Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Maria Muscarà

"It is not that I belong to the past, but that the past belongs to me"

I dedicate this blog to my children, grandchildren, ancestors, descendants and the town of Librizzi.

My life and my story began in Sicily in a town called Librizzi. Majestic Librizzi, beautiful Librizzi, treacherous Librizzi, unforgettable Librizzi.

The town of Librizzi has always fascinated her citizens and like a Greek Siren charms and chains them to Herself. Once Librizzi catches you in her sweet and magical web you can never extricate her presence from your heart. In the 17th century one of my ancestors il Dott. Francesco Muscarà wrote a poem as a tribute to another Librizzese Il Cavalier Antonio Collurafi to be placed in the book "Il Nobile Veneto" by Collurafi. (Antonio Collurafi, philosopher, author, teacher, historian, was one of my Librizzi ancestors on my mother's Calabrese and Luca lineages.) Although the poem is in praise of Antonio Collurafi, it is also a poem in praise of Librizzi. Librizzi forever immortalized by my ancestor! No wonder that even after an absence of fifty six years the town is still part of my heart.

Poem Del Signor Francesco Muscarà

Those are the words of the Seventeenth Century Muscarà. The following is a translation of the poem from the old Italian into the current Italian by a Muscarà descendant who lives in the Twenty First Century. His name is Salvatore T.professor, scholar, researcher, and expert of Latin and Greek.

Del Signor Francesco Muscarà

Questa cittadina, che è un piccolo mondo,
è splendida e primeggia,
è nutrice famosa di illustri eroi,
sposa del grande Nettuno
e vera autrice di sante leggi,
è castigatrice di ogni vizio.
Come la pianta alta, innalza la sua cima "la pianta alta" is Librizzi
dalle libere radici che risorgono
fra le onde d'Adria,
e come madre della gloria,
risplende in ogni clima straniero.
Oh tempo, non avvenga giammai
che una nera nube
oscuri il chiaro lume
e cancelli la gloria dei suoi antichi semidei;
perchè in eterno, per i secoli futuri
vivrà grazie alla tua illustre penna
e , viva, darà a te fama
e a lei una nobile voce.

Two thousand years ago Cicero wrote in the first paragraphs of the "De Legibus" his idealized thoughts about an island found near the birthplace of his ancestors. Although the area whose qualities he extolls is in the mainland of Italy I can identify with the universal feelings about one's roots and one's patria. In the year 2003 after an absence of many decades I returned to the beautiful island of my youth, Sicily. As I walked the streets of Librizzi I felt the presence of my ancestors and we became a unanimous soul. So I repeat Cicero's words: translated into English:

" We walk between the high poplars along the banks shimmering emerald, opaque. We have arrived at the island, there is nothing more beautiful than this. Here it is that the Fibreno opens like a bird's beak. Here is my real home and my brother's too. From here we spring from ancient stock; here all that we call holy. Here our relations, here so many memories of our ancestors."

Photo by Carmelo Rifici

Librizzi rises from a spur in the Monte Cerannoli situated between the streams Petrolo and Librizzi, it faces the Golfo of Patti and the Valle del Timeto. Il Timeto is the river that flows at the feet of Librizzi. From various locations in Librizzi there are spectacular panoramas to be seen. Standing in the Piazza della Catena on a clear day jutting out of the sea are seen the Isole Eolie of Salina, Lipari, Vulcano, Panarea, Basiluzzo, and Stromboli. From the plateau Rifugio delle Martore there is a most beautiful sweeping view of parts of the Province of Messina, and parts of Catania. Mount Etna and the volcano seem to be reachable with an extended hand. In the Pineta di Cirannuli is found a spur surrounded by vast panoramic views including the Monte Ilici(or Fossa della Neve). Librizzi is divided into many zones, some larger than others, the principal on es are Colla-Maffone, Nasidi, and Murmari.

The first documents that mention the "populo Libricii" go back to the year 1117 indicating that the area was inhabited bef ore the founding of the community in 1392 by Bartolomeo D'Aragona. The village was founded near an old look-out tower belonging to the Bishop of Patti. The village was later taken away from Aragona by King Martino and given to Eleonora Centelles a woman of Spanish origin, by 1414 the village was returned to the Bishops of Patti. It is believed that the Chies a Madre was constructed on top of the remains of an old tower of a castle called Bricchinnai (built by Greek colonists, probably from Corinth, Greece), however today there are no visible indications of a former structure. When the village of Librizzi was established it was in fact a fiefdom populated by 53 families descended from the original Greek inhabitants of Sicily, these families were served by 59 families of Arabic descent. Before the Norman conquest of Sicily no fiefdoms existed but after the conquest a heavily taxed feudal system of vassals and feudal lords was instituted by the Normans. In Librizzi members of the 59 families worked the feudal lands, cultivated sugar canes, tended the mulberry trees that sustained the silkworms for the prosperous local silk industry. According to the local records the two ethnic and economically different groups coexisted harmoniously. Today areas of Librizzi still have Arabic derived names such as Contrada Morabiti, Contrada Maradici, an area of Librizzi referred to as Saraceno, etc. By the beginning of the XV Century a strong tension existed between the feudal lords or barons and the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily, la Regia Gran Corte. There were many revolts or disagreements due to the oppressive taxation, and an emerging strong sense of personal freedoms and rights. By 1537 Costituzioni Sinodali were being drafted in Sicily unifying laity and religious citizens. Little by little Librizzi too was obtaining more freedoms and growing as a community in size and independence f rom the Bishops of Patti. Starting in the early 16th century the town began expanding beyond the Chiesa della Catena and the piazza where this church is located became the new center of the town. The Sicilian Parliament outlawed feudal land holding s in 1812, and the War for the Unification of Italy of the 1860s abolished any vestiges of feudalism. Today the town of Librizzi is no longer dependent on agriculture as its main livelihood, most of the Librizzesi work in salaried jobs. Also many of them have moved from the old areas of the town at the top of the hill to the Bivio Colla at the feet of the hill to be closer to their jobs in nearby towns.

My Muscarà ancestors were instrumental in the running of the feudal lands of Librizzi and in forging from the feudi an independent town. The feudi were governed by the Giurati who were the highest governing officials appointed by the Bishop. The Giurati then appointed and w ere assisted by Maestri Notari and a Capitano. The Segreto and Vicareo Foraneo were also very important administrators as they were the personal representatives of the Bishop whose feudi they governed. In the book "Librizzi" by Antonino D'Amico there is a definition of Secreto,"Ogni Uditore di Rota, giudice della Sacra Romana Rota, poteva scegliere due aiutanti di studio, se era decano anche tre. Ogni aiutante veniva denominato SECRETO, qualifica di un magistrato al grado iniziale e riconosciuto ufficialmente dal collegio rotale." The Sacra Romana Rota is the appellate tr ibunal of the Holy sea and the second highest ecclesiastical court in the Roman Catholic Church. The word Rota(wheel) comes from the fact that the judges called Uditore originally met in a round room to hear cases. Their main function is as appellate tribunal reviewing decisions made by lower courts.

Members of the Muscarà family were at different times of the history of Librizzi Giurati such as Don Andrea Muscarà, and Don Pietro Muscarà (Documented in Riveli di Bene e Anime of 1748), Secreto, Vicareo Foraneo, lawyers, judges, priests, monks.... In 1587, the Secreto in Librizzi was Il Magnifico Pietro Muscarà. The same year Lo Spettabile Gio Matteo Muscarà is mentioned , I do not know what was his profession but his title indicates a high position. In 1655 the Vicareo Foraneo was sacerdote Pietro Muscarà. (Three of the Muscarà family names that were perpetuated from century to century were Francesco, Andrea, and Pietro)

Recently I read some pages of a book titled "Messina Città Nobilissima, descritta in VIII libri", by Giuseppe Bonfiglio e Costanzo, Cavalliere Messinese. The book was published in 1738 and among other things describes and defines what a Giurato was. The author says that the authority of the Giurato was huge as was his "degnità". The Giurati had a huge "patrimony", and they were the ones who elected the "Governatore dell'artiglieria, i capitani, il Promedico, and other positions. The Giurati were not under the rule of the Giurato of the Reign, in other words , the Giurati were just as powerful as the Royal officials. The book colorfully describes the pageantry that surrounded the Giurati, from the black velvet clothes that they wore to the retinue that followed their comings and goings. Their horses wore the "livrea" of the towns that the Giurati visited. Musicians clad in velvet of different colors determined by the instrument that they played such as "tamburi, trombetti, pifferi....." walked ahead of the Giurati as they entered the town. The Corte dei Giurati were assisted by "Assessore, Avvocati, Mastro Notario, quattro Secretarij, Tesoriere", and the already mentioned singers, musicians, etc. Most of the Giurati were of Noble background, but a small number of Cittadini could also be elected.
In my mind's eye I am visualizing my Muscarà ancestors who were Giurati making their "grand entrance" into the town of Librizzi. I am sure that the 18th century Don Andrea Muscarà and Don Pietro Muscarà had no idea that they would live again centuries later in my "memory" and in my genealogy.

The previously mentioned poet "Il Dottore Don Francesco Muscarà" was obviously a scholar and a man of great importance albeit I do not know what his career was at that time. This Don Francesco Muscarà is also mentioned by several authors in books about Librizzi such as the book "Librizzi, Documenti, uomini e fatti prima e dopo il mille" by Antonino D'Amico. In this book there are some short excerpts of communication between Dott. Francesco Muscarà and Antonio Collurafi, the letters were found among the Baptisms and Deaths records of 1598 to 1667. In
one of these records we find out that in 1622 the son of Dott. Francesco Muscarà and his wife gentildonna Masella la rotta died(this is the Fancesco who wrote the poem).
In the Riveli of 1714 I found a different "Il Dottore Don Francesco Muscarà" who was son of Teresa and Antonino, 42 years old, and the Capo di Casa. His young children were Don Rocco age 12, Don Antonino age 10, Donna Angela, Donna Teresa. In addition to the Muscarà family a large number of people who may or may not have been related to him lived in his house. His holdings/assets were vast including the land at the FEU, Sicilian for fiefdom. The document enumerates all of the assets and land owned by Don Francesco and also records the huge amounts of taxes that he had to pay to the Bishop of Patti and the various churches in Librizzi. The Muscarà's FEU was passed down from generation to generation and until his death in the 1960' s it was owned by my grandfather Giuseppe Muscarà(don Pippinu) who was the last direct inheritor of the family estates. I do not know if the FEU is still owned by a Muscarà family member or if it was sold after grandpa's death. The FEU is located by
the Timeto River at the Colla.

Colla, area of FEU

Another Muscarà of note was Don Andreas Muscarà who was born in Librizzi toward the end of the 16th century and who remained an integral part of the town despite his fame and periodic absences from the town. He was a celebrated lawyer, an expert at law, a judge, a scholar and publisher of many Opere Giuridiche. He received many honors, was Assessore of the Grande Curia Archivescovile di Palermo, and Assessore of the Gran Curia Regia. He was a judge of the Concistoro della Regia Coscienza, and he was also a distinguished Avvocato del Fisco where according to official records he demonstrated that he was incorruptible. Don Andreas Muscarà died in Palermo on November 11, 1666. According to the Bishop's Archives in Palermo, Don Andreas is buried in the Church San Antonio di Padova, 90134 Palermo Corso Tukory n.2 Palermo, Sicilia.

TITLES of some of the judicial works published by Don Andreas Muscarà:

Defensionem Immutatis Ecclesiasticis. Palermo, tipografo Nicola Bua e Michele Portanova 1617.

In folium: Consilium in Caus a Competenctia Iurisdizionis Vertente Inter Eminentis. Dom. Card. Montalto

Archepiscopum, tipografo Nicola Bua e Michele P ortanova 1647.
In folium Consilium in Caus a Competenctie Iurisdizionis Vertente Inter Eminentis. Dom. Card. Montalto

Archiepiscum Montis Regalis Ex Una, Illustris Inquisitores Partes Ex Altera. Edito da Francesco Baronio

In Consiliis Diversorum Siculorum Super Privilegio Felicis Urbis Panormi, Quod Fiscus Non Possit Principaliter
Agere Contra Cives. Panormi apud Maringum 1656.

In 4. Allegationes apud Paululm Franciscum Berramut In Costictu Iureconsultorii par. 3 to. 2. à p. 290.
plurimorimum manibus teritur

Consultatio Iuridica Extactione Tanadarum In Donativo Per Tria Brachia Impositum, Ill. E Eccell. D. Ferdinando De Ayala Comiti, Ayale E C. Proregi. m. s. in fol.

Additional inf ormation on Don Andreas Muscarà can be found in "Biblioteca Sicula, Uomini illustri di Sicilia" published by A. Mongitore.

Don Andrea Muscarà is also found in the book "Nobiliario di Sicilia" by Dott. A. Mango di Casalgerardo. This is the information given for the name Muscarà " Un Andrea fu giudice della Gran Corte delRegno negli anni 1654-55-56 e 57, 1663; governatore della Tavola di Palermo nel 1711e del Monte di Pietà dellastessa città nel 1713; un P ietro fu senatore di Palermo nel 1688-89 e consigliere della nobile compagnia deiBianchi di detta città negli anni 1686-86 e 1690-91. Non sappiamo se sia appartenuto a questa stessa famiglia quel Giuseppe, dottore in leggi, che fu giudice capitaniale di Marsala 1812-13."
The Andrea who was governatore della Tavola di Palermo in 1711 is a descendant of the Don Andrea who was giudice della Gran Corte. The Giuseppe who was giudice di Marsala is probably of the same family. I found another Giuseppe Muscarà in Ficarra where he was the town's doctor and surgeon.

Stemma Muscarà

Some Librizzesi think that the Don Andreas Muscarà was instrumental in bringing to Librizzi the beautiful Gagini statue of Maria Santissima della Catena, perhaps at his own expense. This thought is supported by what is found near the beautiful statue which resides in the Church della Catena located in the piazza. The Muscarà Stemma inscribed with the name Don Andreas Muscarà is located near the ceiling high above the Gagini statue(It is the only Stemma in the church). Below the Stemma on the wall behind the Madonna the date 1664 is painted, the number 16 on the left side of the niche and 64 on the opposite s ide. Don Andreas died in the year 1666 so if he made the gift of the statue to the church and the Librizzesi it must have occurred a few years before he died. Some people point out that the Madonna was brought to Librizzi at a time long before Don Andrea. I do not know what was Don Andrea's contribution to the church but I do know is that there is a reason for the location of the Stemma right above the famous statue. I also know that even though Don Andreas was a celebrated "personaggio illustre" living in Palermo at the time of his death, he was born a son of Librizzi and continued to be part of the Librizzi moral and social brotherhood until his death. Additional evidence of his involvement with the citizens of Librizzi is found in the baptismal records where the name of this Don Andreas is frequently mentioned because he was Godfather to many Librizzi children.

Madonna della Catena
Photo by Carmelo Rifici

September 26, 1655 was an important day in the history of Librizzi. It was the day that all of the Cittadini of Librizzi, clergy and secular citizens, swore allegiance to the precepts of the Catholic Church. Each of them recited the following formula "Così prometto, così giuro, così sento, e sui santi Evangeli di Dio". Don Andrea Muscarà was one of the Cittadini who swore allegiance with the following words "Io Andrea Muscarà giudice così sento, così giuro, così prometto, così Dio mi aiuta e questo sopra i santi Evangeli" . Two other Muscarà ancestors who made the vow were sacerdote Pietro Muscarà, vicareo foraneo, and archipresbiter Roccus Muscarà. (There were many other non Muscarà ancestors from my paternal as well as maternal lineages who also made the vow such as sacerdote Agostino de Gregorio, sacerdote Paolo Sidoti, sacerdote Antonino Gatani, sacerdote Benedetto Stuppia, sacerdote Leo di Gregorio, suddiacono Blasio Lamanna, clerico Pascasio Capitti, Don Francesco Finocchiaro governatore di Librizzi, Domenico Stuppia and Nunzio Gugliotta giurati di Librizzi, don Francesco Gregorio,........). In addition to the of ficials there were 161 men and 41 women citizens who made the giuramento, undoubtedly
some of them were Muscarà ancestors.
The Reveli of 1747 and 1748 show that there were several Muscarà priests in Librizzi at that time. For exampleSacerdote Don Simone Muscarà son of Michele Mu scarà and .....Laurea.

The year 1656 was another year that brought to the religious history of Librizzi more drama. Il reverendo Claudio di Todaro had commissioned in 1654 a statue of San Michele Arcangelo (patron Saint of Librizzi). The statue arrived from Napoli to Messina in the year 1656 but having been exposed to contagious elements it was kept on the ship for three months at which time the officials wanted to burn it along with all of the other items from the ship. The statue was so beautiful that it was decided to quarantine it instead. Unfortunately the Messinese intensely loved the statue and did all in th eir power to prevent the statue from leaving their city. After much negotiating the statue was allowed to be brought to the town of Librizzi where it was received with tears and devotion by the Librizzesi. In addition Archiprete Don Rocco Muscarà ordered fireworks to be displayed along with the sound of drums to celebrate the arrival. Finally the statue was brought to the Chiesa Matrice on the orders of the same Don Rocco Muscarà where more celebratory activities occurred. The celebrations included music and a Mass sung by il dott. Pietro Muscarà.
San Michele Arcangelo

On the 25th of October of 1752 the Bishop of Patti came to Librizzi at which time he administered the Sacramento of the Cresima. At this event many Muscarà children were confirmed, and many Muscarà adults were the Godparents to many of the town's young people. At least two of the officiating priests were Muscarà ancestors, Don Andrea Muscarà a descendant of the celebrated lawyer Don Andrea, and Archiprete Rocco Muscarà(a different Rocco from the above mentioned I assume). Don Andrea and Archiprete Rocco were also Godparents to many of
the children that were confirmed.

Cicero attributed the Siciliani the following three characteristics: intelligence, diffidence (sense of distrust), and humor. Librizzi is no exception especially when we are talking about their sense of humor as shown by the following anecdote. In 1786 a big earthquake damaged Librizzi including the Chiesa Madre, la chiesa di S. Biagio, and the chiesa di Maria SS. della Catena. Each of these churches wanted to be restored first and as a result a sense of competition arose. Letters were written to the Bishop one of which shows a great deal of humor by today's thinking.
Among other things the letter explains why the church in the piazza s hould be finished quickly. One of the reason given was to save the women from being "exposed" by the wind when they go to church at the Chiesa Madre at the top of the hill. "....d'affronto e disonore alle povere donne, che colà si portano nell'occasione della Santa Messa, che facilmente avviene ne giorni ventosi vedersi le loro nudità, giacchè alcuni hanno bisognato abbassarsi a terra sino a quanto un intervallo di calma...." This letter was signed by many of my ancestors including members of the
families Natoli, Procopio, Marziano, Arlotta, Bertolone, Capitti, and the Supplicante Salvatore Muscarà(probably the one who was my 3d great grandfather) and Eugenio Muscarà. Good Librizzesi who were trying to spare the faithful Librizzi women from embarrassment and hardship!

Chiesa Madre
Photo by Carmelo Rifici

Piazza Catena

Is it possible that the Librizzesi can be defiant? Fractious? Lets see. The towns around Librizzi refer to the Librizzesi as the "furmiculi russi" Red Ants a moniker that pleases the Librizzesi up to this day. In the local elections in May of 2002 one of the group running for public office had as their symbol a "furmicula russa"! How did they get this appellation? History shows that the Librizzesi became a thorn on the side of different bishops of Patti in whose fiefdom the land of Librizzi belonged. The Librizzesi decided that they did not want to pay the tithe to the Bishop and acted in a r ecalcitrant manner. They disobeyed the Bishops so much and so often that twice, in 1567 and in 1571, the whole town of Librizzi was excommunicated! It is no surprise that many years later in the Reveli of 1748 the Giurati Don Francesco DiBlasio, Don Pietro Barbaro, and Don Pietro Muscarà complained that there were various "difficultà" with the Librizzesi.

Beauty, humor, religion, perseverance, stubbornness, family, land, what else is Librizzi? It is unexpected disasters, earthquakes, storms, mud slides, mushroom poisoning, abandoned babies, childhood mortality, .....

From the above anecdote relating to the 1786 earthquake and from other documents, we already know that earthquakes occurred in Librizzi regularly and sometimes with horrible results. In addition other natural disasters or devastating contagious diseases were prevalent and at times whole families were snuffed out. One example of diseases that devastated Librizzi was the peste(plague) that started in in June of 1577 and ended two years later with the death of Mastro Perseo Greco.
Another examples of a death due to natural disasters was that of Antonino Coppolino who died on December 13, 1837 at the 23th hour . He died "per causa d'essere morto portato da un alluvione". During a flood, the Fiume di Francescido carried Antonino to his death. The year 1837 saw a lot of death in Sicily as cholera hit the Island hard, but interestingly the death toll in Librizzi was rather light. A few years later in 1842 a family perished for reasons unknown. They were Biaggio Procopio, his wife Maria Teresa Amico, and their child Francesca Procopio. (Biaggio and Maria Teresa's daughter, Marianna Procopio, was my 3d great grand aunt. She was married to Filippo Ficarra son of my maternal 4th grandparents Mastro Bonaventura Ficarra and Rosa Gatani.) The year 1844 brought death to another Librizzi family: Catena Mastrantonio, age 13, died October 20; her mother Carmela Mantineo, age 40, died October 25; Carmela's mother Anna Merenda, age 66, died October 27. The father Francesco Mastrantonio died December 11, 1855. In 1883 another family from Montagnareale and living in Librizzi, Natoli/Danzi, perished between May 27 to June 14. Grandparents, parents, and children all were gone within days of each other. Why were whole families periodically wiped out? I do not know but certainly diseases and natural disasters played a huge role.

The year 1852 was a fateful year for the Librizzesi, a huge amount of them died throughout the year and especially in the months of January, February, March, and August. From letters sent by the Librizzi archiprete Francesco Gregorio to the Bishop of Patti one can read that this particular year was beset with "cattivo tempo", bad weather. The mayor Giuseppe Arlotta also writes that the Church della Catena needs repairs due to damages caused by "cattivo tempo". After reading the death documents for that year I have concluded that in 1852 there were a series of alluvioni e frane(floods and landslides) that smothered many Librizzesi. Some of my ancestors who perished that year included members of the following families : Procopio, Marziano and Gregorio on my father's side; Adamo, Salemi, and Gatani on my mother's side. Entire families were wiped out within hours of each other. It is interesting that most of the documents that catalog these deaths are water damaged!

I record the following names in memory of my ancestors who lost their lives in the year 1852:

Cousins: Carmelo Tinghino age 1, January 28; Antonino Gugliotta, age 13, March 21; Don Natale Procopio, age 34, March 29; Michele Collo afi, age 2; Maria Concetta Finichiaro, age 2, August 4; Antonia Sinatò, 9 months, August 12; Rosalia Muscarà, 10 months; Gaetano Merenda, age 44, September; Antonino Ficarra, age 8, October 12; Giuseppe Gugliotta, 10 months, November 12.

Aunts and uncles: Teresa Salemi, 2 days, January 27(daughter of Angela Adamo and Mastro Gaetano Salemi); Donna Maria Gregorio, age 40, March 30; Pietro Merenda, age 88, June 8; Eufrasina Marziano, age 10, July 2; Anna Adamo, age 65, December 12.

Grandparents: Donna Carmela Gregorio, age 70, January 27; Angela Adamo(grandmother on the Luca side of the family), age 45, January 27; Mastro Gaetano Salemi(husband of Angela Adamo) age 40, January 27; Carmela Adamo age 44(sister of Angela; grandmother on the Calabrese side of the family), January 27; Teresa Gatani, age 80, August 30. (Subsequent research indicates that my ancestors died in a landslide. More on this subject on another blog entry.)


Third great grandfather Don Domenico Procopio, age 61, husband of Donna Anna Cilona and son of Don Antonino Procopio(notaro) and Donna Marianna Muscarà). Don Domenico was "ritrovato morto nella contrada Ceruto? perchè soffocato da burrasche". He was found dead suffocated by 'storms'. The date was December 24, 1852. I am sure that for my ancestors it wasn't a very merry Christmas that year. May the above ancestors and all of the Librizzesi that died that year rest in peace.
An aside comment: When I was a young child mom used to point out the remains of a demolished house and then she would tell the story of an avalanche that ocurred in the early 1930s. The avalanche destroyed the house and killed its occupants who were our relatives . She then would point to a house next to it which miraculously wasn't touched at all by the avalanche!

The force of devastating nature was a constant element in the lives of the Librizzesi, as was the force of more gentle flora. Who would have thought that mom's great grandparents would be "affected by funghina? The story was still remembered by mom and her generation, and when I discovered the documentation of this event in the death records of Librizzi, I was totally astounded that the event was a fact and not an embellished remembrance. The year was 1873. These are the members of my family who died because of "affetto di funghina": Don Antonino Procopio (son of Don Pietro Procopio and Donna Catarina Gugliotta), husband of Donna Angela Procopio. A son Giuseppe Procopio, age 11, and a cat. Devastated by the deaths, the pregnant Angela went into labor , the infant twins Giuseppa Procopio and Antonino Procopio died two days later. Before this family catastrophe Antonino and Angela had to face other challenges such as in 1869 when their sons Domenico, age 1, and Francesco, age 13, died probably because of a childhood disease. Donna Angela, furmicula russa that she was, did not let personal tragedy destroy her. She, like many other Librizzesi, was a survivor and did not allow the treacherous path of life snuff her gusto for life. Years later at the age of sixty, to the chagrin of her surviving daughter and mom's grandmother Caterina Procopio, she remarried. Her new husband was Don Carmelo Arlotta.

The inhabitants of Librizzi traditionally have been a family oriented and religiously principled group of people. So it came as a great surprise to me when over and over I read in the birth and death documents about the many children that were "found" here and there. Most of these children of "genitori incogniti" were officially registered by the midwife who would state that she "found" them or that "the parent does not want to be found". Many of these babies died in infancy, but many others survived and were given names by the midwife or by the town officials. Librizzesi as well as other Sicilians of earlier times used humorous and at times poignant names and surnames for these children. Here is a sampling of the names given to these "trovati(found)" babies: Eustachio, Clementina, Colomba, Eugenia, Lucrezia, Matilde, Fabbiana, Amore, Desiderata, ..... Some given surnames were words that meant 'unknown'; often part to the name contained the word for mountain or hill; a combination of numbers such as thirty, fourth, fifth; .... I choose not to divulge the actual surnames out of respect for those innocent children and their descendants.

The names of the midwives were all recorded along with these children of Ignoti Genitori. The babies were placed by the town officials with an appointed care giver but most often these children remained with the midwife who became the care giver. Sometimes, years later, a parent would come forward and claim these children as their own and legitimatize them. One parent who earned my respect was the gentleman Giovanni M. His daughter had been named Concetta Bellezza but became Concetta M. when dad claimed her. It took him twenty years but he finally did the correct and loving thing. It is interesting that the birth record states that the baby was found well dressed and with six gifts by her side. Concetta, her father, and the man that she married were all related to my family. Another male who came forward and claimed his child was a Giovanni F. In fact fathers often claimed and raised their own children without ever divulging the name of the mother. The mother seldom kept a child but if she did, she usually would divulge the father's name. I did find in the birth records one exception, the woman kept her daughter but never divulged the father's name. In general the 'found' children were financially provided for by the town, but often the funds were secretly provided by the "unknown parent" or other relative such as a grandfather.

As the 19th century progressed there were fewer and fewer "found" babies and more and more "figli naturali". The unmarried parents usually lived together as a family and when a child was born the parents declared in the birth records the status of their union. Many years later when the children reached adulthood and were about to marry the parents often would get married first and then legitimize their children. A poignant story was found in the records of 1881 when a thirty five year old woman was on her deathbed and her dying wish was to legitimize her five children "naturali" . The town officials were called to her deathbed and after ascertaining that she was of sound mind, they united in marriage the parents of these children. The children were legitimized a few minutes later. This story was repeated with other dying women in 1885 and in 1903.

The mortality rate for newborn babies and older siblings was extremely high in past centuries as was the untimely death of the mothers. Frequently the mothers died at childbirth or a few days after giving birth, their babies usually died along with the mothers. The husband, usually very young, found himself without a wife and a bunch of children who needed a mother. It was not unusual for the widower to remarry within months of the death of the wife. Sometimes the same person would be widowed and remarried several times throughout his life span. Of course some husbands also died young and the widows often remarried. What I found interesting is that often the widow would marry a man much younger than herself, not just by a few years but by twenty or thirty years. I assume that these were marriages of convenience, perhaps for inheritance reason. Whatever the reason, it was a common occurrence.

Librizzi women inherited land and it remained in their possession even when they married. In the Riveli di Bene e Anime I found many documents (as far back as the 16th century) where the women were the Capo di Casa and who owned land, houses, livestock,.etc. In my own family historically the women have been economically independent, in fact my grandmother Catena Rottino owned huge amounts of land in the Pantano area of Librizzi. When she died the land was inherited by all of her children including my father. I recently found out that I own some of the
Muscarà-Rottino land at the Pantano. Since my father had sold his estate at the Pantano, I believe that this land was deeded to me by two of my aunts, Teresa and Eufrasina. I have to admit that I feel honored to own Librizzi land that has been in the family for many centuries, somehow the knowledge makes me feel close to my ancestors. In 2003 I went to visit the Pantano and standing on this land I felt the presence of my ancestors!

Librizzesi also known as Furmiculi Russi, have a history of pigheaded stubbornness which has allowed them to survive through the vagaries of Sicilian history, and the constant natural disasters that plagued the town. A stubbornness that allows the survival of their soul and of their indomitable spirit. Librizzi and her inhabitants clinging majestically and precariously on the slopes of Mount Cerannoli. As my ancestor Il Dottore Don Francesco Muscarà wrote in his poem many centuries ago, Librizzi and her children stubbornly and eternally live on.

Today, old Librizzi lives on mostly in the memory of her children and in the history of the town. Many of today's Librizzesi have left the lofty aerie called Librizzi and have gone to live at its feet in Santopolo, Bivio Colla, Colla Moffone, etc. From these locations it is easier to go to work in the nearby towns, but they can look up and see the ancient Librizzi still precariously perched at the top, watching over her children who have abandoned her for a new way of life. Many other Librizzesi have left the town of their ancestors for newer and different life experiences in bigger Italian cities. Many more have gone overseas, to North America, to South America, Australia, and to places where opportunities for work is the promise. But Librizzi is not forgotten, She lives in the hearts and memories of her children. Children Librizzesi living and enjoying new lives in different Italian cities and in new countries, and at the same time hoping for a chance to see one more time their beloved paese natale.

Antonino D'Amico a contemporary Librizzese writes the following poem in his book "Librizzi, documenti, uomini e fatti prima e dopo il mille":


Sfolgori o Librizzi,
in un amplesso di nuova luce,
sei la meta dei miei sogni,
ma da essa partire
fu il mio destino.

Antonino D'Amico wrote this poem in 1982. I well understand this poem as it expresses my feelings very well. Il sogno is all that a lot of us have left, but it is a beautiful sogno.

Carmelo Rifici a Librizzi cousin on my mother's side of the family has a beautiful web site which features the people and the town of Librizzi:(www.librizziacolori.eu).
Many have visited this web site and have fallen under the magic spell of what Librizzi has to offer. One of the visitors to the Meluccio's website is a son of Librizzi, the writer Nunzio Cocivera. To honor his native town and the web site dedicated to Librizzi he wrote a poem titled "Librizzi a culuri" in which he captures the spirit of the town, its colors and scents. This is what Carmelo Rifici writes about the poem and the poet: "L'Amico Nunzio Cocivera ha voluto dedicar e la poesia 'Librizzi a culuri' ai Librizzesi e a questo sito, richiamando alla memoria i colori e i profumi del nostro paesello. E' il canto un pò nostalgico ed appassionato di un figlio di Librizzi, che da buon siciliano, ama sconfinatamente e non dimentica. 'Com'erimu beddi quannerimu carusi...." I fully identify with the passion and nostalgia expressed in the poem. The distinguished Nunzio Cocivera, who writes in Italian and in Sicilian, chose the beautiful language of Sicilian to write his poem. I cite the poem with the kind and gracious permission of the author:

Librizzi a culuri

Librizzi pi tia u primu suli
Pi tia i primi brizzi e i primi culuri du suli
Cu l'aquazzina ti dormi a sira
Ti risbighi a mattina
Supra sa cullina erittu e fieru
Comu un guerrieru a sfidari
U ventu eternu turmentu
Ci si oggi ci si dumani pi to fighi librizzani
Si u nostru paisi librizzi
Puru si semu luntani
Unni semu semu
semu librizzani, e ti vulemu beni!
Mi ricordu a ramigna virdi
E tutti i culuri nta vigna
I culuri da vinnigna!
Com'era bonu du vinu!
A sudda a cicoria.
I finocchi sarbaggi frijuti ca livi
I carduna, i carcioffuli sarbaggi fritti ca farina
I rapuddi cu pipi.
Nta livi a cutulari, o a coghiri nuciddi.
Com'èrimu beddi quanner imu carusi
Ni cumminavumu di tutti i culur i!
O Librizzi... Librizzi....

Tavemu nto cori chi to culuri
Chi to sapuri!

Nunzio Cocivera, November 2006

I am a daughter of Librizzi with all of its goodness and all of its frailties. Did it surprise me to learn that Pope Pio V in the year 1567 and again in the year 1571 excommunicated the whole population of Librizzi? Yes, but I love it! I am proud to say that I am a "Furmicula Russa" at heart. It is nice to know that my sometimes intransigence has honorable Librizzese roots. But it is not just stubbornness, it is a desire to assert one's rights and the willingness to suffer the consequences for what is right. It is the trait that has allowed me to survive many painful events in my life. And it is the trait that has allowed me to adapt to new experiences in a new country, and to appreciate and love another beautiful place on earth called USA.

The Muscarà Stemma and the Muscarà surname

The Muscarà Stemma is found in the church of Maria Santissima della Catena, Piazza Catena, Librizzi. The symbol of the Stemma is the body and tail of a lion and the head of a lamb, the right paw holds a Chalice. Over the chalice there is a star with eight points. This Stemma also contains the initials SPE F and the name Don Andrea Muscarà. I assume that the motto of the Muscarà is Speranza e Fede(Faith and Hope). It seems to me that the motto and the Christian symbols come from the Bible, Revelation 5. In this section of Revelation it is told that the Lion from
Judah's tribe, the great descendant of David, has won the victory, and that he can break the seven seals and open the scroll. Then a Lamb, who appeared to have been killed, is seen taking the scroll from the one who sat on the throne.....The Revelation to John was written at a time when Christians were being persecuted because of their faith and the writings were to give hope and encouragement during this time of suffering and persecution.

The top of the Stemma is crowned by a crown or coronet which has seven points. In heraldry the seven visible points indicate the title of a Barone. Dario de Judicibus in his "L'Araldica Italiana" states that "con la cimatura di dodici perle (sette visibili), collocate sul margine del cerchio o sostenute da altrettante punte" indicated the title of Barone.

The surname Muscarà is derived from the Greek word Moschari (Muskarion/Muscarion) which means "colui che possiede vitelli", "he who owns calves". The Greek word for vitello (calf) is Moskos. The words Muscarion and Moskos are found in the original Greek Bible when referring to the "calf" and it being the required sacrifice at the altar.

To forget one's ancestors is to be
A brook without source
A tree without
A root

Chinese Maxim

A few words to my sons, grandchildren, and descendents : Our Librizzi roots go back many centuries. This is our story and the font from whence our future springs. I remember and honor our ancestors and entrust our descendents with the memory of us.

I want to thank il Signor Nunzio Cocivera for his gracious permission to include his poem "Librizzi a culuri" in my genealogy. To learn more about this son of Librizzi and his writings please go to:
http://ilteatr odicocivera.org/

I am grateful for the assistance of another son of Librizzi, and my cousin, Carmelo Rifici. Carmelo has given me permission to use his beautiful photographs of Librizzi. His web site www.librizziacolori.eu is a feast for the eyes for lovers of Librizzi, nature, local culture, and other interesting material.

A special thank you for my cousin Salvatore T. for the translation into modern Italian of the poem written by our ancestor Il Signor Francesco Muscarà.

I am also grateful to my cousin Gaetano T. for obtaining for me books on Librizzi and Librizzesi.

Suggested reading material to learn more about Librizzi and its people:

1. Antonino D'Amico "Librizzi, Documenti, uomini e fatti prima e dopo il mille" EDAS 1996
2. Marco Marziano "Memorie di ieri e dell'altro ieri".
3. Beniamino Lisi " Il gufo di maggio" Benucci Editore, 2001

Web sites of interest:

1. www.librizziacolori.eu
2. http://www.ilteatrodicocivera.org
3. web.tiscali.it/virgilioLibrizzi

Oleander and Ginestra are two typical flowers that grow profusely in Librizzi.

I, Maria Muscarà am the researcher and author of the above article. No parts may be reproduced without my permission.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Gioacchino Luca

One of the "soldatini" dell'Armata del Grappa

" Monte Grappa tu sei la mia Patria"

Gioacchino Luca was the son of Giuseppe Luca and Fortunata Calabrese. He was born in Librizzi(ME) on May 9, 1898 and died in 1923. Gioacchino married his first cousin Rosa Calabrese, they had one daughter, my mother.

Quartiere Forgia, the Luca Family lived in this neighborhood

Photo by Carmelo Rifici

Throughout her life mother idealized her father and made him a larger than life hero. Her children also came to think of grandpa Gioacchino as a great but tragic hero. Mom used to tell us that he had been a decorated hero in the First World War and that he died from his war wounds. She used to say that her father was a member of the famous Bersaglieri in the Italian Army. I remember seeing a photo of grandpa in uniform and sitting on a horse, in the photo he is wearing a hat with a feather, a symbol of the Bersaglieri. Mom used to talk about the medals that her father had received for his valor in war, and that her uncle and guardian kept the medals as well as the diary that grandpa Gioachino had written during the war. After grandpa's death mother received a pension for about 20 years based on his military service and health issues related to the war. What I have written up to now were mom's recollections, I will write the results of my research later.

Grandpa came to the United States soon after the War, but was sent back to Italy because of his health. I do know that in the 1920s tuberculosis was rampant in the United States and certainly a body that had been wounded, or perhaps had been subjected to German and Austrian asphyxiating gasses, would be susceptible to becoming infected by the tubercle bacillus. It is a sad commentary of those times in the USA if my grandfather was infected with the bacillus soon after his arrival and then sent back to Librizzi to die. Certainly he did not have any infectious diseases when he arrived at Ellis Island otherwise he would not have been allowed into the USA in the first place. The ship log says that he was in good health.

Gioacchino and his wife Rosa arrived in the USA on July 26, 1921. When they boarded the ship "America" in Naples each carried the mandated amount of $25 and had paid for their own passages. The ship's log shows that they were literate and that grandpa was a muratore, a mason. They were both 5.5 and had brown eyes and hair. They were both planning to become United States citizens. Grandma was pregnant with mother and spent some time in the ship's hospital. Upon arrival they went to live with his brother Natale in Hoboken, New Jersey. A few months later on December 14, 1921 mom was born. Unfortunately due to health reasons mom's parents were sent back to Italy soon after her birth. Rosa died in Librizzi when mom was only four months old, and Gioacchino died before mom was two years old. My grandparents had tried to get away from war torn Europe and had wanted to make a better life for themselves and their child, but instead they found death. In 2002 I honored my grandparent's courage and their intent of a new life in the USA by having their names placed on The American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. They are listed as "Gioacchino and Rosa Calabrese Luca".

Wall of Remembrance, Ellis Island

Mother spent a lifetime "looking" for her parents. She needed them when she was a child and she needed them as an adult. As mom was dying I told her that she was going to see her parents and be with them forever, and that now they would protect her and no one could harm her again. I also asked mom to say hello to them from me. I have always loved these grandparents even though I never knew them. I honor them and I thank them for giving me life through their daughter. May they all rest in peace.


Gioacchino Luca

Gioacchino Luca, Class of 1898 was called to report to the Military District of Messina, after he reported he was placed on congedo/leave on January 4, 1917. He was called to arms March 1, 1917 and placed in the First Reggimento Genio Zappatori. March 23, 1917 he was sent to the Distretto Militare of Cefalù. July 10, 1917 he arrived in terrritory declared in state of war, "Giunto in territorio dichiarao in stato di guerra". Over a period of time up to March 20, 1918 he was awarded "Polizza di assecurazione gratuita", and a series of other monetary compensations. Then there is the date 1918 and the information that he was awarded more polizza and tha

t he was "nel deposito Zappatore and Telegrafisti del Genio del IX Corpo d'Armata". The date of the next entry on his military records is June 10, 1919 which states that he was sent to ospedale da campo n. 46 because of illness, from there on August 21, 1919 he was transferred to the "ospedale militare principale di Cremona" where he spent 60 days and then he was sent on leave. October 9, 1920 he was sent on "congedo illimitato". May 20, 1921 he was formally discharged so that he could travel to the United States. Grandpa was discharged with

"dichiarazione di aver tenuto buona condotta e di aver servito con fedeltà e onore".


Gioacchino Luca served in the Grande Guerra, World War I, with the IX Corpo d’Armata of the IV Armata. He was a Genio Zappatori and Telegrafisti. Gioacchino, Classe 1898, arrived at the war front on July 10, 1917. After the Disfatta of Caporetto the Armata del Grappa was born, on April 17, 1918. The IX Corpo d’Armata was part of the glorious Armata del Grappa.

I write the following account of the Grande Guerra to honor my Grandfather Gioacchino Luca who was a decorated hero. The emphasis of the account is on the IV Armata and the IX Corpo, as well as the role that the Arma del Genio Zappatori played in the War. The account is not professional work and I do not present it as an accurate recounting of the War. It is simply my understanding and interpretation of the material that I read while I researched the War as it related to my grandpa.

When the First World War began Italy declared her neutrality but on April 26, 1915 Italy signed a secret pact with the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia). Italy declared war against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire on May 23, 1916 and on Germany on August 28, 1916.

Il Piave mormorava calmo e placido, al passaggio

Dei primi fanti il ventiquattro maggio;

l’esercito marciava per raggiungere la frontiera

per far contro il nemico una barriera!

Muti passarono quella notte i fanti:

tacere bisognava e andare avanti!

S’udiva intanto dalle amate sponde

sommesso e lieve il tripudiar dell’onde.

Era un presagio dolce e lusinghiero.

il Piave mormorò:: Non passa lo straniero!


From “La leggenda del Piave”

The opening battles of the war on the Italian front occurred May 23-27, 1915 in the High Alps, the principal attack was on the Carso and along the Isonzo River. The initial successful battles were followed by the taking of Monte Nero in a night attack of June 15-16. The First Battle of the Isonzo was fought on June 23-July 7, 1915, it was the first of the Twelve Battles of the Isonzo. The Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo which is also known as the Battle of Caporetto started October 24, 1917. It saw the collapse of the Italian Army(basically the II Armata) and the retreat from the Isonzo and Carnia fronts to the Piave line. Following the “Disfatta di Caporetto” a new defensive line was established from Monte Grappa to Monte Tomba- Monfenera, Montello, the Piave, to the Adriatic Sea. Along this battle zone three bloody crucial battles were valiantly fought. They are La Battaglia d’Arresto fought November and December of 1917; La Battaglia del Solstizio, also called La Battaglia Difensiva, started June 15, 1918; and La Battaglia di Vittorio Veneto, also known as La Battaglia Offensiva, which started on October 24, 1918 and lasted for ten days. The Austrian-Hungarian army was dissolved and on November 3, 1918 the enemy asked for the Armistice and surrendered the next day. The Grande Guerra ended for Italy.

In the early years of the war the focal point of the Italian offensive was along the sixty mile long valley of the Isonzo River, today known as the Soca. The Isonzo sector was a problematic area because of the constant flooding of the River, and because the surrounding towering mountains on the northern sector, which became natural fortresses for the enemy, became an almost insurmountable obstacle. The area east of the Isonzo is characterized by arid limestone uplands known as the Bainsizza and the Carso and this area also posed a big problem. The British described the Carso as “a howling wilderness of stones sharp as knives”. It was along the Isonzo where the hardest and most brutal battles were fought in the first years of the war. For the most part the violent and bloody battles on the Isonzo produced only small gains for the Italians as well as for the Austrian-Hungarians. Usually the land gained was soon lost to the opposite side only to be retaken again. The human loss for both sides were extremely high. Radipuglia, San Martino del Carso, Monte San Michele, Monte Nero, Plezzo, Tolmino, Plava, Monte Sei Busi are just some of the places where 250,000 Italian soldiers of the Second and Third Armatas either died, were wounded, or captured in the first year of the war. The blood bath was for the most part the contribution of soldiers still in their teens. The battles between June 23, 1915 and November 1915 are known as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Battles of the Isonzo. The Italian soldiers battled valiantly in the first year of the war, notable were the Alpini on Monte Nero who heroically resisted the repeated and violent enemy attacks. The region from Salgado to Monfalcone also saw the personal courage of the Italian soldiers, as did Monfalcone itself and the many other locations on the war front. Also notable were the soldiers of the Arma del Genio who, to facilitate passage on the Isonzo, built permanent pontoon bridges, bridgeheads, etc., often working under enemy fire and the rushing and dangerous currents of the river.

The following war song “Fuoco e Mitragliatrici” (Fire and Machine Guns) is based on the Neapolitan song “Sona chitarra”. The verses of the song refer to the end of 1915 and beginning of 1916, the location is Monte San Michele. The conquest of the trench “Trincea dei Raggi” on the 16th of December, 1915 cost the Brigata Sassari the death

of two thirds of her soldiers.

Fuoco e Mitragliatici

Non ne parliamo di questa Guerra

Che sarà lunga un’eternità

Per conquistare un palmo di terra

Quanti compagni son morti di già.

Fuoco e mitragliatrici

Si sente il cannone che spara

Per conquistare la trincea

Savoia si va.

Trincea dei raggi, maledizione

Quanti fratelli son morti lassù

Finirà dunque ‘sta flagellazione

Di questa guerra non se ne parli più.

O monte San Michele

Bagnato di sangue italiano

Tentato più vole ma invano

Gorizia pigliar.

Da monte nero a Monte Cappuccio

Fino all’altura di Doberdò

Un reggimento più volte distrutto

Alfine indietro nessuno tornò.

Fuoco e mitragliatrici

Si sente il cannone che spara

Per conquistar la trincea

Savoia si va.

The winter of 1915-1916 was spent preparing for the coming battles. Lines of defense were reinforced, trenches were repaired, barricades were built to provide cover to the soldiers, caves were dug to shelter the soldiers, warmer clothing was provided, the caloric intake for the soldiers was increased, measures were taken to provide potable water, sanitation was improved, streets were built, telegraphic and telephonic networks were established,……. The Austrians on the opposite mountains were doing the same thing.

While the two armies were preparing for the spring offensive the battles on the Italian front did not come to a full stop. Austrians attacked on Monte Rombon on New Years Eve but were driven back. On January 2 the enemies attacked the Italians on San Michele and again they were driven back. On January 3 the Italians occupied a sector on Monfalcone and drove back the Austrians in the basin of Tolmino as well as in San Martino del Carso. Similar attacks and counter attacks continued throughout January, February, March, and April. One of the brigades that distinguished itself was la Brigata Acqui(17 and 18 regiments) who at the end of March and beginning of April fought bravely and took every trench east of Seltz. On the Trentino and

Carnia fronts the war was also intensive during the winter of 1916. The Italians resisted many of the enemy attacks on Mori, Col di Lana, San Giovanni, Monte Croce Carnico, Monte Sief, Monte Collo in Val Sugana,……

The enemies used the snow in the mountains to their advantage by causing avalanches

with their explosives. The death toll was huge but the Italians continued their valiant efforts to force back the enemy. One of the notable actions in April of 1916 was on Col di Lana where the Eighth Company of the First Regiment Zappatori (grandpa Luca served in the First Regiment Zappatori starting in 1917.) had for the previous three months excavated a mine in the solid rock. The mine was loaded the morning of April 15 with more than a hundred tons of gelatin explosives and it was exploded that night. Twenty five infantry soldiers volunteered to position themselves at the entrance of the mine and as the mine exploded they attacked the enemy who was positioned nearby. The Austrians terrified by the terrible explosion did not put up a fight and 164 Kaiserjager, including nine officials, were taken by the Italian soldiers. About a hundred Austrian soldiers met their death. (According to www.grandeguerra.com Col di Lana was the war zone of the IX Corpo d'Armata of the IV Armata, 18th Division)

On March 9, 1916 Italy began the Fifth Battle of the Isonzo in a series of attacks against the enemy in Doberdo’ and Monte San Michele. The battle did not yield any measurable gains. The Austrian-Hungarians answered the Fifth Battle of the Isonzo (also known as the Battle of Asiago) with a massive offensive on the Altipiani, it was the Strafexpedition(the Punishment Expedition). The positions around Asiago were lost but the attack was contained by the Italians on the Altipiano of the Sette Comuni and on the line Coni Zugna-Pasubio. Also the Italians tried to regain lost positions between the Adige River and the Brenta River but were stopped by the Austrians. By the end of the Battle the front line did not change much but the usual carnage occurred. On the Carso front in the Sector San Michele-San Martino where the trenches of both sides were only meters apart, the morning of June 29, 1916 the Hungarians unleashed asphyxiating clouds of poisonous gasses (a mixture of chlorine and phosgene). Gasses had been used on the western front but until now never against the Italians. The Italian divisions (mainly the Brigade Pisa, Regina, and Ferrara) taken by surprise suffered huge casualties. However the Italians regrouped and drove back the enemies. In just a few hours six thousand Italian soldiers were dead and ten thousand were lost; the Hungarians lost three thousand men, some were killed by their own gasses. The gas assault that was unleashed on Monte San Michele and San Martino was against the IX Corpo, the same Corpo to which my grandfather Gioacchino Luca was assigned in 1917.

“O Gorizia”

La mattina del cinque di agosto

Si muovevano le truppe italiane

Per Gorizia, le terre lontane

E dolente ognun si parti’.

Sotto l’acqua che cadeva a rovescio

Grandinavano le palle nemiche;

su quei monti, colline e gran valli

si moriva dicendo cosi’:

O Gorizia, tu sei maledetta

Per ogni cuore che sente coscienza;

dolorosa ci fu la partenza

e il ritorno per molti non fu.


A soldier’s song of the Grande Guerra

On August 4, 1916 Generale Cadorna, the Supreme Commander of the Italian Army, ordered an attack on the whole front from Medio e Basso Isonzo. This was the Sixth Battle of Isonzo(also known as the Battle of Gorizia). The Austrian-Hungarians were forced to leave the trenches of the Sabotino and San Michele and pull back. On August 9, 1916 Italian units crossed the Isonzo and marched into Gorizia and conquered it. The conquest of Gorizia cost the Italians the loss of 100 thousand soldiers but it gave Italy the first decisive military victory since the beginning of the war. The victory was a morale boost for the Italians and ameliorated the pain for the loss of their children. Italy was now ready to declare war on Germany and did so on August 29, 1916. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Battles of the Isonzo were fought between September 14, 1916 and November 1916. These brief and bloody Battles were designed to expand the Gorizia bridgehead.

The third year of the war, in 1917, began with the reconstruction and reorganization of the armies of both sides. Trenches were dug deeper; caverns were used to shelter men, cannons, logistic services….; armament was improved. In Italy twenty year old men were called to arms as well as some of the older men who previously had been excused to serve because of health or jobs. My grandfather Gioacchino Luca was one of the nineteen year olds who were called to arms. He arrived at the warfront on July 10, 1917.

The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo began May 12, 1917. This Battle saw the indecisive war of the mines on Monte Kuk, Monte Vodice, Monte Santo …, and once again a few trenches were conquered only to be quickly lost. These trenches cost the Italian Army 160 thousand losses (including the 27 thousand who were made prisoners). The cost for the Austrian-Hungarians was 100 thousand losses. Between the tenth and the twenty ninth of June the Italian Army also attacked the Altipiani but was stopped on the Ortigara henceforth known as the “Cemetery of the Alpine” due to the loss of 28 thousand Italians and 9 thousand Austrians.

Between August 17, 1917 and September of 1917 the Italian Army unleashed on the Isonzo front the strongest massive attack of the whole war. This was the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo (grandpa was now one of the soldiers at the war front). The central effort was on the Monte Hermanada and toward the Altopiano of the Bainsizza. In this Eleventh Battle the Genio Pontieri and Genio Zappatori soldiers distinguished themselves. Working under heavy and violent Austrian fire, fourteen bridges were erected across the river allowing the Italian soldiers to cross the river and forcing the enemy to withdraw. The Altopiano del Bainsizza plateau was occupied by the soldiers of the II Armata. A secondary attack on Monte Kuk was also successful and Monte Santo was recaptured. The Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo was the second, after the Battle for Gorizia, great achievement by the Italian Army. However, once again the cost in human lives was huge. The Italian Army lost 165 thousand men (dead, wounded, sick, lost, prisoners).

Thomas Nelson Page, U.S. ambassador to Italy, said of the Tenth and Eleventh Battles of the Isonzo: “The offensive was costly, for the Italians were forced to carry by assault against Austria’s best troops positions which, naturally of tremendous strength, had been fortified by Austria’s highest experts till they were deemed the impregnable bulwarks of the Dual Kingdom. But if the Italian losses were tremendous, they also exacted a heavy toll from the defenders. So successful was this May offensive that Austria felt compelled to draw important reinforcements from her eastern front to defend these gateways to Trieste……..She (Italy) had poured out her blood like water on those rock mountains sides and plateaus, where every point and line were swept by a fire that cut away woods as a harvest-field is mown by the scythe, and blew away the living rock in its elemental fury…..But not only had she (Italy) strengthened her own position; she had rendered, if it were known, a vast service to the Allied cause……” (First World War.Com, Primary Documents: Thomas Nelson Page on the Tenth and Eleventh Battles of the Isonzo, 1917)


Ma in una notte triste si parlò di un fosco evento

e il Piave udiva l’ira e lo sgomento.

Ahi, quanta gente ha visto veenir giù, lasciare il tetto;

poichè il nemico irruppe a Caporetto.

Profughi ovunque dai lont

ani monti,

Venivan a gremir tutti i ponti!

S’udiva allor, dalle violate sponde

Sommessso e triste il mormorio de l’onde.

Come un singuiozzo in quell’autunno nero

Il Piave mormorò: Ritorna lo straniero!


From “Leggenda del Piave”

For the first part of the Grande Guerra Generale Luigi Cadorna was the Comandante Supremo of the Italian Army. Throughout the course of the War he proved to be an inflexible leader. He demanded blind obedience and meted out harsh punishments to those officers and soldiers that he considered “cowards” even in cases of trivial transgressions. Also Cadorna consistently gave the orders to his officials to conduct a purely offensive war. His words were “Vincere e andare avanti….” Frontal assaults and advancing (offensive tactics as opposed to defensive) is always the way to victory according to Cadorna. Apparently he did not consider the possibility of the need for a defensive battle. The consequences of Cadorna’s offensive war resulted in a real slaughter of Italian soldiers. Consider the loss of 680 thousand men (dead, wounded, missing, prisoners) which occurred between May of 1916 and September of 1917.

Visualize the immense cemeteries that sprang all along the theaters of battle, the mountains of cadavers that covered the blooded fields. It is not surprising then that by the end of the

Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo the Italian soldiers were physically exhausted and the morale was at a low point. The Austrians who also found themselves in great difficulties decided to put forth a large offensive before the beginning of winter. The Germans, their allies, were asked to join them in the offensive.

The major offensive was unleashed at 2am the night of October 25th. The enemy strategy was to converge on Caporetto from along two lines: from Tolmino and Plezzo with the intention to surround the IV Corpo d’Armata and to break up the other Italian divisions. This plan would cause the disbanding of the whole front from the Altopiano of the Bainsizza to the Carso. The intensive bombardment began atMonte Rombon against the first lines of battle and behind the front line, the enemy fire was also directed at communication posts and against Italian artillery. The violent bombardment was followed with grenades and toxic gasses especially in the Plezzo basin. The heavy fog favored the enemies. Over and over the Italian troops resisted, and wh

en the soldiers were out of ammunition they fought using rocks as weapons. The morning of the 27th the situation was critical, the Italian lines were attacked with increased force and violence. The first enemy troops reached Cividale and by evening the enemies arrived in force. From Plezzo (where the entire 87th Regiment was killed) to Monte Rosso, to Monte Nero, at Caporetto, all along the Isonzo River the casualties were heavy but the Italians kept fighting until the officers uttered the words “si salvi chi puo”. The evening of the 27th Generale Cadorna ordered the evacuation of the troops from the Bainsizza and the retreat to the river Tagliamento.

The III Armata positioned on the Carso began the evacuation the night of the 27th. Unfortunately the II Armata stationed on the left wing began the evacuation before the actual order was given. Dispersed soldiers without any arms along with the scared peasants descended from the mountains toward the valley. The mass of fleeing human beings was constantly increasing by the civilians multitudes that joined the soldiers all along the fleeing route. A chaotic mass flight ensued. “…came on the main channels of the retreat and walked all night toward the Tagliamento. I had not realized how gigantic the retreat was. The whole country was moving, as well as the army.” (Page 218, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway) The ene overwhelmed entire divisions of the Italian II Armata while the Austrian-Germans shouted “a Milano! a Milano!” The Italians, soldiers and civilians, were convinced that all was lost - the Carso, the Veneto, all of Italy. The towns of Friuli region were mercilessly bombarded by the enemy until they were totally razed or burned to the ground. Whatever was left was plundered by both the enemy and the fleeing hungry Italian soldiers and civilians who destroyed or took everything along the route. It must be noted that for the most part the II Armata was abandoned by the officers and for two days they were totally without orders. Two hundred thousand soldiers lost contact with their regiments and ended disbanded on the other side of the Piave River. Three hundred thousand were made prisoners. The enormous chaotic catastrophe that befall the II Armata in the First World War marked Italy negatively for a whole generation to come.

Not all of the evacuation was as chaotic as that of the II Armaa. For example the XXIII Corpo led by Generale Diaz marched with discipline, carried with them most of the artillery, and protected the refugees along the route. On the night of October 27 what remained of the II Armata valiantly protected the retreating III Armata. On the same night as the Italian soldiers were leaving Udine traitors started to shoot the retreating soldiers! The Arditi of II Armata reinforced by a platoon of the IV Armata and a company of bersaglieri ciclisti were sent to defend the city of Udine. Udine was about to be captured by the enemy but the Arditi and assorted reinforcements put up a heroic defense until the city was captured on the 29th of October. Despite the efforts by certain groups from the II Armata Generale Cadorna placed the blame totally on the soldiers of the II Armata. The 28th of Ocotober Cadorna issued a war bulletin and in it he said “La mancata resistenza di reparti della II Armata, vilmente ritiratisi senza combattere, ignominiosamente arresisi al nemico o dandosi codardamente alla fuga, ha permesso alle forze austrogermaniche di rompere la nostra ala sinistra del fronte Giulia”. The Italian government tried to somehow correct Cardona’s bulletin but the original version was disseminated outside Italy. Ironically it was the enemies who appreciated and held in esteem the valiant efforts of the Italian soldiers. In a propaganda manifest the enemy said in part speaking of Cadorna and the soldiers “ Egli ha l’audacia di accusare il vostro esercito che tante volte si è lanciato dietro suo ordine in inutili e disperati attacchi! Questa è la recompensa al vostro valore! Avete sparso il vostro sangue in tanti combattamenti; il nemico stesso non vi negò la stima dovuta come avversari valorosi. .........”

Ernest Hemingway in his “A Farewell to Arms” talks about the retreat from Caporetto, the following quotes are from this novel. “….the Austrians had broken through the twenty-seventh army corps up toward Caporetto. There had been a great battle in the north all day. ‘If those bastards let them through we are cooked,’ he said.’ It’s Germans that are attacking,’ one of the medical officers said. The word Germans was something to be frightened of. We did not want to have anything to do with the Germans” (page187). “The next night the retreat started. We heard that Germans and Austrians had broken through in the north and were coming down the mountain valleys toward Cividale and Udine. The retreat was orderly, wet and sullen. In the night, going slowly along the crowded roads we passed troops marching under the rain, guns, horses pulling wagons, mules, motor trucks, all moving away from the front. There was no more disorder than in an advance.” (page188)

The retreat continued on the 29th and 30th of October. The group Carnico crossed the Tagliamento River while the IV Armata evacuated from the Sesis and Visdente Valleys. The III Armata began the crossing of the Tagliamento and the remaining II Armata (Corpi II, VI, XXIV) all headed for the bridges of Codroipo under heavy enemy fire. But the enemies were not able to cut off the retreat of the III Armata as there was a strong resistance on the part of the Italians. When on October 30 the enemy reached the bridges in Cadroipo the Italian soldiers destroyed the bridges and thus preventing the enemy from following them. The Italian soldiers crossed the bridge at Mandrisio and saved themselves on the right side of the Tagliamento. On October 31 Cadorna gave orders to the IV Armata to accelerate the retreat to the Piave River and ordered the II Armata to resist on the right side of the Tagliamento River. The IV Armata (grandpa Gioacchino Luca was a soldier in this Armata) under the command of Generale di Robilant began the retreat in an orderly fashion and with renewed spirit and dignity. Soldiers from all other Italian armies voluntarily came to facilitate the retreat, to defend, and to resist the enemy. The Piave too resisted the enemy, once the Italian soldiers crossed her waters the swollen and raging Piave stopped the Austrians from crossing.

By the time that the retreating troops arrived at the Piave River the war was no longer a political or military issue but one of pride of a Nation. Now Italy was truly One Country One Nation. At the beginning of the war Italy was a very young nation forged from many “states”, the feeling of Oneness had not yet fully developed. But from the ashes of a beaten army arose the pride of a Nation and the will to defend Her. The enemy would not win and the invaders’ shouts of “A Milano! A Milano! were soon answered by the Italian soldiers fighting to defend their “PATRIA”.

On November 7 the III Armata crossed to the right of the Piave. At Pieve di Soligo the “veterans” of many victorious battles were arriving, they were the proud and brave “Arditi” of the “Fiamme Nere” under the command of Coronel Bassi. The IV Armata had the XVIII Corpo deployed on Col Moschin at Monte Tomba; the IX (grandpa’s Corpo) was from Monte Tomba to Vidor; the I Corpo had a division near Montello; the rest of the troops were still in Val Piave. So ended the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo also known as the Battle of Caporetto, also known as La Disfatta di Caporetto, also known as La Rotta di Caporetto. The Italian casualties were fifty thousand dead or wounded and over two hundred eighty thousand imprisoned.

November 8, 1917 Generale Cadorna left his Command and on November 9 Generale Armando Diaz assumed it. Generale Gaetano Giardino was called to Arms.

E ritornò il nemico: per l’orgoglio e per la fame

Volea sfogare tutte le s

ue brame,

Vedeva il piano aprico, di lassù:

voleva ancora

Sfamarsi e tripudiare come allora!

No, disse il Piave, no, i fanti,

Mai più il nemico faccia un passo avanti!

Si vide il Piave rigonfiar le sponde

e come i fanti, co

mbatteron l’onde.

Rosso del sangue del nemico altero,

il Piave comandò: Indietro va, straniero!



From “La Leggenda del Piave”

The Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo began on the Isonte front and ended with the Battaglia d’Arresto on the Piave and Monte Grappa. On the Altopiano dei Sette Comuni the Battaglia d’Arresto began the 10th of November and ended with the Italian victory on December 25, 1917. This battle was primarily fought not to attack, as Cadorna had mandated up to now, but to buy enough time for the retreating forces to entrench themselves in those positions from where future action would take place. Who were the courageous soldiers of the Battle of Arresto? The IV Armata assisted by battalions from the II Armata. Yes, the same soldiers who only a few days before had “deserted” from the II Armata, and the retreating IV Armata. The objective of the Germans and Austrian forces was to take the two key peaks of Monte Asolone and Monte Tomba. From Monte Tomba they could see the actions of the Italians and direct their artillery at them, and from Monte Asolone they could cut off the main supply artery to the Grappa. But on Monte Grappa the Italian Army did not break down, the soldiers fiercely defended their Sacred Mountain. On December 28, 1917 Monte Asolone and Col della Beretta were recaptured by the troops of the Abruzzi Brigade (IX Corpo) and the Alpini of the Monte Rosa, Susa and Pinerolo Battalions. Monte Tomba was captured on December 30 by the French 47th division of Chasseurs Alpins. The German and Austrian forces retreated to the ridge lines north of Asolone, Pertica, and Tomba for the duration of winter. While waiting out the winter they were planning a concluding offensive and the final deathblow for Italy.

At the end of the Battaglia d’Arresto on the Grappa Liutenant General Konrad Krafft von Dellmensingen made this comment: “Così si arrestò, a poca distanza dal suo obiettivo, l’offensiva ricca di speranze e il Grappa diventò il ‘MONTE SACRO’ degli Italiani. D’averlo conservato contro gli eroici sforzi delle migliori truppe dell’Esercito Austro ungarico e dei loro camerati Tedeschi, essi, con ragione, possono andare superbi!” Yes, the Italians were proud of their soldiers who made the Grappa the Sacred Mountain of the Italians” fighting the bloody battles in the middle of winter in the mountains under a meter of snow and sub zero temperatures. In his memoirs Generale Gaetano Giardino wrote “… E, cioè, fu una ‘resistenza gloriosa’ di truppe, ricca di risultati grandiosi, ma conseguiti col solo eroismo delle truppe e dei loro Comandanti in linea, e cioè senza concetto, senza manovre, e pertanto non fu una ‘battaglia’ che possa catalogarsi in nessun stile teorico” It was imperative that the enemies not cross Monte Grappa for if they succeeded to cross the Grappa and godown into the important artery of Val Brenta and into the Veneto Plains all would be lost for the Italians. Fortunately the hopes of the enemy were stopped on Monte Grappa.

After the Strafexpedition Generale Cadorna foreseeing a possible future retreat on the Piave ordered fortification work to be done on the Grappa. The work began in November, 1916 and ended by October 24, 1917. It was this work that saved the Grappa from the fury of the enemy in the Battle of Arresto; and eventually it was crucial for the defense of the Piave and the Veneto region. But up to November 1917 the work on the Grappa was limited. The mountain could only be reached by paths and mule tracks since the only road was the unfinished Cadorna Road, starting at Romano d'Ezzelino (Bassano del Grappa). In addition there were two cableways, a water conduit, a reservoir, a few barbed wire entanglements, and a few positions for machine guns. All were on the side of the mountain facing the Brenta River. In his foreward Scapin quotes Generale Clemente Assum (from his book ‘La Prima difesa del Grappa’) about the work on the Grappa, “…. Non esistono sul Grappa nè capisaldi, nè trincee, nè reticolati, nè postazioni per mitragliatrici, nè gallerie, nè caverne, nè ricoveri, nè sbancamenti, nè camminamenti, nè sbarramenti, nè mascheramenti.....” All of the defensive and offensive work needed including the fortress inside the tunnel on Cima Grappa began January 1, 1918 and was completed on June 15, 1918. The extensive work on the Grappa was done at the order of Generale Giardino and executed by l’Armata del Grappa.

What were the Italian soldiers on the Grappa doing the winter of 1917-1918? They were regrouping and replenishing the Divisions that had been decimated at Caporetto. I ragazzi del ’99 were called up to serve their country, a total of 260,000 eighteen year olds! A system of trenches was dug, caverns and caves were dug out of sheer rock, strongholds were built, wire entanglements were erected, posts for machines were established, roads were built…. Yes, they were building, they were digging, they were straightening their defense, they were preparing for the next phase of the war.


Grandpa Gioacchino Luca and fellow soldiers

The sector west of the Grappa from Canal di Brenta to the Asolone,( including Col della Berretta, Col Campeggia, Col Moschin, and Cima Grappa), the area in which the IX Corpo D’Armata operated during the Battaglia Difensiva of June 15-16, 1918, was difficult to defend because it was totally visible from the enemy positions and could easily be accessed by the enemy’s direct fire. Hence it was necessary for the Italians to place the soldiers and all weapons in caverns from where they would be out of plain sightof the enemy. In doing so the enemy would be at a disadvantage not knowing from where the Italians would attack. On the same day that Generale Giardino assumed the Command of L’Armata del Grappa he conferred with the commanders of artillery, genio, and the head of communications. After visiting the commands of all of the Corpi of Armata he went to Cima Grappa to inspect the work already done; then he gave orders to build an autonomous stronghold, a fortress, capable to give support to all of the war front. As previously stated the work on the Grappa was done by the IV Armata, specifically by the Genio, I will talk about this very important work in another section of this account.

L’Armata del Grappa (IV Armata) was born April 17, 1918, got its commander Generale Gaetano Giardino on April 26, 1918. It was Generale Giardino who on April 29 gave the Armata her name. The Armata del Grappa was author of two great battles, the first, the DEFENSIVE BATTLE (Also known as the Battaglia del Solstizio) which started on June 15, 1918, and the second, the OFFENSIVE BATTLE (Also known as the Battaglia Vittorio Veneto) which was fought from October 24 to November 3, 1918. In these two battles the Grappa was immortalized. Within days, having accomplished her mission, the Armata del Grappa was gone. But she did not die, she is kept alive in the hearts of the Italian people. In the foreword of an article written by Cristian Scapin he says: “In sei mesi ebbe il privilegi o, essa sola, di due grandi battaglie senza ombre. Il 15 giugno, la sua bella battaglia difensiva: di lunga mano preparata, breve, tenace, mordente, vittoriosa, solo con le sue forze. Dal 24 ottobre al 3 novembre, la sua battaglia offensiva: improvvisa, lunga, sanguinosa, il sacrificio di se, senza limiti, per la salvezza di tutti; essa sola il 70% delle perdite dell’intero esercito in quella battaglia.” (www.cimeetrincee.it /scapin.htm) The Armistice with the Austrian-Hungarians and Germany was signed. The war ended. Generale Giardino, for health reasons, left his Command and vanished along with his Armata del Grappa.

The following are the Corpi that made up the Armata del Grappa on the eve of the Battle of the Solstizio :

The IX along the margins of the River Brenta, Tenente Generale Emilio De Bono

The VI at the center which included the top of the Grappa, Tenente Generale Stefano Lombardi

The XVIII on the salient of the Solaroli, Tenente Generale Luigi Basso

The II along the line Monfenera-Tomba, Tenente Generale Settimo Piacentini

On October 24, 1918:

The IX stationed in the same location as in June

The VI was also in the same location as in June.

The XXX was in position from Mount Boccaor to Osteria M

onfenera, Tenente Generale Donato Etna until June 3, then Tenente Generale Umberto Montanari

(Mount Tomba was now under the leadership of the XII Armata, next in line was the VIII Armata which was flanked by the X Armata, and finally, clos

est to the sea, was the III Armata)

(The above information was obtained from )

My grandfather GIOACCHINO LUCA served with the First Regiment Genio Zappatori Telegrafisti, IX Corpo d'Armata. The soldiers of the IX Corpo distinguished themselves while serving in the brave and glorious Armata del Grappa.

The Fourth Armata having retreated from il Cadore assumed the command of the front sector that included il Grappa, from the river Brenta to the river Piave to Nervesa and Montello. Her Corpi were I, IX, and XVIII together with some special supporting troops. This configuration changed somewhat from time to time. On March 19, 1918 the Fourth Armata assumed the command of the mountain sector between Brenta and Piave up to Pederobba, it consisted of three fixed Corpi the I, the IX (the veterans of il Cadore), and the VI. The XVIII and the XXX Corpi alternated on the Grappa line. The IX Corpo D’Armata was unique in the Armata as it always consisted of the 17 and 18 Divisions. The 17th was formed on December 30, 1917 with the Brigades Abruzzi and Basilicata. The 18th was formed January 28, 1917 with the Brigades Bari and Calabria (Grandpa Gioacchino Luca would have been a soldier in one of these four Brigades). The front of the IX Corpo d’Armata stopped at the testate of the valleys under enemy control. At most there were only three kilometers between the front line of the Italians and that of the enemy. There were three lines of defense in the zone where the Fourth Armata operated, they consisted of three systems of trenches which were constructed by the Genio of l’Armata del Grappa. The first line of defense was called Linea Alba, the second Linea Bianca, and the third Linea Clelia. This last line was not yet completed and it was only from 300 to 500 meters away from the Linea Bianca. Linea Alba went from Roccie Anzini, Col del Miglio, Osteria il Lepre, Col del Vecchio to quota 1520 of the Asolone Mountain. Linea Bianca went from the River Brenta, Col del Miglio, the Valleys Manara and Camporoa, Val San Lorenzo, to Val Damòno south of the Asolone. The Linea Clelia went from the Valleys of Camporoa and Albero, across Val San Lorenzo and Val Damòno. The area in front of Col Moschin and Col Fenilòn was under construction. (The area of battle for the VI Corpo abutted the area of the IX on the Asolone.)

La BATTAGLIA DIFENSIVA, June 15-16, 1918

The IX Corpo d’Armata was in the command of Generale Emilio De Bono. As previously mentioned, it consisted of the 18th Division with the Brigates Calabria (59 and 60 infantry) and Bari( 139 and 140 infantry), and the 17th with the Brigades Basilicata (91and 92 infantry) and Abruzzi (57 and 58 infantry). These Divisions were lined up in Valle San Lorenzo, Col Fagheròn, Ponte San Lorenzo on the Asolone, Val Damòno, Col del Gallo, Valle Santa Felicita, Col Ramero-Capitello, Semonzo, and Bassano del Grappa. Col Campeggia was the headquarters for the Comando Tattico del IX Corpo d'Armata. Begininning at the end of 1917 the zone of Col Campeggia became the location for the lines of communication to support the first lines located on Monte Asolone. Some of the most violent battles of the war in 1918 were fought on the Asolone and it was here that the lives of thousands of very young soldiers were sacrificed in order to stop the advance of the enemies. The famous IX Reparto d’assalto whose commander was il Maggiore Giovanni Messe was deployed at Col Campeggia and Monte Noselari in the command of the 18th Division. The command of the battalions of the Genio also was located at Col Campeggia.

Between April 24, 1918 and June 15, 1918, the day of the beginning of the Defensive Battle, different plans were made by the Italian Comando for an offensive battle. The plans kept changing according to the reports about the enemy’s imminent attack, the availability of the troops which were reduced due to the Spanish Influenza, and the inclement weather which included sleet, blizzards, and fog. Finally on June 13 the intelligence gatherers confirmed that the attack by the enemy would occur on June 15. The fierce attack began all along the war front at three am, June 15. In the opening barrage in the Grappa-Piave line alone a 100,000 Austrian gas shells, accompanied by ten times as many high explosive rounds were unleashed. The particularly violent attack lasted for four hours however, to the surprise of the Austrians, the Italian artillery quickly reacted unleashing a strong counterattack. This time the Italian soldiers were prepared. Armando Diaz, unlike his predecessor, did not concentrate in one location but had his troops ready in all of the war fronts. Also the various troops worked together reorganizing and moving to the different strongholds.

The enemy line went from Brenta to the Piave, encompassing the front of the Armata del Grappa. The Italian line from Brenta to the Piave consisted of the IX, VI, XIII, and the I Corpi. The IX Corpo was assigned the area from the edge of Sasso di Cane on the Val Brenta and up to quota 1139 at the east side of the VI Corpo. All along the front of the IX Corpo the Austrians had control of the high points of the valleys. The deepest enemy penetration had occurred on the western sector of the Grappa, the cliffs that plunge to the Brenta River and the valley on San Lorenzo, the war front of the IX Corpo. The enemy took the Italian strongholds of Col del Miglio, Col Moschin, Col Fenilòn, and Col Fagheròn but the captured strongholds were soon retaken by the Italians. On the same day the enemy attacked the area between Val San Lorenzo and Val Cesilla on the Asolone but here too the enemy was pushed back by the Italian counteroffensive. The Austrian divisions suffered heavy losses, over 30,000 casualties.

The IX Corpo d'Armata as a whole distinguished itself in the Battaglia Difensiva, however I want to single out two groups from the IX Corpo. The first group includes battalions of the Genio that were stationed at Col del Gallo and at Col Campeggia to do road work and who actually fought the enemy alongside divisions of the Basilicata and the Abruzzi. Together they pushed back the enemy and were able to occupy the line Fagheròn-San Giovanni. The other group is the heroic IX Reparto d’Assalto (shock troop battalions) commanded by Maggiore G. Messe. “….Bisogna contrattaccarlo, respingelo, annietarlo. Di una cosa sola ricordatevi: che siete fiamme nere! Rapidità impeto e nessun quartiere al nemico. Ricordate: si vincerà o nessuna fiamma nera tornerà! Avanti…” With these words Maggiore Messe, on June 15, 1918, gave his soldiers the order to proceed toward il Fagheròn and to stop the enemy’s advance. As they proceeded toward il Fagheròn they found divisions from one of the battalions of the Basilicata, a few soldiers from the Abruzzi, a captain of the Genio and a few of his men, all resisting the enemy in an effort to keep the important stronghold from falling in enemy’s hands. At 4 pm the tactical ferocious Arditi of the IX Reparto d’Assalto attacked the enemy and the Fagheròn returned into Italian hands.

On the same day the Arditi of the IX Reparto d’Assalto re-organized and together with the

Brigata Basilicata advanced toward il Fenilòn. The attack began at 10 pm and by 11 pm the Fenilòn was recaptured from the enemy. About 2 am of June 16 the Brigata Basilicata prepared for battle on Col Moschin putting the 92nd Battalion, which was coming from Bassano, at the disposal of Maggiore Messe. The 92nd arrived at 6 and 7 am and along with the Arditi, artillery from IX Corpo, and the XX Corpo (Armata degli Altipiani) the attack began. In ten minutes Col Moschin was back in Italian hands. During the night the Linea Bianca was completely in Italian hands (this was the war sector of the IX Corpo). The enemy retreated to the Linea Alba, a line of little strategic importance.

Col Moschin Soldati del IX Corpo

Of interest: During the days of June 15 and 16 the lines of communication were almost non existent because they had been destroyed by the enemy. Basically the only method of communication between the various Corps and the Command was by means of pigeons and the ground telegraphy stations. Basically it was the firing of enemy machine guns that announced the approaching enemies. (Part of grandpa Gioacchino Luca’s work in the War was as a telegraphist) (For a detailed chronology and description of the Battaglia Difensiva of June 15-16, 1918 read Cristian Scapin’s essay at www.cimeetrincee.it/scapin.htm , Chapter IV)

After many bloody battles the Austrians on the night of June 23 began the retreat. When the Italians (VIII Armata with the participation of the IV Armata) broke through the front at Mondello the enemy retreat turned into a ghastly disorder. The enemies were now the ones who had to re-cross the River Piave! The night of June 23 the Comando Supremo announced to the country the news of the retreat with these words: “Dal Montello al mare, il nemico, sconfitto e incalzato dalle nostre valorose truppe, ripassa in disordine il Piave”

According to the most brilliant action occurred on June 24 on the Asolone (IX Corpo) which was retaken from the Austrians by the heroic IX Reparto d’Assalto “….il quale con inaudito impeto, combattendo e vincendo, scrisse una delle pagine più gloriose della sua storia”. It was in this battle that the Sicilian Ardito Ciro Scianna met his death and found immortality. He died kissing the Flag and shouting “Viva l’Italia

In the Battaglia Difensiva the Grigioverdi (the name given the Italian soldiers because of the color of their uniform) bravely defended each inch of the Grappa, they understood that the enemy must not pass. The bulletin of the morning of June 18 said ”…Dallo Stelvio al mare ognuno ha compreso che il nemico non deve assolutamente passare: ciascuno dei nostri bravi soldati che difendono il Grappa ha sentito che ogni palmo dello storico monte è Sacro alla Patria”. The vindication of Caporetto had begun.

Ernest Hemingway, an American Red Cross volunteer, witnessed the battles on Monte Grappa. In a letter home he said that the Battaglia Difensiva was “a great victory and showed the world what wonderful fighters the Italians are.” The losses on the Grappa were14,000 for the Italians, and 35,000 for the Austrians. In total, the losses in the Battaglia Difensiva were 85,000 for the Italians, and 180,000 for the Austrians.

La BATTAGLIA OFFENSIVA, October 24- November 4,1918

Indietreggiò il nemico fino a Tries

te, fino a Trento

E la Vittoria sciolse l’ali al vento!

Fu sacro il patto antico, tra le schiere

Furon visti risorgere Oberdan, Sauro e Battisti!

Infranse alfin l’italico valore

Le forche e l’armi dell’Impiccatore!

Sicure l’Alpi, libere le sponde

E tacque il Piave, si placaron l’onde.

Sul patrio suol vinti i torvi Imperi,

la Pace non trovò nè opp

ressi, nè stranieri.

From “La Leggenda del Piave”

Written by Giovanni Gaeta

By October of 1918 the Italians were more than ready to rid Italy of the enemy who had brutally occupied Northern Italy. The Offensive Battle was to begin the morning of October 24, exactly one year after the battle of Caporetto began, with the IV Armata attacking in the region of the Grappa and the other Armatas attacking other areas. In this battle the IV Armata was composed of the IX Corpo (divisions 17, 12, and 18, commanded by Tenente Generale De Bono), the VI Corpo, and the XXX Corpo. Generale Giardino, Comando Supremo, launched the battle with encouraging and patriotic words for his soldiers. “E l’ora della riscossa. E l’ora nostra. I fratelli schiavi aspettano I soldatini del Grappa liberatori! Chi di voi non si sente bruciare di furia e d’amore? Il nemico traballa. E il momento di dargli il tracollo che può essere l’ultimo se glielo date secco. Ognuno di voi valga per dieci e per cento. Il vostro Generale sa che varrete per dieci e per cento. L’Italia vi guarda ed aspetta da ciascuno di voi la liberazione e la vittoria. Soldati miei, avanti!”

On October 24 at 3 am the artillery began firing from the Brenta

River to the Piave River and a few hours later the Italian infantry attacked the enemy on the Grappa. The enemy responded with heavy fire on the Asolone and other sectors on the Grappa. The Italians absorbed the losses and continued to attack enemy lines. The next day, June 25, the IV Armata renewed the artillery fire concentrating its efforts on Col della Berretta, Pertica, Asolone, Solarolo, Valderoa. On the Asolone the IX Reparto d’Assalto along with other companies overwhelmed the enemies; the XVIII Reparto d’Assalto together with the Brigata Pesaro took Pertica; etc. All along the Grappa the Italian forc

es kept neutralizing the enemy forces and thus preventing the enemies to move to the warfront where the Italian VIII Armata was fighting. The fierce battle on the Grappa continued on June 26 with the Italians continuing their successes.

Meanwhile the offensive on the Piave had to be postponed for a day because the Piave had risen to an extremely high level. Finally the waters began to recede and the XII Armata was able to occupy the islands in the area of the Grave di Papadopoli. On the same day however a torrential downpour caused the Piave to swell to dangerous levels and the current was so strong that it was impossible to continue the crossing of the river. By the evening of the 26th the current of the Piave had lessened allowing work to begin. The plan was to build eleven pontoon bridges all along the Piave, however because of the violent flow of the swollen river and the persistent enemy fire only six could be built. On the 27th the Italian soldiers began to cross the Piave and the main Italian offensive began. It was an arduous crossing because the enemy and the impetuous current of the Piave kept destroying the bridges. Not to mention the violent enemy attacks on the Italian soldiers themselves (who valiantly kept counter attacking and retaking lost terrain). The night of the 28th the bridges were rebuilt despite the ever increasing volume and velocity of the water, and despite the enemy attacks which included use of mustard gas. But once again the Italian soldiers were able to build the bridges and continued to cross the Piave. Crossing the Piave with the Italians was the American 332nd regiment, the only American unit that fought on the Italian front. (The US Troops fought in only one action, at the Italian Front at Codroipo, November 2, 1918)

In the meantime at the front of the IV Armata, on the Pertica, Asolone, Val Cesilla, Col della Barretta, Solarolo, Conca di Feltre, etc. the Italians kept pushing and attacking and counterattacking. The enemy fiercely resisted and tirelessly counter attacked bringing into the battles on the Grappa all of her reserves which had been stationed in the Conca di Feltre. As a result the enemy troops engaged on the Grappa were impeded from fighting along the Piave where the VIII, X, and XII Armatas were conducting their part of the Battaglia. The Battaglia Offensiva went according the plans of the Comando Supremo. On the night of 30-31 of October the enemy retreat began on the Fonzano-Feltre front in order to be deployed to the alto Piave. Generale Giardino gave the order for the IV Armata to advance to the Conca di Feltre and stop the enemy’s resistance. The IV Armata, assisted by the VI Armata, quickly moved through Val Brenta and took il Cismon. By the night of the 31st the IV Armata, despite obstinate enemy resistance, reached the Piave between Lential and Mel. The other Italian Armatas also were mounting their offensive battles reaching their assigned goals and liberating Italy from the enemy invaders.

On November 1, Generale Diaz issued the following proclamation “Fratelli dell’Italia! L’esercito italiano avanza vittorioso a liberarvi per sempre. Il nemico in rotta, fuggendo dalle vostre città fedeli, gloriose, annuncia il nostro arrivo, la nostra vittoria. Lascia dietro sè decine di migliaia di prigioneri, centinaia di cannoni tutte le sue ambizioni. Il giuramento dei nostri eroi si è compiuto; per la forza delle armi e della giustizia si è avverato il vaticinio dei nostri martiri; la libertà è risorta, nel nome di Roma, su, dalle sante tombe dei nostri morti. Dopo un secolo di guerra, di speranze e di ansie, tutta la Patria si riunisce intorno al suo Re. Fratelli! Siate nella gioia calmi e saldi quali foste lungo il dorore depositari incorruttibili della più pura e umana civiltà che abbia mai fatto la luce sul mondo. Del nemico vinto non dimenticato le iniquità e le insidie, ma respingente il triste esempio di crudeltà e violenza. Da oggi l’esercito d’Italia è il vostro esercito. Aiutatelo a ristabilire l’ordine pel bene di tutti, come tanti di voi, da Cesare Battisti a Nazario Sauro, l’hanno aiutato a raggiungere questa vittoria”. Diaz announces the coming victory, honors the sacrifices of the soldiers, wants everyone to remember the evil done by the enemies. He also asks his soldiers and the Italian people not to follow the evil example of the enemies and to reject actions of cruelty and violence against them.

On the same day, November 1, the Comando Supremo issued the orders for all of the Armatas to advance to their assigned positions, all leading to the bridges of the Isonzo where they were to stop the enemy. The IV Armata was to advance to the front of Bolzano-Egna. The 21st division of the IV Armata proceeded toward Valsugana and took Grigno in a powerful show of strength and courage, the result was that they closed the way out for the Austrians on the Altopiano d’Asiago. (For more specific information on the campaign of November 1-3, see pages 7-10, (http://cronologia.leonardo.it/storia/a1918). On November 2 and 3 the IV Armata fought fierce battles against the desperate but still resisting enemies. On the third the first squadrons of the Italian Cavalry entered Levico, Pergine, Trento where they joined the I Armata and together took the Ponte della Serra. By 3 pm of November 4 the Italian Armies reached the front line extending from the Stelvio to the sea. The Germans and the Austro-Hungarians surrendered. La Grande Guerra in Italy ended. The evening of November 4 Generale Diaz issued his last war bulletin. “La Guerra contro l’Austria-Ungheria che, sotto l’alta guida di S. Maestà il Re -Duce Supremo- l’esercito italiano, inferiore per numero e per mezzi, iniziò il 24 maggio 1915 e con lode incrollabile e tenace calore condusse, ininterrotta ed asprissima per 41 mesi, è vinta. La gigantesca battaglia ingaggiata il 24 dello scorso ottobre ed alla quale prendevano parte 51 divisioni italiane, 3 britanniche, 2 francesi, 1 cecoslovacca, ed 1 reggimento americano contro 73 divisioni a.u., è finita. La fulminea, arditssima avanzata del XXIX Corpo d’Armata su Trento, sbarrando le vie della ritirata alle Armate nemiche del Trentino, travolte ad occidente dalle truppe della VII Armata e ad oriente da quelle della I, VI, e IV; ha derterminato ieri lo sfacelo totale del fronte avversario. Dal Brenta al Torre l’irresistibile slancio della XII, dell’VIII e della X Armata e delle divisioni di Cavalleria ricaccia sempre più indietro il nemico fuggente. Nella pianura S.A.R. il Duca d’Aosta avanza rapidamente alla testa della sua invitta III Armata, anelante di ritornare sulle posizioni già gloriosamente conquistate, che mai perse. L’esercito austro-ungarico è annietato: esso ha subito perdite gravissime nell’accanita resistsenza dei primi giorni di lotta, nell’inseguimento ha perduto quantità ingentissime di materiale di ogni sorta e presocchè per intero i suoi magazzini ed i depositi; ha lasciato fino ad ora nelle nostre mani circa trecentomila prigioneri con interi Stati Maggiori e non meno di cinquemila cannoni”.

Then Diaz added with his own hand: “I resti di quello che fu uno dei più potenti eserciti del mondo risalgono in disordine e senza speranza le valli che avevano discese con orgogliosa sicurezza”.


Monte Grappa tu sei la mia Patria,

Sovra a te il nostro sole risplende,

A te mira chi spera ed attende

I fratelli che a guardia vi stan.

Contro a te gia s’infranse il nemico

Che all’Italia tendeva lo sguardo,

Non si passa un cotal baluardo

Affidato ad italici cuor.

Monte Grappa tu sei la mia Patria,

Sei la stella che addita il cammino

Sei la gloria, il volere, il destino

Che all’Italia ci fa ritornar.

Le tue cime fur sempre vietate

Per il piè dell’odiato straniero,

Dei tuoi fianchi egli ignora il sentiero

Che pugnando più volte tentò.

Qual la candida neve che al verno

Ti ricopre di splendido ammanto

Tu sei puro ed invitto col vanto

Che il nemico non lasci passar.

Monte Grappa tu sei la mia Patria,

Sei la stella che addita il cammino

Sei la gloria, il vol

ere, il destino

Che all’Italia fa ritornar.

O montagna per noi tu sei sacra

Giù di li scenderanno le schiere

Che irrompenti a spiegare bandiere

L’invasore dovranno scacciar.

Ed i giorni del nostro servaggio

Che scontammo mordendo nel freno

In un forte avvenire sereno

Noi ben presto vedremo mutar.

Monte Grappa tu sei la mia Patria,

Sei la stella che addita il cammino

Sei la gloria, il volere, il destino

Che all’Italia ci fa ritornar.

The song was written by Generale Emilio De Bono, Ten. Gen. of the IX Corpo d'Armata, l'Armata del Grappa. The music was written by Capitano Antonio Meneghetti

The Commander of the l’Armata del Grappa, Generale Giardino, after the battle of August 24, 1918 had given his soldiers 150 thousand copies of the song “Monte Grappa tu sei la mia Patria” and urged his soldiers to go into battle singing the song, whispered sweetly and then sung loudly. It was a promise of liberation and the music would become loud and clear the day of victory. These are the words of Generale Giardino to his soldiers: “Soldati miei! Alle balze di Col Moschin echeggiò sommessa la voce gemente dei fratelli schiavi. I fratelli in armi vi protesero intenti l’orecchio e l’anima, e ne bevvero la parola e l’armonia, come baci di un’amante incatenata. Così, ecco a voi, soldati del Grappa, la canzone d’amore e di fede, che a Fonzaso, a Feltre, a Belluno, sospira dolente tra le catene austriache. Ancora per poco, soldati del Grappa! Imparatela tutti. Sentite che ardenti lagrime vi sono dentro! Sospiratela piano anche voi, nelle veglie sul monte, come un giuramento d’armi. Cantatela dolce, nel raccoglimento serale delle vostre tende, come una canzone d’amore. Cantatela balda, nelle vostre marcie, come una promessa di liberazione. Giorno verrà che vi chiamerò alla riscossa! Allora cambieremo la musica, e voi, questa dolente canzone, la farete ruggire come tempesta, sul viso e sul corpo dell’austriaco, tra il lampo delle vostre baionette. E sarà la liberazione e la vendetta! A voi!”


Signed “Giar


(The above information was obtained from )

I am sure that grandpa Gioacchino Luca heard the exhortation uttered by his General and sang the song while on duty on the Grappa!

The promise was fulfilled, Italy was victorious. The tremendous heroic contribution that was made by L’Armata del Grappa was critical to the victory. The Grappa was immortalized. The fifth of November L’Armata del Grappa was gone but not forgotten. November 15 Generale Giardino said good by to his Armata with these words: “L’Armata del Grappa non morrà; è stata un formidabile strumento di guerra; più ancora, è stata, ed è, e sarà, un fascio meraviglioso di anime; la sua Gloria ha le radici nel vivo cuore del popolo italiano, che del Grappa, e dei soldati del Grappa, ha fatto il simbolo della patria fede e della patria fortuna. Non morrà!”

Rich Galli wrote an excellent article titled “Monte Grappa, Italy’s Thermopylae” in which he explains the importance of the three crucial battles fought on Monte Grappa to the War itself and to the Italian people. He talks about “..the Italian Army’s desperate courage and last stand …” on Monte Grappa after Caporetto. He compares the armed struggle on Monte Grappa to the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BC when an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian army in the pass of Thermopylae. Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks delayed the enemy in one of the most famous last stands of history. Though they knew it meant their own deaths, king Leonidas and asmall group of volunteers stayed behind and secured the retreat of the main Greek forces. The performance of the defenders at the battle of Thermopylae is used as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

“No battle defines Italy’s struggle in la Grande Guerra better than Monte Grappa. Not only is it a tactical, political and morale watershed for the Italian military and people, the combat on the Grappa massif is also one of the greatest, unsung battles of World War One.” (Rich Galli, )

“Voi, dunque, non la dimenticate mai la vostra Armata! Riconoscetevi sempre fra di voi, come fratelli, nel nome del nostro Monte, in seno al quale riposano i nostri morti; portate sempre in voi, e diffondete attorno a voi, quando tornerete nel nostro grande popolo e ne sarete parte così grande, rispettata ed ascoltata, il sentimento e la religione di quella vostra disciplina di fede e di amore, che vi ha fatti eroi; vivete ed operate sempre come se foste, ancora e sempre, i soldati del Grappa!”

Signed: Giardino

Sacrario Monte Grappa

"Di Qui Non Si Passa"

The Sacrario on Cima Grappa was inaugurated on September 22, 1935 by King Vittorio Emanuele III. The monument has five levels where the remains of 23,000 soldiers who died on the Grappa are buried. The Sacrario honors the 12, 615 Italian soldiers who lost their lives on the Grappa, 10,332 of whom are unknown. On the opposite sector are buried the 10,295 Austrian-Hungarian who also died on the Grappa. Generale Giardino is buried between the fourth and fifth levels. Before dying in 1935 Giardino requested that he be buried with his soldiers, “I miei soldatini”, the name that he used to refer to the heroic soldiers of the Fourth Armata, historically known as Armata dei Grappa. At the very top of the ossuary monument is the sanctuary of the Madonnina del Grappa, declared by Generale Giardino as the protector of the Fourth Armata.

Armata dei Grappa! Non si passa! E non sono passati. E non passeranno! E passeremo noi!” (Giardino, June 1918). The Empire that had existed for 700 years collapsed on Monte Grappa. The enemy did not cross the Grappa and did not reach Milano, but they extracted their revenge in 1943. “World War I Monte Grappa was the refuge of the local partisan brigades which had organized to fight the occupying Nazi forces. Aside from having symbolic significance, it provided a vantage point from which the resistance fighters could look down into the Valsugana/Val Brenta, the main supply route from Germany to its forces in Italy. In September of 1944 the Germans decided they’d had enough of partisan sabotage, raids, and sniping, and surrounded the mountain. Forcing women, children, and old people to march ahead of them, the German army moved up the mountain, murdering any partisans they found, as well as civilians even suspected of harboring them. Other resistance fighters (not only on Monte Grappa, but in many other places) were captured and publicly hanged or shot, their families forced to watch.” Information obtained from

Santo e Lacrimato

Il Sangue Per La Patria Versato 1915-1918

Librizzi, the town where my grandpa was born grew up and died, has placed the above plaque on the wall of the church in the main Piazza to honor the sons that She lost in active combat while defending their Country. The list below are the names of grandpa's fellow soldiers and childhood friends who gave up their lives on the war fields of the Grande Guerra. The inscription says: "Holy and Mourned the Blood That Was Shed for the Country".

Sott. Ten. Cavallaro Antonino
Natoli Pietro
Ballato Basilio
Pagana Salvatore
Bonannella Carmelo
Palino Giovanni
Bonfiglio Giovanni
Scaffidi Vittorio
Cottone Antonino
Scaffidi Michele
Gatani Michele
Tinghino Vincenzo
LaSpada Michelangelo
Gregorio Carmelo


Primo Reggimento Zappatori, 1863

The Corpo Reale degli Ingegneri was formed June 11, 1775 and was dissolved December 9, 1798. In May of 1816 it was reconstructed under the title Corpo Reale del Genio Militare e Civile, and changed to Corpo Reale del Genio in 1823. L’Arma del Genio was born January 24, 1861. Over the years it grew by adding various specializations such as zappatori, ferrovieri, telegrafisti, minatori, pontieri. December 23, 1900 l’Arma del Genio was awarded her own Bandiera di Guerra.

The first Compagnia Zappatori del Genio was established on May 15, 1815 and it was the first permanent troop of the Genio in the Piemontese Army. The Zappatori del Genio have distinguished themselves in all of the military campaigns in which they have participated, from the Campagna della Savoia in the taking of Grenoble, the taking of Peschiera in 1848 and in 1860-1861, the battle of Novara in 1849, the Crimean Campaign, the Libian Campaign 1911-1912. In the Grande Guerra, 1915-1916-1917-1918, the Zappatori along with the rest of l’Arma del Genio worked and fought alongside the infantry on the Isonzo, Cadore, Valle Lagarina, Trentino, Gorizia, Carso, Hermàda, Bainsizza, Piave, Astico, Grappa, Montello, Vittorio Veneto, France, Albania, Macedonia. The Grande Guerra saw the titanic and heroic work by the soldiers of the Genio, earning a gold medal for their Bandiera. The medal was awarded with the following citation: “Tenace, infaticabile e modesta, scavando la dura trinchea o gittando per ogni ponte una sfida al nemico, riannodando sotto l’uragano del ferro e del fuoco i tenui fili onde passa l’intelligenza regolatrice della battaglia, lanciandosi all’assalto in epica gara con i fanti, frodigò sacrifici ed eroismi per la grandezza della Patria”. The Genio distinguished itself also in the Second World War, and continues to distinguish itself in war as well as peaceful projects. The Arma del Genio has also earned a Gold Medal for its work in the civilian sector.

The Genio is honored each year with the Festa dell’Arma on June 24, the anniversary of Battaglia del Piave in 1918.

The Patron Saint of the Genio is Santa Barbara.

Grandpa Gioacchino Luca at the beginning of the war was a genio, 1st Reggimento Genio zappatori, by the end of the war he was listed as a Genio zappatori and telegrafisti.

Specialization of the Zappatori: The zappatore carried all of the equipment needed for the digging of the trenches and for the transportation of the materials needed for construction and reinforcement of roads, and for the advanced positions at the front line. And of course, they used the equipment to accomplish the tasks. At the beginning of the Grande Guerra there were 43 companies, by November 1918 there were 236 companies. There were two regiments of zappatori, Primo Reggimento Genio zappatori and Secondo Reggimento Genio zappatori. Grandpa Gioacchino Luca was a mason and I assume that his construction skills were used in the course of the war.

Specialization of the Telegrafisti: managed telegraphic and telephonic assignments for the big units, Corpi d’Armata and Armate. In 1914 there were 24 companies of Telegrafisti and by 1918 there were 139 companies. The Cavalleria alone had more than four telegraphic sections. The companies made up the Third Reggimento telegrafisti.

In describing the Arma del Genio the website www.esercito.difesa.it> says that among the supportive branches of the military l’Arma del Genio has a unique important role. It is capable to operate at the war front even in front of the infantry in order to open passages in defensive battles. The Genio can also conduct demolition work to slow down the enemy’s advance. It can build bridges on rivers, construct suspension bridges, build streets, restore railroad tracks, build barracks and encampments, build communication networks, do all of the work necessary to support the war efforts. Technical skills and self sacrifice are typical characteristics of the Genieri. In addition to the war duties the Genio also assists people who have been affected by natural disasters.

Before the Caporetto retreat the Genio had done work all along the war zone as well as on the Italian Swiss border. The defensive fortification system built along the border had been ordered by Generale Luigi Cadorna, Capo di Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito. The work had been directed by the Fifth Armata and done by reparti of the Genio which included infantry troops and recruited civilians. After Caporetto the desperate resistance began and from November 1917 to June 1918 Capo di Stato Maggiore Armando Diaz ordered the creation of a network of defensive systems on the Grappa and along the Piave. All of the work was done by soldiers of the Genio.

In the Battaglia d’Arresto the western sector of the Grappa, the four kilometers of the Canale Brenta was very exposed to the fire of the enemy (col Caprile, col del Vecchio, Monte Asolone). To prepare for the defense in the next phase of the Battaglia d’Arresto it was necessary to dig three sets of trenches from coi dei Gallo on Monte Oro to Monte Rivon. Each trench was given a name, the first line (front line) was called “linea Alba a name given by the IX Corpo; the second line was called “linea Bianca”, and the third line was the “linea Clelia”.

The construction of the intricate system of trenches and military posts was done by l’Arma del Genio. Specific and detailed instructions were issued for the laying out of the trenches, the excavation of the trenches, what instructions should be given to the workers before they arrived at the work site, what tools the workers needed to bring to the work site, how far from each other they were to work, etc. etc. The regulations stipulated that whenever there was a need to build scarps/banks it was to be done by the zappatori del Genio. According to the official instructions the structural work done at the war front determined the discipline and morale of a Division. The reason being that the soldiers in the trenches felt a little secure if the trenches were built well and kept clean. The trenches had different shapes according to their uses and to minimize the injuries and death of the soldiers. For specific information on the building of the trenches as well as life in the trenches go to

Work done by the Genio on Monte Grappa included:

The Cadorna road from Romano d’Ezzelino to Cima Grappa; the road Semonzo from Cornòsega to Cima Grappa; a roadway from Crespano to Cima Grappa; the road Pieve from Tomba to Monfenera. Also about 20 mule tracks and about a dozen paths were developed.

The building of the roads on the Grappa was not the only accomplishment of the Genio. As of January 1918 there were 29 cableways on Monte Grappa and by September 15, 1918 the Genio built 51 more. It was now possible to transport military equipment, ammunition, soldiers, etc. up the mountain via the cableways.

In order to bring potable water to the soldiers at the war front in 1915 the Genio of the First Armata began to build a hydraulic system which included subterranean wells, some of which were located directly under the trenches. The wells and the water system were built by the third and 13th company zappatori. Hydraulic work continued on all of the war front in 1916 and 1917. During the Ritirata di Caporetto all of the waterworks done by the II, III, and IV Armate had to be abandoned. However as soon as the troops were stabilized on Monte Grappa and along the Piave River the work resumed and by October 1918 the aqueduct that was just built

was distributing on the Grappa at least a million two hundred thousands of liters of water daily. Also at least seven reservoirs were built on the Grappa in case the pipelines of the aqueduct should be destroyed. Perhaps the work done to install the waterworks on the Grappa was the greatest achievement of the Genio Militare Italiano.

Cima Grappa was surrounded by searchlights as a defensive measure. In addition, above the Fortress (the cavern on Cima Grappa) the Cima was surrounded by two lines of barbed wire entanglements. All of this work was also done by the Genio.

The communication networks established on the Grappa were extensive and extremely important. L’Armata del Grappa had 19 companies of telegraphists who expertly performed their work. In addition at times they actively and heroically fought alongside the soldiers (just as their brothers the zappatori did). The nineteen companies also installed buried lines of communication on the field and in the subterranean caves. Grandpa Gioacchino Luca served not only as a zappatore but also as a telegrafista. (The famous Marconi served with this group, I wonder if grandpa ever met him.)

L’Armata del Grappa had available 10 dovecotes which, as previously mentioned, in the battle of June 1918 the pigeons proved to be extremely valuable as they were the only means of communication on the first line trenches. The dovecoats were also part of the Genio.

Each Corpo d’Armata was also assigned a series of defensive works, (each of the Corpi had companies of zappatori embedded with the group). For example in the zone of Col Campeggia the IX Corpo d'Armata which had 18 battalions and operated on the first line, built 15,700 trenches, 453 emplacements for machine guns, 14,600 paths for surveillance, and 36,600 barbed wire entanglements. The Sixth Corpo in addition to all of the above assignments built the huge underground gallery (tunnel/fortress) on the Grappa.

The Fortress (Cavern) on Cima Grappa was a masterwork of engineering. It included main and secondary caverns, artillery and machine guns emplacements, lookouts…. The Fortress which was well protected and armed had openings for offensive and counteroffensive battles, all well hidden and accessible through underground passages often under enemy territory. It also had galleries from which communication with outside posts was possible. The Fortress which was dug out of solid rock was also protected against enemy gasses despite all of the openings. It had artificial ventilation to be used when the outlets had to be blocked and troops were amassed inside. Ventilators filtered the outside air and rid it of gasses before the air was introduced inside. The gallery contained huge amounts of food, water, and ammunition.

With all of the above work and preparations completed (done by the Genio) on the Grappa, the Soldiers of the Grappa were ready for the Battaglia Difensiva of June 1918. The Austrian-Hungarian Army launched the attack against the Italians on June 15 on the Piave and the Grappa with the intent and promise to destroy the Italian Army. But the Soldati del Grappa had prepared well for the attack and by June 24 the enemies had to return to their previous line of battle.

The work done on the Grappa allowed the Italian soldiers a last stand against the Austrians and

their allies. Entrenched in the tunnels and bunks the Italians repelled their attackers. Grandpa Gioacchino Luca must have dug some of those tunnels, trenches, bunks,…. And a telegrafista he must have provided some of the communication so critical to the defense of the Grappa.

The following is a quote from the article “Il Genio” by Archivio Bruno Fanton (www.cimeetrinchee.it/genio.htm> ) “...sul Grappa, dove al concepimento e al tracciamento iniziale della organizzazione difensiva del Novembre-Dicembre 1917, presiedette un perfetto spirito di cooperazione fra il comando superiore tattico responsabile (Comando di armata) e i suoi naturali organi tecnici responsabili, e poi il lavoro procedette con ferma continuità, così da creare quella magnifica e razionale organizzazione difensiva che ci permise poi le mirabili resistenze del giugno e dell’ottobre 1918.

Anche l’arma del genio dunque, se vuole veramente assolvere in modo efficace e completo ai suoi ardui compiti sul campo di battaglia, deve essere fiera bensì del suo speciale valore tecnico, ma sentire con eguale passione la necessità di vivere la vita lelle altre armi, conoscerne i bisogni e informare la propia azione al sentimento della più intensa cooperazione tattica, fondata su una esatta e precisa delimitazione di attribuzione e di responsabilità.”

The website www.fracassi.net/anget/notiziario/News1.p ... gives a synopsis of the work and importance of the Genio in the battle of the Piave (also known as La Battaglia Difensiva) of June 1918. The ‘Memoria Storica’ titled “L’Arma del Genio nella battaglia del Piave (Giugno 1918) is written in Italian however I will try to give a very loose translation of the important points: At the beginning of 1918 l’Arma del Genio was given the extremely important job to improve the connective line from the Piave and the Altipiani to the Po and Mincio Rivers. Trenches, shelters, protected posts for weapons, telegraphic and telephonic posts, and an extensive cable cars network were set up. In the plain the defensive lines were organized in a complex but at the same time rational structure: double systems of trenches connected with each other but subdivided in watertight compartments ready for active defense and maneuvers. The most rearward line could be inundated as an obstacle to an enemy advance. At the same time a waterway network was organized for quick evacuation in case of an emergency. However the large enemy thrust of June 1918 was smashed not only because of the heroism of our troops but also because of the powerful defensive system set up from the Astico to the Piave. The genieri and the telegrafisti fought side by side with the infantry to stop the desperate push of the Austrian-Hungarians….. After the failure of the enemy’s June offensive, our troops conquered all of the delta of the Piave River; in this war effort once again the battalions of the genio zappatori and pontieri distinguished themselves for their heroism and sacrifice in readying a series of communication, logistic, and road work necessary for our victorious military advance.

Photos to be added:

Strada degli Eroi, Genio 1°

Linea di Massima Resistenza, Trincee Clelia and Alba

Sign in honor of the IX Corpo

The work done on the Grappa allowed the Italian soldiers a last stand against the Austrians and their allies. Entrenched in the tunnels and bunks the Italians repelled their attackers. Grandpa Gioacchino Luca must have dug some of those tunnels, trenches, bunks,…. And as a telegrafista he must have provided some of the communication so critical to the defense of the Grappa.

Cartoline del Genio 1° (photos to be added)


Grandpa’s service did not end with the war, his skills were needed for the post war reconstruction projects. The damage done by the war all along the Piave was serious and and extensive, some of it was due to the destructive bombardments and artillery fire, some damage was as a result of all the excavation done to construct the tunnels, trenches, etc. The damage was done by the Italians as well as the enemy. In addition there was damage due to obstructions created by the barbed wire entanglements, makeshift tombs, unexploded projectiles, debris,….. Immediately after the end of the war it was decided to repair the margins of all the rivers in the Veneto region including the Piave and the Tagliamento and the work would be done by military units of the Genio, civil workers, and some prisoners of war.

Genio Zappatori riconstructing the margins of the Piave (photo to be added)

The work done by the Genio along the rivers included hydrology work to provide potable water, fixing up canals, rebuilding roads, restoring public services, fixing up houses destroyed by the enemies, erecting and providing shelters for the refugees, reactivating factories and means of transportation,…… To facilitate the enormous task the zone to be reconstructed was divided into fourteen sectors. Each sector was assigned a battalion from the Genio, minatori or zappatori, formed by three companies of a thousand men. The reconstructive work started the first of December and ended in March of 1919. The massive work was done in four months, impressive! The human contribution to this recovery program was enormous, the daily manual work force on the margins of the Piave alone was 34,000 plus 540 officials and at least 8,000 administrative and logistic men. Once again the soldiers of the Genio distinguished themselves.

"Essendo la stretta dorsale di Cima Grappa la posizione più alta e predominante dell'intero complesso montuoso, la Galleria, construita dal Genio Militare/Gruppo Lavoratori al comando del Cap. Gavotti, diventò il punto focale della difesa italiana."

Grandpa’s military records show that on June 10, 1919 he was a patient in the field hospital number 46 and remained there until the first of August when he was transferred to the Ospedale Militare Principale di Cremona. He remained there until the 21st of August, 1919 and then was given 60 days of leave to convalesce. He was released from military duty (“mandato in congedo illimitato) in October of 1920 with the declaration that he had served faithfully and honorably, “…dichiarazione di aver tenuto buona condotta e di aver servito con fedeltà e onore”. He was “parificato” (recognized) in Messina in November of 1921. In his records there are numerous mentions of benefits given him such as “polizza di assecurazione”, various “polizza” monetary awards,… Grandpa was awarded several medals for his war efforts. After his death they were in the possessions of mom's legal guardian. Unfortunately she never received them. Their existence has been confirmed by grandpa's sister Anna Luca and by the descendants of mom's guardian, but no one seems to know what happened to them.

My grandparents Gioacchino Luca and Rosa Calabrese came to the United States in July on 1921, their daughter was born the same year. They all returned to Italy in January of 1922, grandma died a few weeks later. Grandpa died in 1923 as a result of health complications due to wounds, or gasses, or disease (the Spanish Influenza?) contracted during the war. Gioacchino's service and heroism in the Grande Guerra assured his orphaned daughter a pension to take care of her needs for the next twenty or more years.

"Ponte Bassano e Montagna del Grappa "

Painting by me in honor of Grandpa Gioacchino Luca

The area of Bassano del Grappa was a central base for the IX Corpo and the Arma del Genio. Bassano became the major logistical and transportation center supporting the activities on the Grappa. The wooden bridge over the Brenta River, Ponte Vecchio, became a symbol for the soldiers who while marching over it on the way to Monte Grappa sang the song "Sul Ponte di Bassano". There are several variations of the song but all include the sentiment of a soldier saying good by to his beloved while standing on the bridge. Below are a few of the verses of the song:

Sul Ponte di Bassano

Sulponte di Bassano

là ci darem la mano, la ci darem la mano

ed un bacin d'amor, ed un bacin d'amor, ed un bacin d'amor.

Per un bacin d'amore

successe tanti guai, non lo credevo mai

doverti abbandonar, doverti abbandonar, doverti abbandonar.

Doverti abbandonare

volerti tanto bene, è un giro di catene

che m'incatena il cor, che m'incatena il cor, che m'incatena il cor.

Che m'incatena il cuore

che m'incatena il fianco, non posso far di manco

di piangere e sospirar, di piangere e sospirar, di piangere e sospirar sospirar.

The songs of the Grande Guerra were many. Some were patriotic, some talked about specific battles and locations, some criticized the horrific war, .... All were sung by the brave soldiers as they defended their Patria.


With love, your granddaughter.















http://www.cimeetrincee.it/polastri.htm Diario Lino Polastri

http://comune.dairago.mi.it Diario Carlo Gervasoni

http://www.worldwar1.com "Caporetto a Fresh Look" by John Farina

www.cimeetrincee.it "Ricerca storico - miltare sulla battaglia difensiva combattuta dal IX corpo d'armata (IV armata) sul Monte Grappa" by Cristian Scapin

http://cmbgrguerra.altervista.org/cifre.htm Grappa Novembre 1917-Novembre 1918, "La Grande Guerra Anche Con I Numeri" A cura di Mario De Polo

www.frontedelpiave.info "Un anno di Guerra a Montebelluna" Il Diario di Don Antonino del Colle.

Memorie della 'Grande Guerra' di Francesco Armogida (n. 20-1 -1891 - m. 20-12- 1987), tratte dai suoi "Quaderni n. 4 e n. 9"

www.grandeguerra.com "Sistilli Carlo Alberto" di Fulminis Alessandro


"Farewell to Arms” , Ernest Hemingway, Scribner N.Y. 1957

From the above bibliography especially important from my point of view are the diaries of Polastri Lino who was Sottotenente del Genio, stationed in the area of Bassano del Grappa; and the diary of Don Antonio del Colla who gives a detailed personal account of the events of the war as they occurred around and on the Grappa.

The above are just some of the resources about the Grande Guerra, there are many more to be explored. Thanks to these authors and resources the memory of our loved ancestors and their fight for freedom is kept alive. "So that we may not forget" - "Per non dimenticare"