Trieste is a few km from the slovenian border. We crossed it one day, just to see once more, if necessary, that war is really a madness from any point of view and at any time……
We started this particular journey on italian ground, at Redipuglia War Memorial, a World War I memorial located on the Karst Plateau near the village of Fogliano Redipuglia. It is the largest war memorial in Italy and one of the largest in the world, housing the remains of 100,187 Italian soldiers killed between 1915 and 1917 in the eleven battles fought on the Karst and Isonzo front. The name Redipuglia seems to have origin from the slovenian word “sredij polije” meaning “middle earth”….
The Memorial of Redipuglia was built on the slopes of Mt. Sei Busi and designed by architect Giovanni Greppi and sculptor Giannino Castiglioni, it was opened on 18th September 1938 after ten years of construction. This massive monument, also known as Memorial “of the Hundred Thousands”, accommodates the remains of 100.187 soldiers who fell in battle in the surrounding areas; some of them had been initially buried on Colle Sant’Elia nearby.
Strongly advocated by the fascist regime, this monument intended to celebrate the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers as well as provide a dignified resting place to those fighters who could not be buried in the cemetery of the Undefeated. It is structured on three levels, symbolising the army descending from the sky, led by its Commander towards the Path of Heroes. On the top, three crosses evoke Mt. Golgotha and the crucifixion of Christ.
Leaving your car in the esplanade before the Memorial, the visit can kick off past the chain of the destroyer “Grado”, an Austro-Hungarian vessel seized by the Italians after the war. Heading towards the tomb, you walk along the “Path of Heroes”, a paved road lined by 38 bronze plaques indicating the villages on the Karst that were contended during the Great War.
At the end of this fascinating walk, you can see the majestic tombs of the generals, including the one of the Commander of the Third Army, Emanuele Filiberto Duke of Aosta, who had expressed his wish to be buried here. The tomb consists of a 75-tonne block of red marble from the Camonica Valley. On the side, there are the granite tombs of five generals: Antonio Chinotto, Tommaso Monti, Giovanni Prelli, Giuseppe Paolini and Fulvio Riccieri.
Behind the tombs, 22 large steps (2.5m high, 12m wide) rise, containing the remains of 39857 identified soldiers in alphabetical order. Each burial niche is surmounted by the wording “Present” and can be reached via the lateral stairs leading to the top. In the centre of the first large step, you can find the niche of the only woman buried here, a nurse named Margherita Kaiser Parodi Orlando, while the 22nd step accommodates the remains of 72 soldiers from the Navy and 56 from the Customs Corps.
At the end of the lateral stairs and the large steps, two large tombs covered with bronze plates contain the remains of over 60 thousand unknown soldiers. Past them, you can reach the top of the memorial and visit a small chapel which houses a “Deposition” and the panels of the Stations of the Cross by sculptor Castiglioni. Three bronze crosses stand above the chapel.
In the rear of the last large step there are two museum rooms: inside, you can admire pictures of the first Memorial of Redipuglia, documents, war relics and paintings by Ciotti that used to decorate the tomb of the Duke of Aosta, originally located in the chapel on the top of St. Elias Hill. On the top, at Height 89, you can see an Observatory and a model of the area showing the borderline as of 24th October 1917, the day of the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo.
After the visit, in what seemed a surreal mood, we crossed the border to Slovenia heading towards Caporetto (once on italian soil), Kobarid in slovenian, and after lunch we visited the local museum.
The Kobarid Museum, awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize for the year 1993, tactfully presents the most extensive story about the First World War on the Slovenian territory by means of photos, maps, models, weapons and personal items of soldiers as well as a documentary film. This story speaks about the ferocity of mountain warfare in the Julian Alps, about the Isonzo Front, and the 12th Isonzo Battle in particular. It was one of the greatest mountain encounters in the history of warfare in which the joint German and Austro-Hungarian forces defeated the Italians by employing new military tactics, pushing the enemy westwards all to the river Piave. The damnation of wars and suffering they bring to the mankind is at the heart of the Museum’s message.
This museum is devoted almost entirely to the Soča Front and the ‘war to end all wars’. Themed rooms describe powerfully the 29 months of fighting, and there’s a 20-minute video (available in 10 languages) that gives context. There are many photos documenting the horrors of the front, military charts, diaries and maps, and two large relief displays showing the front lines and offensives through the Krn Mountains and the positions in the Upper Soča Valley. The Krn Range Room looks at the initial assaults along the Soča River after Italy’s entry into the war in May 1915. The White Room describes the harsh conditions of war in the snowbound mountains. The Room of the Rear describes life behind the battle lines (hospitals, soldiers on leave from the trenches) – a sharp contrast to the Black Room’s photographs of the dead and dying. Finally, the Battle of Kobarid Room details the final offensive launched by the Austrian and German forces that defeated the Italian army.
Why Hemingway? The 1917 Battle of Caporetto, where the Italian retreat, was documented by Ernest Hemingway in his novel A Farewell to Arms.
There are also some very old finds on display in some rooms, found while excavating the ground after the battles, that tell the story of the region………..
….ages before others men fought and died on the same ground….
It was a stressful day, full of horrible images, but sadly I’m sure we’ll have to suffer many more wars before maybe, one day, human race will eventually learn the lesson….