If you're traveling between Rome and Naples, the beautiful Abbey of Montecassino is well worth a visit. The Abbazia di Montecassino, perched on the mountain top, is a working monastery and pilgrimage site but is open to visitors. Monte Cassino is famous as the scene of a huge battle near the end of World War II in which the abbey was completely destroyed from the bombing but it has since been rebuilt.
Montecassino Abbey History
The Abbey on Monte Cassino was originally founded by Saint Benedict in 529, making it one of Europe's oldest monasteries. The abbey was built on remnants of Roman fortifications near the Temple of Apollo. The monastery became known as a center of culture and art.
Montecassino Abbey was destroyed by the Longobards around 577, rebuilt, and again destroyed in 833 by the Saracens. In the tenth century the monastery was again opened and was filled with beautiful manuscripts, mosaics, and works of enamel and gold. After being destroyed by an earthquake in 1349, it was reconstructed again with many additions.
During World War II the monastery became a refuge for civilians. On February 15, 1944, the monastery was bombed and completely destroyed, killing many civilians. The abbey was carefully reconstructed following the original plan and today it is hard to tell that it has been destroyed and rebuilt four times. For more about Monte Cassino and other sites in World War II, see the book A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy.
Highlights of a Visit to Montecassino Abbey
The entrance cloister was the site of the temple of Apollo, made into an oratory by Saint Benedict. Next guests enter Bramante cloister, a built in 1595. In the center is an octagonal well and from the balcony there are great views of the valley. At the bottom of the staircase is a statue of Saint Benedict, dating from 1736 and not destroyed in the bombing.
At the basilica entrance are three bronze doors, the middle one dating from the 11th century. Inside the basilica are amazing frescoes and mosaics. The Chapel of Relics holds reliquaries of several saints. Downstairs is the crypt, built in 1544 and carved into the mountain. The crypt is filled with stunning mosaics.
Montecassino Abbey Museum
Before the museum entrance, there are medieval capitals and remains of columns from Roman villas and a medieval cloister with remains of a 2nd century Roman well.
Inside the museum are mosaics, marble, gold and coins from the early medieval period. There are 17th to 18th century fresco sketches, prints, and drawings related to the monastery. Literary displays include book bindings, codices, books, and manuscripts from the monks' library dating from the 6th century until present time. There is a collection of religious items from the monastery. Near the end of the museum is a collection of Roman finds and finally photographs from the WWII destruction.
Note: In winter the museum is only open on Sundays and holidays.
Montecassino Abbey Location
Montecassino Abbey is about 130 kilometers south of Rome and 100 kilometers north of Naples, on the mountain above the town of Cassino in the southern Lazio region. From the A1 autostrada, take the Cassino exit. From the town of Cassino, Montecassino is about 8 kilometers up a winding road. Trains stop in Cassino and from the station you would have to take a taxi or rent a car.
Montecassino Abbey Visitor Information
Visiting Hours: 9:00 - 12:30 AM and 3:30 - 5:30 PM (until 6:30 in summer). On Sundays the church cannot be visited during mass. Currently no admission charge.
Official Site: Abbazia di Montecassino, check for updated hours and information or to book a guided tour.
Mass: There is normally a service at 4PM during which the monks chant. On Sundays services are usually at 9, 10:30 (with Gregorian chant), and noon.
Library Hours: 8:45 to 12:15, Tuesdays through Saturdays
Regulations: No smoking or eating, no flash photography or tripods, and no shorts, mini-skirts, or low-necked or sleeveless tops. Speak quietly and respect the sacred environment.
Restrooms: In the parking area only.
Parking: There is a large parking lot with a small fee for parking.