Heading north via Monte Cassino – Monteriggioni, Tuscany, Italy

The forecast for today was for another huge splodge of blue on the radar images to hit us with torrential rain, the last remnants of a large low pressure system. It did not feel like a day for sightseeing on the Amalfi coast sadly and we needed to make some movement north. Today seemed like a much better day for driving, therefore and we plotted our course for Tuscany. We have already been on a couple of dedicated trips to Rome and had previously decided that we would skip past it on this trip.

Abbey of Montecassino

However, after another recommendation we planned an extra stop at Monte Cassino. Monte Cassino is home to a monastery established by St Benedict of Nursia himself in 529 AD. However, its use has not been without disruption. It was sacked by the Lombards, then the Saracens, then used as a troop garrison in 1239 by Frederick II and in 1799 by the French. However, the final and most famous blow came in 1944 during WWII. The Italians had left the war after the invasion of mainland Italy by the Allies. However, the Allied advance to Rome through this mountainous terrain was halted at Cassino at the bottom of the mountain by a German garrison attacking from the mountain above.

The British army ordered an air raid, that was provided by the Americans and the monastery was completely flattened. Subsequent reports suggest the Germans were not in the monastery (only Italian civilians taking cover) but paratroopers moved in subsequently following the bombings to defend against the subsequent attack. Over 55,000 Allied troops and 20,000 Germans were lost during the Battle of Monte Cassino. Many of the Allied losses were Polish troops and there is a cemetery on the mountain top of those fallen.

We decided to divide and conquer as we still had driving to do and I visited the monastery whilst Kevin walked down with the dogs to the cemetery. Although the monastery is gleaming white, that is the only apparent sign of its rebirth post WWII as the marble busts, ornate gold leaf paintings and emblazoned church interiors show. It is a fabulously peaceful spot looking across at the tops of the other mountains and undisturbed by the bustle of life below.

Unfortunately Kevin could only get so far towards the cemetery with the dogs. It is a beautiful spot and exquisitely arranged and maintained. Certainly a fitting resting place to those that fell.

Monte Cassino Polish World War II Cemetery

We continued north, through the mountains of Umbria, with snow all around, snow ploughs keeping the road clear. Almost as soon as we entered Tuscany, the landscape and architecture changed. The snow cleared and the mountains flattened into rolling hills and there were lovely honey stone coloured farmhouses and lines of poplar trees. Tuscany is looking lovely so far.


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