Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, June 21, 2013

The World's Grandest World War I Memorial

Italy's Third Army Memorial, Redipuglia

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Straight-on View of Main Monument, Looking North

Here are three views of the Third Army Memorial at Redipuglia, Italy. In all my visits to the battlefields of the Great War, I found the complex shown here to be the most overwhelming. A comprehensive tour of this site is simply physically exhausting. The complex honors the nation's Third Army that bore the brunt of the 11 Isonzo Offensives launched by Supreme Commander Luigi Cadorna between 1915 and the fall of 1917. Third Army gained further distinction by not breaking during the Caporetto disaster of October 1917 and playing a leading role in the final victory offensive a year later.

Over 1000 feet long and averaging 400 feet in width, the massive main burial site rises on the southern edge of the Carso Plateau, just inland from the Gulf of Trieste. During the war, the Carso was a grim  battlefield, bitterly fought over. Here on monumental terraces are buried the remains of 100,187 fallen: 39,857 known and 60,330 unknown.
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Oblique View, with Key

At the main monument's lowest level stands the impressive resting place of the Duke of Aosta, commander of the Third Army and one of few Italian generals fondly remembered by his troops afterward. The design is intended to the impression of the deployment on the battlefield of a great military force with its leader at its head. The duke, who died in 1931, was laid here in accordance with his wish to lie amongst his soldiers. His grave is covered with a 75-ton monolith of porphyry.

From this level begins rising the terrace containing the remains of the 40,000 known soldiers who fell during the war and whose names are inscribed in individual plaques of bronze. On the topmost terrace, in two huge common graves that flank the votive chapel, lie the remains of 60,000 unknown soldiers.
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Overhead View, with Scale

At the summit of the monument rise three large bronze crosses, symbols at once of the ultimate sacrifice and of the hope of ascension to God. Behind the votive chapel is a small museum and gift shop and observation deck to view the Carso battlefield.

Just to the south lies the Hill of St. Elia, once the site of the old cemetery which was the original war memorial at Redipuglia. The hill has been transformed into a garden of remembrance and outdoor museum. On the main access path are sculptures honoring each branch of the Italian Army. The monument at its top, a simple monument created from the fragment of an ancient Roman column, commemorates the dead of all of Italy's wars. Walkways with military equipment on display lead the visitor to former communication trenches, caves, trenches, and machine gun and mortar positions of the original defense system created by the Austrian forces that stoutly defended the position. Adjacent to the hill is the Third Army House, which contains another excellent museum and restaurant. About one km west from Redipuglia is a well-maintained cemetery with the remains of 14,406 Austro-Hungarian soldiers who fell during the war and whose remains have been transferred from a number of graveyards in the area.

Sources: Italian Tourism Sites, Google Maps for the overhead view.

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