Out of all of the places I have had the pleasure of visiting, Montecassino (sometimes spelled Monte Cassino) stands out as one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Located west of Cassino, in the Ciociaria region of Italy, Monte Cassino is famous for its historic monastery. It is also famous as the site of the Battle of Monte Cassino during the Second World War.
There is evidence of people living in the area of what is now modern day Cassino since the 7th century. However, it was in 529 AD that St. Benedict came to Cassino and chose it as the site to being constructing his monastery. When St. Benedict arrived to Cassino there was a mixture of Christian and pagan worship amongst the inhabitants. St. Benedict destroyed any remaining pagan elements such as guard towers, idols, an altar to Apollo and a temple to Jupiter.
The abbey was to become St. Benedict’s permanent home and where he lived up until his death in 577. It is also the place that he wrote perhaps one of the most important Western Monastic texts, The Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule of St. Benedict is a guidebook for living daily life as a monk and has been used by Benedictine monasteries all of the world.
Over the years, the Montecassino Abbey has experienced some trouble. The monastery was destroyed for the first time in 577 by the Lombards. The Benedictine monks fled to Rome and only returned to the site of the abbey in Cassino 140 years later.
By the 11th century the monastery had been rebuilt and was flourishing. As a result of the monastery’s success, this time period was known as Monte Cassino’s “Golden Age”. Montecassino Abbey had its ups and down over the following centuries but the worst tragedy was to hit in 1944.
During World War II, the Allied forces believed that the Nazis were occupying the monastery and using Montecassino as a strategic observation point. The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the “Battle for Rome”) took place from January to May, 1944 and included number of attacks from the Allied forces on the region.
In February 1944, with what is generally described as little evidence, American forces bombed and destroyed the abbey. It turns out that there didn’t actually appear to be any Germans in the abbey, and that the only casualties of the bombing were civilians in hiding. The bombing is viewed by many as an unprecedented mistake.
The Allies finally achieved their goal and in May of 1944 and drove out the Germans. There were large numbers of casualties during the entire battle including 55,000 Allied soldiers and 20,000 German soldiers.
After the war, the abbey was rebuilt in the exact spot it had stood before. A number of the documents and artefacts were also rescued before the bombing and returned safely to the abbey. In 1964 the abbey was also reconsecrated.
Although most of the abbey was destroyed, there is one surviving original feature. The original 11th century bronze door was salvaged from the wreckage and on display at the abbey today.
Today, Montecassino is a working abbey and also open to visitors. I can honestly say it is one of the most visually stunning places I have visited in all of Italy. The abbey is perched high on a cliff top which means that you can see beautiful scenery for miles in every direction.
There are a number of archways which allow you to look out onto the gorgeous countryside. St. Benedict knew what he was doing when he chose the location for his abbey, as it truly feels like you are in the heavens.
Montecassino Abbey is easy to visit if you are near Rome or Naples. The abbey is located in the Ciociaria region and is pretty much right in the middle of the two cities. It is wonderful just to walk around the abbey and take in the stunning views. You can also visit the cathedral and the 16th century Medici Tomb.
Overall, Montecassino Abbey is a prominent historical site with spectacular views. It’s highly recommended visit for any history lovers in the area.