A short distance from the Catacombs of St Callixtus stands the Mausoleo delle Fosse Ardeatine, which marks one of the darkest episodes of the German occupation of Rome during the second world war. The mausoleum is built on the site of the massacre of 335 innocent civilians, who were killed on March 24th 1944, in reprisal for the deaths of 33 Germans.
In the afternoon of March 23rd, a group of German soldiers were marching back to their barracks in the centre of the city when a bomb exploded killing 32 of them. The bomb had been hidden in a rubbish cart by members of the resistance movement. Hitler, on hearing the news, ordered that 10 Italians be shot in reprisal for each German that had died. He also insisted that the executions take place within twenty-four hours of the initial attack. The Gestapo had to find 320 men, but this was soon increased to 330 when another German soldier died from his injuries. The victims, none of whom had anything to do with the ambush, included criminals, professionals, priests, foreigners and a fourteen-year old boy.
On March 24th the victims were transported to caves on the outskirts of the city where they were shot in groups of five. In the end, 335 were shot, for the authorities had rounded up five men too many. The Germans then blew up the entrances to the caves, thereby burying the bodies. The dead were exhumed and (most of them) identified soon after the German retreat in June, 1944.
There are wreaths, commemorating people who died in the massacre, attached to buildings throughout the centre of Rome.
Blogging about Rome, its history, art and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian, writer and guide