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|Quel monte, a cui Cassino è nella costa,|
Fu frequentato già in su la cima
Dalla gente ingannata e mal disposta.
Ed io son quel che su vi portai prima
Lo nome di Colui che'n terra addusse
La verita, che tanto ci sublima;
E tanta grazia sovra me rilusse,
Ch'io ritrassi le ville circostanti
Dall'empio culto che'l mondo sedusse.
(Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXII)
That mountain on whose slope Cassino stands |
Was frequented of old upon its summit
By a deluded folk and ill-disposed;
And I am he who first up thither bore
The name of Him who brought upon the earth
The truth that so much sublimateth us.
And such abundant grace upon me shone
That all the neighbouring towns I drew away
From the impious worship that seduced the world.
(Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
A letter from a friend at Naples procured me a princely lodging and reception, among the Benedictines at St. Germano. (..) The celebrated monastery of Monte Casino is situated on a high mountain, to which an easy ascent two or three miles in length has been made. St. Benedict now claims the honour which were formerly paid to the heathen deity Apollo, to whom a temple was once erected on this eminence. To this structure many of the granite columns dispersed about the present church and cloister may probably have belonged. The only fragment of antiquity, which I could perceive on this mountain, was a portion of wall, consisting of massive stones without cement.
The monastery is a spacious but irregular building, the exterior of which is by no means prepossessing on which account the first view of the cloisters and staircase is rendered more striking. One of these cloisters is decorated with colossal statues, in marble of kings, princes, and popes; but a single niche is yet vacant, for the first personage whom the monks may judge worthy of so exalted a post. The church is of a middling size; though the variety and abundance of marbles, with which it is encrusted, give it a rich appearance. The pavement, also, is inlaid with marble. The ceiling is painted by Luca Giordano, and is not without merit. Over the front door is a large picture, by the same artist, and in the church several by Solimene and others. In the choir and sacristy are some good specimens of carving in wood. (..) On one of the doors all the possessions, funds, etc. belonging to the monastery, are engraven in square compartments with letters of silver; a work which was performed at Constantinople. (..) The greater part of the mountain on which the monastery is situated exhibits a barren aspect, and produces only wild grass with dwarf shrubs, but near the summit it is enlivened with a few forest trees.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - Journey from Rome to Beneventum on the Appian Way in 1789 - 1819.
Museo dell'Abbazia di Montecassino: one of two identical floor mosaic panels depicting a hunting dog (XIth century - from the Church)
We may safely say that the whole of the Middle Ages were illumined - as by some solitary beacon light - by Monte Cassino. To this day, the treasures which her archives disclose to us testify to the learning and the industry of her monks.
Ferdinand Gregorovius - Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery - 1857 - translation by D. Roberts
If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men's lives count infinitely more and the buildings must go.
General Dwight Eisenhower's order to troops in the Italian Campaign (1943-1945)
The bitterness and fierceness of the fighting now going on both in the bridgehead at Anzio and at the Cassino front surpass all previous experience.
Sir Winston Churchill to the Commons - 22 February 1944
20 March 1944: Churchill questioned the bombing of the Abbey in a telegram to Gen. Alexander: "I wish you would explain to me why this passage by Cassino Monastery Hill, all on a front of 2 or 3 miles is the only place which you must keep butting at... It seems very hard to understand why this most strongly defended point is the only passage forward." Alexander replied: "Along the whole main battle front from Adriatic to south coast there is only Liri Valley leading direct to Rome which is suitable terrain for deployment of our superiority in artillery and armour. The main highway known as route six is [the] only road except cart-tracks which lead from the mountains where we are into Liri valley over Rapido river and this exit into plain is blocked and dominated by Monte Cassino on which stands the Monastery.
From the International Churchil Society website
The Abbey was destroyed and most of its treasures which the Germans had moved out of the monastery were subsequently looted. The reconstruction of the Abbey began in 1945 and it was completed in 1964 when its church was reconsecrated by Pope Paul VI.
Rocca Janula (reconstructed after the 1944 bombings, exception made for part of the main tower)
After leaving Aquino there is nothing more to be seen, till, on descending to the plain, and turning the shoulder of the hills, the great convent of Monte Cassino and the castle of Rocca Janula below it are discovered upon the right. (..) The Great Monastery of Monte Cassino is now brought within a few hours of Rome by the station of S. Germano on the Naples railway. Though it is bereaved of its former splendours, strangers are still hospitably received within its walls. (..) As we come nearer, we see the splendid old castle of Rocca Janula, half-way up the ascent, surrounded with towers, embattled and crenellated, and connected by a long line of turretted wall with the town of San Germano at its feet.
Augustus J.C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
The castle was named after a temple to Janus upon which it was built. Janus was the Roman god of gates and doors and the hill controlled the "gate" to Latium (see a typical bust of Janus).
Illustrations from Hare's book
San Germano is wonderfully picturesque. It occupies the site of the Roman Casinum. Its modern name of S. Germano is derived from a holy bishop of Capua, a contemporary and friend of S. Benedict. (..) Donkeys may be obtained, if desired, for the ascent to the Monastery. The steep and stony path winds above the roofs of the houses, leaving to the right the ruins of the castle of Rocca Janula which was twice besieged and taken by Frederick II. At each turn of the path the view is fresh; at each it is more beautiful. Hare
The castle was built by the Benedictine monks in the late Xth century. It was redesigned and strengthened in the XIIth century and in the early XVth century. In the XVIIIth century it became a possession of King Charles of Bourbon.
A section of ancient Via Latina Nova (aka Casilina)
The original name of this place was Casinum. It was the last city of Latium, and became a Roman colony in the year of Rome 442, under the consulate of M. Valerius Maximus and P. Decius, 311 years before Christ. Afterwards it was constituted a municipium, and is thus commemorated by Frontinus: "Casinum muro ducta colonia, lege triumvirali in jugeribus est adsignata; milites legionarii deduxerunt". The situation of the old was higher than that of the modern city, being built on the declivity of the hill, commanding a more delightful view, and enjoying a much purer air. The modern city was probably founded on the present site, that it might obtain the protection of the castle, during the many feuds in which it was engaged. Few places are more abundantly supplied with limpid streams, which gush in innumerable places from the rock. To this peculiarity Silius alludes,
"Nymphisque habitata Casini rura":
as well as to the continual fogs, with which the place is still enveloped, "Nebulosi rura Casini." Colt Hoare
The Roman town was bisected by Via Latina Nova; it had two gates: one towards the north and Rome and one towards the south and Capua. The surrounding land was assigned to veterans; the forum of the town was most likely outside the walls in the plain in order to house a cattle market.
Mausoleum of Ummidia Quadratilla
Numerous antiquities here claim the attention of the traveller. Many of these are in good preservation, particularly a temple, which is built of a quadrangular form, with four large niches or recesses, and a cupola. (..) A modern chapel, occupied by a hermit, is built over this curious monument, and entirely conceals the exterior. Colt Hoare
The almost total destruction of the church during WWII led to unearthing the original Roman walls of the mausoleum. Its upper level, of which no trace remains, consisted of a large podium overlooking the Via Latina Nova, similar to those of tombs along Via Appia. The discovery in 1757 near the building of the inscription UMMIDIA C.F. QUADRATILLA AMPHITEATRUM ET TEMPLUM CASINATIBUS SUA PECUNIA FECIT led to identifying it as the mausoleum of the local benefactress Ummidia Quadratilla, daughter of Gaius Durmius Ummidius, consul and governor of Syria under Emperor Claudius, as reported in an inscription seen by Colt Hoare at Montecassino.
Interior of the lower part of the mausoleum
It is constructed with massive stones, united without cement, and the pavement is composed of similar materials. Colt Hoare
Above the Amphitheatre is the little Church of the Crocifisso occupying an ancient tomb which is shown as that of Ummidia Quadratilla, whose life and death are celebrated by Pliny the younger ("Ummidia Quadratilla is dead, having lived almost to her eightieth year. She enjoyed till her last sickness an uninterrupted state of health, with a strength and firmness of body unusual even to matrons in their prime. She has left a will that does her great credit, having disposed of two thirds of her estate to her grandson, and the rest to her granddaughter." - Ep. vii 24). The building is cruciform with a dome in the centre, and much resembles the tomb of Galla Placidia at Ravenna. The blocks of stone in the entrance-walls are colossal. (..) The hermit who takes care of the tomb has a school above it. Hare
Immediately below is the amphitheatre which is likewise in a tolerable state of preservation, the outward circle being complete. This structure was raised with its back towards the declivity of a hill; and the whole is sunk below the level of the ground. The number of entrances is six; the proportions are not large; and the style of architecture of an inferior kind, being an indifferent opus reticulatum. The smallness of the circuit, and the mediocrity of the workmanship, are accounted for by an inscription, which was lately found. Hence it appears that this building, as well as a temple, were erected by an individual, Umidia Quadratilla, at her own expense. Colt Hoare
Amphitheatre: (above) southern section; (below) interior and northern entrance
Archaeological excavations in the site of the Roman town were conducted in 1936-1940 by Gianfilippo Carettoni, after whom the local archaeological museum is named. The amphitheatre could house an audience of 4,000 in twelve rows of seats.
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseum of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Albano
The Amphitheatre of Verona
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Alba Fucens
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Arles in France
The Amphitheatre of Bordeaux in France
The Amphitheatre of Nîmes in France
The Amphitheatre of Périgueux in France
The Amphitheatre of Saintes in France
The Amphitheatre of Toulouse in France
The Amphitheatre(s) of Carnuntum in Austria
The Amphitheatre of Trier in Germany
The Amphitheatre of London
The Amphitheatre of Caerleon in Wales
The Amphitheatre of Italica in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Merida in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Tarragona in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Caesarea Maritima in Israel
The Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thapsus in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Uthina (Oudna) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
A small portion only remains of the theatre which was of brick, with the opus reticulatum. The fragments do not indicate great magnificence. A portion of one of the corridors still exists. It was narrow, and decorated within with semicolumns of brick, about five feet asunder, which were probably covered with stucco. This structure commands a delightful view. Above it are some rude fragments of walls, etc. belonging to the ancient city, which occupied the declivity of the mountain. Colt Hoare
The excavations at the theatre led to some very interesting findings which are on display at the museum, but the construction of a modern seating section has deprived the site of its evocativeness.
Museum of Cassino - from the theatre: (left) statue of a man in heroic nudity (see that of Cartilius Poblicola at Ostia in the same posture); (centre/right) two sides of the triangular marble base of a chandelier depicting a satyr and a maenad (Augustan period); see a similar base at Palestrina
The most impressive exhibit of the archaeological museum which was completed in 1979 near the mausoleum of Ummidia Quadratilla is a statue of an adult man in a pose which was popular in the Augustan age and which combines the Greek predilection for nudity with the Roman one for the portrait of an actual person (see the statue of Marcus Nonius Balbus, an old man in heroic nudity at Herculaneum). The statue was on display in the Archaeological Museum of Naples until a few years ago. The pedestal of the statue was not found so we can only suppose that it portrayed a member of the gens Ummidia. The museum houses also some exhibits from Samnite tombs in the environs of Cassino which are shown in the introductory page.
Museum of Cassino: (above) from the theatre; decorative marble relief (Ist century AD) and samples of coloured marbles which were found during the 1936 excavations; (below-left) capital from the mausoleum: (below-right) Ist century BC relief which was reused in a local church (S. Maria del Riparo)
The decoration of the theatre was very elaborate with mouldings showings a variety of patterns which could well be used to illustrate a classic architecture manual. The fragments of many coloured marbles which were found in the seating section are another sign of the luxury of the decoration.
Museum of Cassino - other exhibits: (left) funerary inscription celebrating P. Tampius Verecundus by his daughter and his son; its side decoration is shown in the image used as background for this page; (right-above) fragment of sarcophagus depicting a theatrical mask (or Medusa) and a cupid riding a sea monster; (right-below) IInd century AD marble vase with zodiac signs from Aquinum, a Roman town west of Cassino
Within the town of S. Germano I observed only two inscriptions, the rest which were discovered having been removed to the convent of Monte Casino. Here also are preserved several inscriptions, which vere found at S. Germano: the greater portion of them being sepulchral, and possessing no unusual variety of style, are not worthy of record. Colt Hoare
Museum of Cassino: funerary bed with bone decoration from Aquinum (see a similar one in a page on Roman funerary rites)
The legs were decorated with small winged victories; the decoration of the fulcra (headrests) begins with a male portrait, then depicts a female centaur and it ends with the head of a swan, the bird sacred to Venus. You may wish to see some bronze fulcra at Marseille and Rabat.
Amphitheatre of Capua
Other monuments of Roman Capua
Ancient Capua at New Capua
Grand Tour Travellers' Formia
Formia - Other Monuments
Grand Tour Travellers' Gaeta
Gaeta - Churches