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Saturday, December 5, 2015

North Africans Who Died for Italy: Rome's French Military Cemetery

A first look inside the gates of the French Military Cemetery.  The tombstone on the left is inscripted "Inconnu" - Unknown - and "Mort pour la France"-- one could add, of course, and Italy.
For years we wanted to visit the French World War II military cemetery in Rome, but the hours it was open were difficult to discern and the access to it even more so.  But this Spring, when we lived right across the Tevere from Monte Mario, on which it's located, it was time to try again.   We found it, and found it open, but yet it held surprises for us.

The first sight to greet us was row upon row of crescent-shaped tombstone tops.  Clearly, here, French means North African, or mainly so.  One site describes it as "a modest cemetery for 1,700 French Expeditionary Corps soldiers, mainly Moroccans and Algerians."

There are Christian graves, fewer in number, and at a more prominent location - actually lower on the mountain but surrounding the main monument.  A video clip from 1947 of the inauguration of the cemetery shows only Christian graves.

Looking at these markers of those North Africans who literally gave their lives for France, and Italy, we were reminded of Italy's current treatment of North Africans. Italians should be reminded, we thought, of the sacrifices made by these non-Christians for the modern Italian state.
A permanent map in the cemetery showing
"The Offensives in the Abruzzi, December 1943 - May 1944"

The French military cemetery is as moving in its way as the Non-Catholic (Protestant) cemetery next to the Pyramid, and the small British Commonwealth military cemetery next to it in Ostiense.  All serve to impress upon us the tragedies of war.
The Christian section

Information on visiting the cemetery is not easily obtainable in English.  The hours are now generous, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturdays.  Closed Sundays.

If you are bold, you can try this "alternate" path down.  We did
 and ended up in bushes and with a few sketchy characters around.
But we did finally get to the Olympic Stadium and home.
Getting to it is still a challenge.  It is not connected directly to the Monte Mario paths on the main part of the mountain.  To reach it from those paths, e.g. from the bar/restaurant complex Lo Zodiaco, you must walk on roads that might lead you to reside permanently in a cemetery.  There is only one entrance--at the top end of the cemetery, off  Vicolo dei Casali di Santo Spirito.  At the end of this post, I've provided a few links that have maps.  I wouldn't expect a taxi driver to know the location of the entrance.


The 1947 monument, designed by A. Chatelin
Back of the monument, listing cities where battles occurred.

And once down, we found this statue to the
Czech fighter for liberation,  Alexander Dubcek.



mustac said...

I would tread carefully on these graves. I love your stories but I think you still have a thing or two to learn from the wisdom of Romans, which is never to be underestimated. They have seen so many conquerors that they are very cautious with their praise. However they truely do live and let live - even a Caligola. The question is what did these Africans that died for France - not for Italy - do before dying? I remember a movie that allowed Sofia Loren to win an Oscar the year I was born: "La Ciociara" by the great De Sica, a reminder of what the north africans were busy doing before dying for France !

Anonymous said...

I don't think the people of Latium have reason to be grateful towards many of those Moroccans who died for France (and not Italy!) - just have a look at the unspeakable crimes, aptly called "Marocchinate", they committed throughout the southern part of that region.

Celebrating these very same people would be an affront to all those who had to suffer at their hands both during and after the invasion.

Dario said...

Moroccan soldiers died for France, and were famous for rapes.
Putting a cemetery there was intended by the French as an outrage to the city.

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous should perhaps read some factual stories about the French Moroccan Military. True they were excellent fighters with a great reputation for the mountain fighting they did but Italian records show that in the Province of Frosinone 700 out of 2,500 inhabitants were raped, resulting in many deaths. 207 soldiers were tried for sexual violence, some acquitted for lack of evidence but 28 caught in the act were executed. France authorised compensation to 1,488 victims of sexual violence committed by French colonial troops. There is a monument in Castro dei Volsci called the 'Mamma Ciociara' to the memory of the mothers who tried in vain to defend themselves and their daughters.

Jo said...

Anonymous should read reports by people like General Clarke who was appalled at the behaviour of the Moroccan Goumiers. Analysis of French military archives suggest that 360 soldiers were brought before the military courts for violent crimes committed against thousands of civilians during the Italian campaign. In 1947 France authorised the payment of compensation to 1,488 victims of sexual violence committed by French colonial troops. There is a monument called 'Mamma Ciociara' in Castro dei Volsci in memory of the women who tried in vain to save themselves and their daughters. These Moroccan Goumiers were colonial irregular troops not to be confused with the Regular Moroccan troops who served in Italy but were under proper discipline and had a higher proportion of officers than the irregular Goumiers