Today was a much needed day off for us. John decided to stay at the hotel and rest and I ventured out and grabbed a bus for 1 euro up to the Abbey at Monte Cassino. I think the most dangerous part of the entire walk so far was the ride up and down to Monte Cassino around the hairpin turns on the side of the mountain.
Once I arrived I bought an English tour guide book for 3 Euros and toured the Abbey. There was no change for entrance to the Abbey but there was a 3 Euro change for entry to the museum.
The Abbey at Monte Cassino was founded about the year 529 by Saint Benedict on the site of a former Roman fortification. The monastery was destroyed four times over the centuries and then rebuilt. The third time was due to an earthquake in 1349.
The last time was February 15, 1944 during World War II when US bombers dropped 1,400 tons of bombs on the Abbey and reduced it to rubble. The Allied forces were trying to pierce the Axis Winter Line so they could drive on to Rome and liberate Italy. The Monastery was key terrain and the Allies believed the Germans were using it to their advantage. Even with the monastery in ruins the Allies didn’t take the area until 18 May, 1944.
After the war the Abbey was completely rebuilt to its previous glory. There are a few pieces that were saved from the original monastery, but not much. There is also a museum that has murals on the rebuilding process as well as some military artifacts.
Finally there is a large Polish military cemetery about half a mile from the Abbey where over 1,000 Polish Soldiers are buried. The battles around Cassino and Monte Cassino were composed of over 20 Allied divisions including American, British and British Commonwealth troops (such as the Indians and Gurkhas), Canadians, Free Polish Forces, New Zealanders, South Africans and Free French Forces including French Colonial troops.
Many Allied units took devastating losses including the 36th “Texas Division”. The Polish II Corps lost over 250 officers and 3,500 men in three days of fighting and the Polish Forces were the ones that eventually raised their flag over the ruins of the monastery. Their cemetery is a beautiful and solemn site. There is also a Commonwealth Cemetery in the town of Cassino, with over 4,000 Commonwealth troops buried there.
After leaving the monastery and risking my life again on the bus ride down the hill I met John for lunch at a local Pizzeria. The food was great. We will rest the remainder of the day and get ready for tomorrow. The weather looks great for the next week. Hopefully the forecast will stay that way. We will talk to you all tomorrow further down the road!