The Twentieth Century Society

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Click to see full size Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © John East
Photo © John East
Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © Gavin Stamp

War memorials

Italy: Il Sacrario di Redipuglia

Architect: Giovanni Greppi
Location: Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy

This is Italy’s national site of mourning for her war dead. It is the best known of the several huge sacrari created in the 1930s to contain the bodies of the country’s huge number of casualties in the Great War, partly because it is the most accessible being near the coast on the way to Trieste rather than high in the mountains, but also because there are the most burials here. Redipuglia is the last resting place of the remains of 100,187 Italian servicemen (and one woman: a Red Cross nurse), of whom almost two thirds – 60,330 – are unknown: all victims of the twelve Battles of the Isonzo. The Redipuglia sacrario, begun in 1935 and completed in 1938, is also the masterpiece created by the collaboration of the architect Giovanni Greppi and the sculptor Giannino Castiglione. As at Monte Grappa [see below], the overwhelming emotional effect is not created by buildings, but by the enhancement of the landscape with masonry features, with terraces, steps and paths. It has been described as “archi-scultura” and is a combined work of art, architecture and landscape design of remarkable originality, almost without parallel.

The mass-grave or ossuary is essentially a giant staircase, or a sequence of terraces, laid out on the western slope of a gently sloping hill – Mont Sei Busi – which was bitterly fought over. Beyond, to the east, lies the notorious Carso plateau, for whose control so many died. From the entrance, across which lies an anchor chain from the destroyer Grado (built as the Triglav for the Austria-Hungarian navy in 1915). From here, an axial route across a large, rising, stone-flagged area (with inscriptions on the ground in superb lettering) focuses on a large cube of porphyry raised above a few steps. This is the tomb of the Duca D’Aosta, who died in 1931 and wished to be buried with his soldiers. Born in 1869 in Genoa, the son of Amadeus, King of Spain, and the grandson of Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy, the Duke of Aosta had commanded the Third Army and had acquitted himself well after Caporetto by organising an orderly retreat. Just behind is a row of five smaller granite monoliths, which are the tombs of some of his generals. And behind these, framed by staircases at either side, rises the series of 22 terraces, gently tapering on plan so as to increase the impression of distance. These staircases are a crucial part of the composition; they introduce movement and make the monument dynamic, a setting for the solemn rituals intended by the Fascist state. The wall supporting each step is faced with bronze tablets bearing names and above, carved onto the topmost stones, the word PRESENTE over and over and over again, as if answered by those interred here to their commander: a military parade of ghosts, a roll-call of the dead. This treatment is repeated twenty-two times all the way to the top of the slope where, in the centre, three simple crosses rise into the sky. These stand over the cappella votive, whose entrance is in a sunken area, hidden from distant view. And either side are huge bronze doors to the ossuaries within which are the trentamila militi ignoti.

Beyond, an axial path leads to the circular Osservatorio, attained by a flight of steps and affording a view over the surrounding country over which so much blood was shed. Nearby are many individual and regimental memorials.

Giovanni Greppi (1884-1960) was born in Milan, trained at Academia di Belle Arti di Brera, graduating in 1907, and then worked in the office of Raimondo D’Aronco; he designed a company town for Dalmine and the (Milan) headquarters of Banca Popolaire di Milano. Giannino Castiglioni (1884-1971), sculptor, painter and medallist, was also born in Milan and trained at the Academia di Brera, graduating in 1906. Their partnership was also responsible for the Sacrario at Caporetto (now in Slovenia), a large arcuated tiered polygonal structure with an asymmetrical placed steeple above the chapel.

Gavin Stamp

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