal room in Rome's central station.

Altogether there are more than 650 sites in 250 locations across Italy to choose from. You'll find a full list of sites and opening times on FAI's website. Some sites are reserved for members of FAI only (details of how to join here). Entry in all cases is free, but visitors are encouraged to make a voluntary donation of at least €3.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

An Art Deco barber's shop in Genoa


Photo: FAI

Peek inside this 10-metre-square salon, which has been shaving sailors since 1908. Haircut optional.

The old air force headquarters in Rome


Photo: Stefano Cremisini/FAI 

Completed in 1931, the Palazzo dell'Aeronautica is an imposing example of Fascist architecture.

A writer's villa on Lake Lugano


Photo: Valerio Di Bussolo/FAI

Novelist Antonio Fogazzaro set some of his most famous work in the lakeside town of Valsolda, where he kept this dreamy summer retreat.

A historic prison in Savona


Photo: Davide Perata/FAI

The prison of Sant'Agostino held prisoners from Napoleonic times right up to 2016. Visitors can tour the cells that once held famed anti-Fascists, including the one where former Italian president Sandro Pertini was held in solitary confinement (entry to Pertini's cell is reserved for FAI members only).

An electricity company's headquarters in Milan


Photo: FAI

Palazzo Edison has housed the offices of Europe's oldest energy company since 1923. Look out for details including old maps and its impressive coloured glass.

A secret garden in Naples


Photo: FAI

The hidden garden of Babuk conceals another secret: a system of underground quarries used to excavate stone to build the city's palaces.

The Presidential Train at Termini station, Rome


Photo: Stefano Cremisini/FAI

Yes, the president has a train. It's made up of carriages recovered from what was once the Royal Train of Italy's monarchs, built in the 1920s. This one's only for FAI members, we're afraid, but anyone can visit the old signal room or the hidden wing of Rome's central station.

Cheese-rolling in L'Aquila


Photo: FAI

FAI doesn't just organize openings, it also puts on cultural events – such as this special edition of the "gioco del cacio", a game that sees participants compete to see who can roll a circular cheese the furthest. Watch seasoned rollers and give it a go yourself.

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