Memory as Intangible Heritage: WW2 Cemeteries in Cassino and Montecassino

Memory as Intangible Heritage: WW2 Cemeteries in Cassino and Montecassino

Arturo Gallozzi (University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, Italy), Marcello Zordan (University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, Italy) and Michela Cigola (University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6936-7.ch006
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This chapter describes the documentation and valorization of a special architectural heritage: the WW2 Cemeteries in Cassino & Montecassino territory. This is for the purpose of preserving and transmitting the memories of different people. Even today, these cemeteries are maintained by Polish, English, German, French and Italian governments and visited by many people of various nationalities. Our research is orientated to not only celebrate the sacrifice and identity of the soldiers who lost their lives in the war events, but also as a call for the reconciliation of peoples and the construction of a culture of peace. The cemeteries are studied by an architectonical point of view. Design aspects and aspects concerning the representation of projects are highlighted based on the documents found.
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War Cemeteries In Cassino And Montecassino Area

This area was crossed by the defensive German Gustav line that divided Italy in two parts, from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic. From 10 September 1943 to 18 May 1944 was the center of the battles of Cassino and Montecassino, culminating on February 15, 1944 with the destruction of the Abbey of Montecassino, and March 15, 1944 with the destruction of Cassino city. Victory to the Allies, employed in the area alongside Polish and Anglo-American troops came with a significant human toll on civilian and military lives. Soldiers of thirteen different nationalities participated in the Cassino battles. When the war ended it was estimated that 30,000 had died.

Figure 1.

War cemeteries in Cassino and Montecassino Area, close to the German defensive Gustav line


After the battles the bodies of soldiers killed in action were buried in makeshift spaces close to the combat areas in temporary cemeteries organised by nationality. The nations that took part in Montecassino battle decided that men who died on the Gustav line should be buried in the places where they had fought and died, and memorial shrines were to commemorate these locations. The establishment of these military war cemeteries with monumental characteristics bestowed a definitive structure on the territory, in perpetual memory of the fallen. The shrines were designed by some of the best designers of the time; they were able to significantly shape the sites, creating monumental scenarios of symbolic and scenic interest, despite being singularly heterogeneous in terms of style and typology.


German Cemetery

The German cemetery is near the village of Caira, very close to Cassino. Cassino, in Caira It is one of the major German war cemeteries in Italy. The guidelines for the creation of German cemetery was identified by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge - VDK. It was a is a private organisation that is dedicated to identifying and maintaining the graves of fallen Germans abroad. It was founded in 1919 after the end of First World War; from the early 1930s it has built many German war cemeteries. Construction of German cemetery began in 1959 under the direction of Robert Tischler, a landscape architect. From 1926 to 1959 Tischler held the position of chief architect of the VDK. In this role, he designed a number of German war cemeteries. The cemetery was completed in 1964 by Gerd Offenberg, who succeeded Robert Tischler as chief architect at the VDK.

Figure 2.

German war cemetery in 1965. (Courtesy of VDK Archive)


Key Terms in this Chapter

Montecassino Abbey: Founded by St. Benedict in 529 on Roman ruins. Montecassino lived the most prestigious period of its history in the eleventh century, with the election in 1058 of Abbot Desiderius of Benevento who became Pope Victor III (1086-1087). Each subsequent historical period left its mark on the monastery. On 15 February 1944 the abbey was completely destroyed by the allies’ bombs. Reconstruction started the following year and was officially completed in 1964.

Cultural Heritage: Cultural heritage sites include hundreds of historic buildings and town sites, important archaeological sites, and works of monumental sculpture or painting. We can consider tangible cultural heritage: architecture, paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and objects of the decorative arts (furniture, glassware, metalware, textiles, ceramics, and so on).

Landscape: Landscape means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.

War Cemetery: A burial place for soldiers of the armed forces who died during military campaigns or operations.

Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge: The German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge in German) is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of German war graves in Europe and North Africa. It was founded as a private charity in 1919.

Commonwealth of Nations: (Formerly the British Commonwealth), is an intergovernmental organisation of 53 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.

Cosmatesque Pavements: The Cosmatesque school began in XII century, and was chiefly active in Rome during the Romanesque period. The Cosmati masters’ work featured square or rectangular decorated panels set off by ribbons of mosaic wrapped around porphyry disks to produce geometric designs. Cosmati work was applied most extensively for the decoration of church floors, but was also used to architectural surfaces and to church furniture. The name derives from the Cosmati, the leading family workshop of marble craftsmen in Rome who created such geometrical decorations. The first examples of Cosmatesque pavements were that of the basilica of Montecassino in XI century. Currently it is covered by another marble inlay floor, but it is drawn in some engraved from XVIII century.

Artistic and Historic Heritage: All works of art and monuments, movable and immovable, which have a recognized artistic value or a particular historical importance.

WW2: Conflict that involved virtually every part of the world during the years 1939–45. Principal belligerents were the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the Allies: France, Great Britain, United States, Soviet Union. The 40,000,000 or 50,000,000 deaths incurred in Second World War make it the bloodiest conflict, as well as the largest war, in history.

Cassino: Cassino is a modern town between Rome and Naples. It has been completely rebuilt after the destruction during the World War II on 15 March 1945. Cassino is located just below Montecassino Abbey. The history of the city of Cassino and Abbey are very closely linked. The historical center of Cassino and its monuments (Roman, Medieval, Renaissance) was erased by the WW2 bombing. Any traces of its past were lost.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC): is an intergovernmental organisation of six independent member states whose principal function is to mark, record and maintain the graves and places of commemoration of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars. The Commission was founded by Fabian Ware and constituted through Royal Charter in 1917 named the Imperial War Graves Commission.

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