Borderlands of Memory. Croatia (Istria-Kvarner) – Slovenia (Primorska) – Italy (Friuli-Venezia Giulia)

The Memory of War and Violence in the 20th-century northeastern Adriatic

Route and destinations of the study trip:
Lipa (Croatia) Gonars (Italy)
Basovizza (Italy) Risiera di San Sabba (Italy)
Kobarid (Slovenia) Pula (Croatia)
Log pod Mangartom (Slovenia) Rijeka (Croatia)
Redipuglia (Italy)  
Map Study Trip Route and Destinations

29 May 2012: Redipuglia (Italy)

Martina Draščić

Fogliano Redipuglia is located in Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the province of Gorizia, Italy. It is famous for its First World War military memorial. It is the largest of its kind in Italy with more than a hundred thousand victims buried there. On the opposite side, just across the street, there is the hill of St. Elias which used to be the actual graveyard for the victims before they were transferred to what is now a military memorial known for its great size - the grand staircase made of stone that forms the shrine of Redipuglia. Work on the memorial began in 1935 and it lasted for three years; the monument was inaugurated in September 1938. Close to the memorial park on the St. Elias hill is the musem Il Museo della Grande Guerra (The Museum of the Great War) where relics, weapons and objects from the battles are exposed.

Photo Impressions

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Travel Diary


Where the time dwells. Nights in Trieste are shorter than in Northern Europe, because they sink on the sea and disappear. The sky is darker here; the stars are bigger and brighter. The boundaries of light and darkness are everywhere. These boundaries can capture you without words, even though they’re very old and seem to bear a sign of fragility.

Divide et impera. That night in Trieste disappeared as usual very quickly, leaving nothing remarkable behind itself. With the light drizzle the journey went further to Redipuglia, leaving behind the smelling Trieste. Riding on a bus along the boundary between Italy and Slovenia you can see a peaceful landscape with fertile fields and scanty forests on limestone plateaux. But don’t dare to examine them too carefully – they scarcely hide their past and sites of memory.

During the journey it came to pass that we went twice through the town of Gorizia and its Slovenian sibling Nova Gorica, which parts belonged once to a single community and now they are divided between two countries. Gorizia is a town whose past shaped its present. It’s the place of memory, where the same past and shared identities are commemorated in two different ways, where the old struggle and rivalry are still alive.

Presente. First the memory was invisible that day, but slowly it changed its tactics to conquer your mind. In Redipuglia, not a single soul knows its other name Sredipolje, memory reins over the emerald green hills. Il sacrario militare di Redipuglia, one of the biggest military memorial sites, devoted to World War I was invisible under its glitter. But one step closer, just one step and you see it at once: the signs with the names of the killed soldiers can say more than just historical books.

Once upon a time there was a war and Luigi didn’t come back home, he was killed. Do you remember? The guy with cheerful eyes? And Antonio and Francesco, Enrico and Carlo? They were killed, but not forgotten. They are here now, “presente” in Redipuglia.
The sun is too bright now and Italy is too beautiful to commemorate the war.

Non presente. Trying to escape the sun I put on my glasses to see the cemetery in Gonars ...



Now this was a good morning! I had promised myself not to stay out too late like yesterday… I complied in my task and this morning I was up and fresh and ready to roll! Today’s breakfast was filled with conversation, impressions and a couple of morning grumpies who hadn’t my wits in forcing themselves to go to bed.

We then set off to Redipuglia, a WWI cemetery which covers a couple of kilometers in diameter. Here we met our tour guide Fabio Todero. It completely reflects the megalomaniacal ideologies of fascism because it was built in 1938 and opened by Mussolini himself. I could picture him giving a speech in front of this humongous monument. The size of it is probably unimaginable, but I shall only state that my un-athletic self never reached its top.

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Italian Sacrari Monuments - (Caporetto/Kobarid, Redipuglia, Oslavia and San Michele)

Aleksandar-Ivan Tatić

In 1938, Italy's fascist government built a huge sacrario on the site of its famous defeat in the Battle of Caporetto (Kobarid in Slovenian). (1) Situated on St. Anthony's hill, the monument was built in an octagonal shape and contains the remains of 7,014 fallen soldiers (2,748 of whom are unidentified) who were brought there from military graveyards situated along the upper Soča river region. The remains are located in niches placed along the first two circles, enclosed by a big dark serpentine tile (a variety of stone) upon which every soldier’s name and rank was carved. On the top of every arch, the word “Present” (2) was carved in stone. At the foot of a broad staircase a large stone plaque features the sentence: "In Honour of those who have fallen here as brave soldiers“. The monument gives an impression of solemnity and mystic thoughtfulness– with a white church at the centre, whose grey, roughly cut stone arches and staircases climb towards the facade and up the porch in front. (3) In the nearby Carso/Kras region, where the toughest battles on Italian territory took place, several monuments and memorials were built. Along with the Carso/Kras, one could say that the Soča valley is a huge site of memory with respect to the construction of Italian identity.

The monumental edifice that most accurately expresses the megalomania of the fascist government is Sacrario of Redipuglia. Finished in 1938, it was built as a replacement for an older monument situated on the opposite hill of Colle Sant' Elia. This first monument, however, was not deemed sufficient by the fascist authorities because it did not transmit the proper message of sacrifice for the nation. The project took years to complete, and thousands of remains were transported to a nearby new location. Redipuglia was a huge enterprise. An entire mountain was covered in pure, white marble stretching out about 100 meters wide. The remains of 100,000 soldiers were placed underneath, 60,000 of whom remained unidentified. As a monument, it shares many similarities with the mise en scène of the Altaredella patria in Rome in terms of celebrating sacrifice for the nation. As described by John Foot, the Redipuglia monument is “a staircase toward the sky(Foot, 2009). On every huge step, a total of 748 Presente inscriptions were carved in stone. For the fascists the dead were not gone, they were still present. At the base of the steps lies the tomb of the Duke d’Aosta, Commander of the Third Army, surrounded by the remains of his fellow generals, even though he died after the war. After World War Two the mausoleum was used as the setting for various nationalist meetings, especially for celebrations after Trieste was finally returned to Italy in 1954. When you find yourself in front of a place like this, overwhelming in its size and appearance, death takes on a whole new meaning. Today Redipuglia does not fulfil its function as a site of mourning or a site of awakening the national spirit. It does not inspire willingness to die for the fatherland anymore; however, it is still a fairly visited place, mainly for touristic and educational purposes.

The mausoleum in Oslavia was also built in 1938, designed by the Roman architect Ghino Venturi. It is situated on a patch of high ground between Gorizia and San Floriano which had been known as Hill 153 during World War One. The monument is in the shape of a fort with strong walls with a central tower on top of a crypt, with three smaller towers on the corners of a triangle. The four towers are all connected by underground tunnels. Unknown heroes are buried together in three large ossuaries (bone boxes) in the side towers, and in the middle tower lies a sarcophagus containing the bodies of thirteen recipients of the Golden Medal of Honour. (4)

San Michele Hill (elevation 275m, the highest point of the Kras plateau) was the scene of numerous battles between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies. Over the course of six battles fought on San Michele Hill, the Italian infantry lost 111,963 men who were either killed, wounded or missing. (5) This site of memory houses several monuments as well as remnants related to World War I. There is a museum of the six battles fought in this area and a tunnel dug in stone by the Third Army in 1916 and 1917. On the hilltop there is a large rock with a dedication to the Duke of Aosta, Commander of the Third Army. Nearby, there are many monuments, one of which is a memorial for the volunteers from Dalmatia and Venetia Julia who died there. There is also a monument for the Grenadiers brigade shaped as a burning grenade.

Places like this are strongly connected with the "death cult“: every bone of every body is important in this death and self-identification with the fallen composed to resemble a jigsaw puzzle . The fascist regime sougth to gather as many remains as possible, so that a stronger monumental effect could be achieved. Knowing that a thousand soldiers instead of only ten are buried under a single marble stone surely has a stronger impact on a person’s consciousness. The dead had to be unified in immense graves, which was only the first part of the authorities' goal in Mussolini’s Italy. The second part was to create a new collective remembrance and to impose it as the only, definitive historical truth. These are just some of the many sites of memory built by fascists in Italy and abroad, mainly throughout the 1930s. Fascism was at its zenith at this point, but it was also in need of mythological objects like the sacrio that might help to persuade the Italian nation to enter into new military engagements on the eve of World War Two.



1) A monument resembling a shrine.
(2) In Italian "Presente!“ – a common catchfrase on fascist monuments, as in Redipuglia for example.
(3) Description found in handout on WWI memorials situated outside Italy, issued by the Republic of Italy Ministry of Defence in 2007.
(4) Description found in handout on World War One memorials issued by the Republic of Italy Ministry of Defence in 2002.
(5) Data found in handout on World War One memorials issued by the Republic of Italy Ministry of Defence in 2002.


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Lipa Basovizza Kobarid Log pod Mangartom Redipuglia Gonars Risiera di San Sabba Pula Rijeka