Today Americans will celebrate Memorial Day and on June 2, Italians will celebrate Festa della Republica. Volumes have been written on World War II history in Italy. Here, Tour Italy Now will share some little known places and facts about this important time in our shared histories.
History is on every corner in Italy, from Etruscan relics to Renaissance treasure. Some history is more recent. The memories of World War II are still evident in many everyday places throughout Italy. Most of Rome was spared the German’s bombs. However, the cities of Milan and Florence suffered great damage.
The oldest bridge in Florence, built in Roman times and was long the only bridge to cross the Arno river and connect the two sides of Florence. Over the centuries, four other bridges were constructed along the length of the city and the river. There is a secret passageway that was built by Vasari for Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565 that links the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. During World War II, when Florence was controlled by The Germans, it was inside the Vasari corridor that the priceless art from the Ufizzi gallery was hidden. In 1944 when the allied forces liberated the city, the retreating Germans bombed every bridge except the Ponte Vecchio.
As the Axis forces advanced onto Italy, it’s artistic and cultural heritage was in grave danger. General Dwight Eisenhower tasked Americans to rescue, hide and protect some of the world’s most important pieces of art. Known as the Monuments Men, the group of about 400 service members and civilians worked with military forces to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage, and as the war came to a close, to find and return works of art and other items of cultural importance that had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping.
American War Cemeteries and Memorials
World War II too took an enormous toll on the country and the people defending it. The sacrifice of more than 15,000 U.S. servicemen and women are memorialized at The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial and The World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery.
The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial represent is located on the outskirts of the city of Florence. The servicemen buried there represent 39 percent of the U.S. Fifth Army burials originally made between Rome and the Alps. Most died in the fighting that occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines Mountains shortly before the war’s end. On May 2, 1945, the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.
The World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, which is located in between Rome and Naples. The majority of the men memorialized at this site died in the liberation of Sicily (July 10 to August 17, 1943); in the landings in the Salerno Area (September 9, 1943) and the heavy fighting northward; in the landings at Anzio Beach and expansion of the beachhead (January 22, 1944 to May 1944); and in air and naval support in the regions. Every year, Boy and Girl Scout troops made up of Rome and Naples international schools students, help prepare the grave sites and participate in official Memorial Day services.
These two official memorial sites are overseen by the U.S. Government agency, The American Battle Monuments Commission, established by the Congress in 1923.
Museum of Piana delle Orme
About 90 kilometers from Rome near the beaches where Allied forces landed in January 1944, there is an impressive collection of World War II ear vehicles, aircraft and memorabilia. A visit to the very well curated Museum of Piana delle Orme will give you rarely experienced insight into the Allied landing at Anzio and the battle of Montecassino.