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

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gorizia: Strategic City on the Italian Front

Gorizia (Center of Map) Was Key to the Isonzo Sector
Italian Offensives Directed Toward Trieste Needed to Advance Across the Carso Plateau;
Gorizia and Its Fortified Surrounding Hills Protected the Northern Flank of the Carso

The city of Gorizia lies on the River Isonzo at the foot of the Julian Alps and has ancient origins. It was the capital city of a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and flourished until the outbreak of the First World War, which reduced it to rubble. It was captured by troops of the Italian Army in August 1916 and became part of postwar Italy. Occupied by Slovene partisans at the end of WWII, the city was returned to Italian rule in 1947. The eastern suburbs, the part now called Nova Gorizia, was ceded to Yugoslavia and today lies in Slovenia.

War correspondent E. Alexander Powell described Gorizia and the surrounding area:

At the northern end of the Carso, in an angle formed by the junction of the Wippach and the Isonzo, the snowy towers and black-brown roofs of Gorizia rise above the foliage of its famous gardens. The town, which resembles Homburg or Baden-Baden and was a popular Austrian resort before the war, lies in the valley of the Wippach (Vippacco the Italians call it), which separates the Carso from the southernmost spurs of the Julian Alps. Down this valley runs the railway leading to Trieste, Laibach, and Vienna. It will be seen, therefore, that Gorizia is really the gateway to Trieste, and a place of immense strategic importance. On the slopes of the Carso, four or five miles to the southwest of the town, rises the enormously strong position of Monte San Michele, and a few miles farther down the Isonzo, the fortified hill-town of Sagrado. On the other side of the river, almost opposite Gorizia, are the equally strong positions of Podgora and Monte Sabotino. Their steep slopes were slashed with Austrian trenches and abristle with guns which commanded the roads leading to the river, the bridge-heads, and the town. To take Gorizia until these positions had been captured was obviously out of the question. Here, as elsewhere, Austria held the upper ground. In a memorandum issued by the Austrian General Staff to its officers at the beginning of the operations before Gorizia, the tremendous advantage of the Austrian position was made quite clear: "We have to retain possession of a terrain fortified by Nature. In front of us a great watercourse; behind us a ridge from which we can shoot as from a ten-story building."

Italian Troops Enter Gorizia in 1916

The center of the old town is dominated by the castle, built sometime after 1000 AD by the Counts of Gorizia on the site of a prehistoric"Castelliere" and where later a Roman lookout tower was added. In
Slovene "Gorica" means "small mountain" referring to the castle hill. The castle today holds a museum of history and art as well as a First World War Museum.

In 1500 Gorizia came into the possession of the Hapsburg monarchy to whose fortunes and misfortunes it remained tied, except for the brief period of the Venetian domination and Napoleonic occupation, until the end of World War I, when it became Italian.

During the Great War, Gorizia was a strategic objective of the Italian Army and was the object of many assaults before it was finally captured on 8 August 1916. The nearby Carso Plateau was the site of tens of thousands of deaths for the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies. The city was abandoned by the Italians during the Battle of Caporetto and retaken late in 1918 at the time of the Armistice.

The Castle Has Dominated the Gorizia Skyline for a Millennium

Today Gorizia is an industrial, commercial, transport, and tourist center. Manufacturing includes textiles, leather goods, processed food, and machines.

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