Exploring World War II Sites in Italy

Where to Remember the Great War in the Italian Countryside

Aerial view of Montecassino abbey, 6th-17th century, Monte Cassino, Lazio, Italy.
••• De Agostini / U. Colnago/Getty Images

Italy has many historic monuments, battlegrounds, and museums related to World War II, some in lovely settings that belie the bloody history of the worldwide conflict. Here are a few.

Abbey of Montecassino

One of the most popular sites to visit is the reconstructed Abbey of Montecassino, the site of a famous World War II battle and one of Europe's oldest monasteries. Perched on a mountaintop between Rome and Naples, the Abbey has great views and is very interesting to explore. Allow at least a couple of hours to see everything.

There is also a small War Museum in the town of Cassino, below Montecassino and another on the coast, the Anzio Beachhead Museum, in the center of Anzio near the train station.

Cassino and Florence American Cemeteries

During both World War I and II, thousands of Americans died in European battles. Italy has two large American cemeteries that can be visited. The Sicily-Rome Cemetery at Nettuno is south of Rome (see southern Lazio map). There are 7,861 graves of American soldiers and 3,095 names of the missing inscribed on the chapel walls. Nettuno can be reached by train and from there it is about a 10-minute walk or a short taxi ride. Also in Nettuno is the Museum of the Landing.

The Florence American Cemetery, located on the Via Cassia just south of Florence, can easily be reached by bus with a stop near the front gate. More than 4,000 identified soldiers were buried at the Florence American Cemetery and there is also s a memorial to missing soldiers with 1,409 names.

Both cemeteries are open daily from 9-5 and closed on December 25 and January 1. A staff member is available in the visitor building to escort relatives to grave sites and there is a search box on the website with names of those buried or listed on the memorials.

Mausoleum of the 40 Martyrs

This modern memorial chapel and garden called "Mausoleo dei 40 Martiri" in Italian, is located in the town of Gubbio, in the Umbria region of Italy. It memorializes the location where 40 Italian villagers were massacred by retreating German troops on June 22, 1944.

Forty men and women aged 17 to 61 were killed and placed in a mass grave, but despite decades of investigation, authorities have been unable to take the responsible persons to trial: all of the German officers allegedly involved were dead by 2001. The white mausoleum contains marble plaques on the sarcophagi for each of the individuals, some with photographs. The adjacent garden incorporates a wall where the martyrs were shot and protect the original mass grave locations, and forty cypresses line the avenue up to the monument.

Yearly events remembering the massacre are held in June of each year. Open year-round.

Tempio Della Fraternità di Cella

The Temple of Fraternity at Cella is a Roman Catholic sanctuary in the town of Varzi, in the Lombardy region. It was constructed in the 1950s by Don Adamo Accosa, out of the broken remains of churches throughout the world which had been destroyed in the war. His first ventures were helped by Bishop Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII and sent the first stone to Accosa from an altar of a church near Coutances, near Normandy in France.

Other pieces include the baptismal font was built from the turret of the Naval battleship Andrea Doria; the pulpit is made from two British ships who participated in the Battle of Normandy. Stones were sent from all the major conflict sites: Berlin, London, Dresden, Warsaw, Montecassino, El Alamein, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

A Travel Guide Recommendation

If you're interested in visiting a few of these sites, the book A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy makes a good companion. Available both on Kindle or in paperback, the book has details about visiting many sites with visitor information for each including how to get there, hours, and what to see. The book also has maps and photos taken in Italy during the war.