Italy 127 - Montecassino/ the bells , the bells/ the bottom clenching drive /an amazing crypt and the town below in the mist


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Europe » Italy » Lazio » Monte Cassino
October 1st 2019
Published: October 1st 2019
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Where in the world is our girl Gabby parked? High up above the town of Cassino. Parked up on a spot reserved for camping cars in the abbey car park. Impressive the abbey is too. You can see it from the motorway high up on its hill. It commands the area. So how did we get here? Through a very busy and poorly sign posted town . That is how. We passed stalls where the stallholders were selling fruit and vegetables. We climbed narrow buttock clenching roads with twistbacks and very passing places. Stomach churning at times as the town fell further and further away into the distance far below. It was a long way up. A long drive for Glenn who prayed nothing came the other way.

The drop to our one side was jaw dropping and it was easy to see how this became a strategic place during the campaign in Italy in the Second World War.

As we get closer to the top we lose sight of the abbey but see the war cemetary in the distance . We end up on a dead end at the top of the mountain. The buses with their pilgrims are parked up. We see one motorhome and park next to him. It costs 8 euro for a motorhome to stay the night , 3 euro for a car to park and 25 euro for a bus. It was very peaceful spot now but its history has been less than peaceful .

It was during the Battle for Monte Cassino between January and May 1944 that the abbey was completely destroyed . The German forces had established the 161 km Gustav Line to prevent Allied troops from advancing forward in a northerly direction. Initially General Kesselrings had regard for the ancient history of the abbey and did not include it in his line of defence however eventually blocking the path to Rome it was bombed by the American and British led forces . Sadly the only people killed there were 230 Italians citizens who had gone to seek refuge from the fighting believing the abbey would be the safest place to be. Following on from the bombings the Germans did move in , paratroopers who used it because of its excellent position and ease of defence . What we could see now was a complete rebuild . Rebuilding began in the 1950's and was completed by the 1960's. It sits atop its hilltop a symbol to the world . And we were there. We had tried before and failed miserably having got lost around the town . This time , at least we were making headway and it looked as if we were going to make it .

The little car park man sees us and runs over to collect his money. He appears almost from nowhere . Dressed in his designer italian trousers and shirt he sports a referees whistle round his neck. He spots every car before it even parks up and runs out whistling if they park in the wrong place .We never quite worked out where he hid but he seemed to smell them a mile off. No-one got away with parking without paying . No-one parked outside of the space he gave them. If they didnt want to pay he shooed them off and told them to go away. The abbeys coffers were filling by the minute .

We set off the abbey . It is just a short walk away. We cant take any decent photos of the outside as we are too close to it. Up the steps we go. Not massive ones nor does it take us too long to enter the abbey. It is free to visit as long as you dont want to take in the museum. Perhaps 7 years ago when we started motorhoming we would have gladly paid the fee to see the abbeys treasures. We found it hard then not to pay to see something . However over the years we have become more selective and unless something really piques our fancy we walk on by. It is not too busy inside and stop in the first courtyard. Can you smell the roses ? They are very strong . Old fashioned and smelling of musk. It is hard to tell this is all just 50 years old . Into another courtyard . This time it opens out onto that breathtaking view of the valley below . Steps lead up to the abbey. Come on - I know its hot but we have to climb those steps .

Inside the abbey is cool. It is dark - lets talk Baroque. Dark wood everywhere , small dark side chapels with much gilding . Every surface covered in deep red, brown, black and white marble . A wonderful job but just not to our taste.



We are almost ready to leave when I spot steps going down. Now they look interesting . We enter the crypt which for some reason is decorated in a very different style. This time much lighter with no wood nor gilding . Instead there are carvings in a light stone, mosaics of every colour. More Byzantine in nature . A blue sky covered in gold stars . Saints picked out in bright shiny mosaics. And then there were the art deco ladies . Saints all slightly female in appearance , all looking like something from the 1920's. They were lovely. We found ourselves lost in its beauty and forgot about upstairs and the gregorian chants that would fill the space tomorrow morning. This was more us .

We left feeling that the crypt made up for the long journey down, the disappointment of not being able to see Monza . It set us up for the night ahead . It was a quiet one. Our Dutch neighbour moved on and we were joined by one other . Someone else turned up late and got a free nights camping. Everyone went home . It was peaceful and a good place to hang your head .

At 5.30 the bells started . They rang the time and then tinkled on for about 15 minutes . I love bells but these two or three became wearing after 15 minutes . They were waking the abbey up and sounding breakfast I guess . They stopped . At 6 they started again - 15 mins of the same monotonous chimes . Breakfast over - was it prayers now? At 6.30 another 15 minutes and again at 7. By which time we had had enough of the bells and started our descent down the mountain . Hopefully before the buses started their way up. On the way down we past walkers hiking their way to the top, we passed runners on their morning run and nuns . Two walking fast down the mountain and one walking the dog .

It was a funny old night . We made it though and headed south for the seaside and Tropea . We are heading for a few days at the seaside . The Italian campsites are beginning to close down for the season so our choices are becoming less by the day. At least the seaside still stays open for a few weeks more and Tropea actually looks very interesting as a town . Well worth trying it out .


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