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A day trip to Montecassino and Sperlonga
(Click on the images for a larger version.)
Montecassino, at the top of this hill in the town of Cassino, is a monastery founded by St. Benedict in 529 AD.
montecassino roman walls
The monastery was built over the remnants of a Roman fortification, including a temple to Apollo that was used until the monastery was built. These stones are some of the original Roman walls.
montecassino defense
Montecassino has been destroyed four times.

The location of Montecassino provides a strategic position
view from montecassino
and an excellent site for artillery observers, which led to it's most recent destruction on February 15, 1944 in only a few hours by the United States Air Force bombers.

(This bombing was and is still controversial, as it was never clear whether the Germans were using the Abbey or not. It was clear that they were not living there and that to save the Abbey, the German commander forbid his troops from occupying it. Once the Abbey was destroyed, the Germans no longer had a reason not to occupy it and thus began a long series of battles that ended four months later.)
entrance montecassino
Fernando, Ilaria's father, organized the trip and drove us the 1 hr 30 minutes to Cassino. Alessandro, Ilaria's friend from high school, also came along.

It was cold when we arrived on the top of the hill and walked towards the entrance
door montecassino
with it's deceptively small door.
gianluca montecassino
If you want to get anything done in Italy, you've gotta know someone on the inside. Unlike America (and perhaps from necessity), Italians tend to have many friends all over the country. Fernando is friends with Gianluca, who built the security system for the Abbey. Gianluca gave us an all access tour including lots of things normal people don't get to see. Thanks Gianluca!

(Ilaria had the camera for this album and was afraid it was rude to take Gianluca's picture. At least you can see the back of his head here.)
montecassino cloister
The entrance of the monastery opens into a cloister
montecassino cloister mosaic
with nice mosaics.
montecassino cloister  2
I really don't understand how Italy can afford to maintain (and rebuild) these huge, beautiful religious places. I've always thought life as a monk would be a nice way to go. If you can deal with the solitude, you sure have a beautiful, peaceful place to live and think about stuff.
montecassino sematary
From the monastery, you can see a large cemetery where more than 1,000 Polish soldiers who died during the liberation of the Abbey are buried.
montecassino chapel
The inside of the chapel was incredibly ornate - so many colors of marble.
montecassino organ
The monks sit on these carved wooden chairs surrounded by giant paintings and a gold organ covered with marble statues.
montecassino bible
And the man doing the preachin or reading gets to use this ancient hand written Bible.
montecassino stairs
Gianluca unlocked a gate by the alter that led down this amazing staircase (which unfortunately was too dark for the camera to bring out the all the amazingness). This part of the church, the Crypt, is a cave cut down into the mountain rocks.
montecassino stairs 2
That's a little more like it.
montecassino monk room
Beside the altar was this room where the monks hang out before the service (the Sacristy). Inside this room there was a giant glass door.
montecassino old alter
Behind the glass door was the Chapel of Relics. This roomed survived the bombing.
montecassino old alter 2
The stuff in here (including the nice wooden cross) is from around (1396-1414). The room is kept ice-cold (actually probably around 4-10C) to preserve the stuff in the room,
montecassino old alter 3
including the random trinkets and body parts of saints (they don't call it the Chapel of Relics for nothin). Here are St. Benedict's arm bones.
montecassino outside 1
We left the church for some fresh air
montecassino outside 2
and to walk to another section of the building.
montecassino jewish
In this part of the building, we were led by an Italian speaking guide. I couldn't understand what she was saying. But I asked her to stop in this room and explain why-in-the-world this stained-glass was in a Catholic building.

It was donated to the monastery in memory of a Jewish brigade that fought in Italy.
montecassino mary
This section of the monastery had some of the real old stuff including this statue of Mary
montecassino roman
and these pieces that survived from Roman life on this mountain.
montecassino roman 2
Romans etched many messages into stone, which has much better durability over time than our paper books and magnetic hard drives.
montecassino roman radio
But the Romans weren't afraid of technology. As you can see, Marconi wasn't the first Italian to do it - it was the Romans that invented the Radio.
montecassino library
The last stop on our visit was the library,
montecassino library 2
full of books from the early days of printing, including Gutenberg books.
montecassino book 2
Now that is a book.

Excerpted from: From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun, 2000.
"As a physical object, the Humanist book differed in several respects from those that now overcrowd the city dweller's shelves. To 16C scholars our usual octavo volume, although another Aldine invention, seemed miniaturized. Theirs was a thick and heavy folio measuring 12 by 15 inches or more. Folio means that the large printer's sheet of thick rag paper was folded once to provide four pages. These were bound in leather- or vellum-covered boards -- real boards, of wood, held shut by a metal clasp at midpoint of the vertical; cloth binding is only 175 years old."
montecassino book 1
A monk friend of Gianluca's, who was 80 going on 60, showed us many of the books.
montecassino book 3
After mentioning the value of each book (always over a million), he flipped through the pages with such excitement (and lack of gentleness!) that all of us were feeling a little nervous.
montecassino globe
Finally, before we left he showed us this old globe, which had only water where Australia belongs (Australia's wasn't known by Europeans until 1606).

(Short Note: the globe, books, and other valuables survived the bombing because a German Lieutenant allowed them to be transferred to the Vatican before the bombing.)
I gotta admit, on the way home when Fernando stopped to show me this little town I was tired of touristing and really just wanted to go home and rest my brain.
sperlonga windy
It was extremely windy there.
sperlonga 2
But once we got out of the car and I saw Sperlonga a little closer, I was happy he stopped.
sperlonga well
Italy has so many of these beautiful little coastal towns
sperlonga tree
that look right out of a movie
sperlonga path
with their narrow walkways
sperlonga stairs
and their buildings that follow the contours of the ocean cliff.
sperlonga wall painting 1
But each little town has something
sperlonga wall painting 2
passed down through the ages
sperlonga wall painting 3
that makes it unique.
sperlonga quarry
And as we left, I saw the mountain that gave its beauty for the beauty of the city.
sperlonga quarry 2
It makes me sad every time I see one of these mountains destroyed for the rocks they hold, but I do like the stone buildings of Italy.
That nite, Fernando lit a fire for us to take some of the chill out of the humid Latina air.
fireplace 2
Ilaria looked on like she did as a little girl. Then she and I watched a Roberto Benigni movie and went to sleep.