A short distance from the ancient Via Appia is the Mausoleo delle Fosse Ardeatine (Mausoleum of the Ardeatine Caves), which marks the darkest act of the German occupation of Rome in the second world war. The mausoleum is built on the site of the massacre of 335 Italians, who were executed on March 24th, 1944, in reprisal for the deaths of 33 Germans.
On the afternoon of March 23rd a group of German soldiers were marching back to their barracks when a bomb exploded killing 32 of them. The bomb had been hidden by members of the resistance movement in a rubbish cart in Via Rassella, a short street a stone's throw from the Palazzo Barberini in the heart of the city.
Hitler, on hearing the news, was incandescent with rage, ordering that 10 Italians be shot in reprisal for each German that had died. He also insisted that the executions take place within twenty-four hours of the attack. The Gestapo had to find 320 men, but this soon increased to 330 when another German soldier died from his injuries.
On March 24th the victims were transported to caves on the outskirts of the city, where they were shot in groups of five. In the end, 335 were executed, for the Gestapo had rounded up five men too many. The Germans then blew up the entrances to the caves, thereby burying the bodies. The dead were exhumed and (most of them) identified soon after the German retreat in June, 1944.
There are wreaths, commemorating people who died in the massacre, attached to buildings throughout the centre of Rome.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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