In the village of Sommocolonia monuments commemorate a WWII battle that took place in and around this village, which is an easy day trip from Lucca and other cities in western Tuscany.
Hours: Most of the sites are outdoors and so can be visited at any time.
Directions: Sommocolonia sits on top of a mountain and is four miles uphill from the charming town of Barga. Parking is available in two lots close to the monuments. If you prefer to hike, there are good trails from Barga to Sommocolonia.
What happened here:
On 26 December 1944, troops attached to the U.S. 92nd Division were holding Sommocolonia when Axis forces attacked. Combat in and around the village lasted for hours; over 130 soldiers and civilians were killed. During the battle, the American forward observer, Lieutenant John Fox, sacrificed his life to save his fellow soldiers. For his heroism, John Fox was posthumously given the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military award.
What to see:
1. The remains of the village's medieval fortress, which include the tower where Fox died (see photo below). Ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Sommocolonia are held here every December (photo below).
2. The bell tower (campanile) and church of Santa Maria della Carmine. The latter was destroyed during battle and has been rebuilt.
3. Piazza San Rocco, where intense combat occurred (photo below). A plaque to the right of the chapel honors Adelmo Biondi, who was killed by a grenade that exploded as he tried to remove it.
4. A staircase leading visitors to the war monument in a grassy area near the piazza (photo below). The markers that circle the monument honor John Fox and local partisans; the men's remains are buried elsewhere.
5. A small museum that exhibits maps, weapons, ammunition, and uniforms. Also displayed are photos of the ceremony held here in 2000 to honor John Fox, whose widow and daughter attended.The museum is open by appointment; try contacting its local manager, Massimo Nardini, through your hotel or tourist office.
To learn more: Garfagnana Editrice has published a history of Sommocolonia from its origins to 1945. This two-language edition contains an English translation by Anne Saunders and the original text by Dario Giannini and Vittorio Lino Biondi. The book's title is La Battaglia di Sommocolonia/The Battle of Sommocolonia (ISBN 97890567551).
A film has been made about the African-American soldiers who fought in western Tuscany during the Italian campaign. To learn more, visit http://www.loschermo.it/articoli.
Where to stay: Both Barga and Lucca offer a variety of hotels and small inns. It's also possible to stay at a villa which housed American soldiers and officers during the war. "Villa La Dogana" (near Lucca) is now a b&b and has a Facebook page. Before the war, it was the country home of a noble Italian family.
Outdoor monument area, Sommocolonia
Remains of tower after 1944 bombing
Memorial ceremonies are held yearly at the tower
Lt Col Vittorio Lino Biondi, author of "The Battle of Sommocolonia", discusses battle tactics.
Piazza San Rocco, where combat took place
WWII poster in museum warns against unexploded ordnance.