Having completed a trip to Rome to drop off friends at Fiumicino Airport, with much of the day still ahead of us, we decided to take a bit of a detour on the way back, heading towards the coast in search of Anzio and Nettuno.
Even since Roman times it seems that Anzio has been a popular holiday destination, indeed both of the Emperors Caligula and Nero were born here. On the small headland of Capo D’Anzio we came across the viewpoint with a bronze statue of Nero.
To the right the remains of his luxurious villa can be seen in the cliff-top Archaeological Park of the Arco di Muto.
Here also stands Anzio’s Lighthouse looking out over the remains of the ancient Roman port.
However, with the decline of the Roman Empire the city fell into disrepair and by the Middle Ages Anzio had reverted to little more than a simple fishing village. It was not until the early 1900’s that Anzio once again developed into an elegant seaside resort with many edifices constructed in the Art Nouveau “Liberty” style of that period, such as the grand casino, known as the “Paradiso sul Mare”.
Today Anzio is a bustling holiday town, with many restaurants, pizzerias, bars and cafes and during the summer months visitors can enjoy many cultural events. There is a busy port packed with fishing boats, in addition to various ferries and hydrofoils which travel daily back and forth to the Pontine Islands. The colourful marina is filled with numerous yachts and pleasure craft.
The nearby town of Nettuno shares much of its history Anzio. From the 9th century the local inhabitants found themselves exposed to repeated attacks by the Saracens, so a more secure fortified settlement was established high on the cliff, where the historic centre still stands. The walled Fortress of Sangallo was built in 1503 to protect the city from more seaborne attacks.
Sadly Anzio and Nettuno are best remembered as being the landing point of the Allied British and American Forces in the WWII, during “Operation Shingle” in January 1944. The strategic blunders of this military exercise resulted in a the terrible loss of life of many of these soldiers who took part in the bloody battle along its shores, and indeed of many of Anzio’s innocent civilians.
The Anzio Beachhead Museum, or Museo dello Sbarco Alleato is housed within the 17th century Villa Adele, has of a fascinating collection of documents, battle plans, maps, photographs and assorted artefacts relating to “Operation Shingle”. At the junction with traffic lights outside Anzio train station, on foot take the hill down towards the town centre and the museum building is on the left-hand side in Via Villa Adele. Admission is Free. Disappointingly, on the day of our visit the museum was closed, so it may be wise to take note that the museum is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sunday. (This is Italy !!!)
In Anzio there are two British Cemeteries: The Beach Head War Cemetery
and the Commonwealth Anzio War Cemetery
We found ourselves deeply touched by our visit the former – so many graves of brave young men who sacrificed their lives to liberate Italy. The cemetery is meticulously maintained, and contains 2,312 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.
We eventually found that the 77-acre Sicily-Rome American Cemetery lies closer to Nettuno than Anzio. Here are the graves of 7861 Americans who died during the liberation of Italy and there is a memorial to the 3095 missing. The statue, by sculptor Paul Manship, is entitled “Brothers in Arms.” The cemetery is generally open daily to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sicily-Rome American Battle Monuments Commission website: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/sr.php
The town of Anzio was awarded the Gold Medal for Civil Merit because Anzio was the scene of violent clashes between opposing forces, suffered devastating bombings and fierce reprisals that caused the death of many citizens, including many children. The town and port was almost completely destroyed. The population was displaced, personal property abandoned, forced to seek refuge in neighbouring towns or in makeshift caves. The people endured extreme hardship and starvation. Yet the survivors responded with dignity and courage, confronting the horrors of war, to the return to peace and the difficult work of reconstruction.
There is a story often told of a little girl who was discovered alone and forlorn on one of Anzio’s beaches by Anglo-American soldiers. The soldiers not knowing her name called her “Angelita” and took her to a place of safety. There are various versions of the tale, but some say that during the German’s heavy bombing of Anzio, she was killed soon afterwards. The story has come to represent the suffering of innocent children during times of war. In Anzio a beautiful bronze statue has been erected in Angelita’s name, depicting a little girl surrounded by flying seagulls. You can see here:
Indeed there is so much of interest to discover in Anzio. It is an easy day trip from Tre Cancelle. For more information please see our Anzio /Nettuno web pages at : http://anzionettuno.shapcott-family.com/
All other photos by me © Louise Shapcott