The town of CASSINO in the southeast corner of Lazio is the site of another important monastery, the Abbazia di Montecassino (daily: summer 9am–12.15pm & 3.30–6.15pm; winter 9am–12.30pm & 3.30–5pm; free; Web: www.montecassino.it ). Three ravens guided St Benedict to this spot, after he left Subiaco in 529. He founded one of the most important and influential Christian complexes in the world. Its monks spread the word as far away as Britain and Scandinavia, while developing the tradition of culture and learning that was at the core of the Benedictine order. Ironically, its strategically vital position, perched high on a mountaintop between Rome and Naples, was the abbey's downfall. A succession of invaders coveted and fought over this vantage point, and the buildings were repeatedly destroyed.
During World War II, the abbey came to be the lynchpin of the German presence in this part of Italy. After a battle that lasted almost six months, the Allies – a mixture of Poles, New Zealanders and Indian troops – eventually bombed it to ruins in May 1944, sacrificing several thousand lives in the process. The austere medieval architecture has been faithfully recreated, but it's really more impressive for its position. Much is not open to the public, and its sterile white central courtyard is engaging only for the views of the surrounding hills and the Polish war cemetery below. The hideously ornate Baroque church has a small museum ( 2) containing old manuscripts and suchlike. Yet you can't help but feel that Montecassino's glory days ended firmly with the war.
The town below was fairly comprehensively destroyed, too, and has very little appeal (except for Fiat enthusiasts, who coo over the factory). There's a tourist office at Via di Biasio 54 (Mon 8am–2pm, Tues– Fri 8am–2pm & 3–6pm, Sat 9am–1pm; Tel:0776.21.292, Web: www.apt.frosinone.it ). Cassino is connected by train from Rome and Frosinore buses scale the mountain to the abbey from Piazza San Benedetto twice daily, passing the train station along the route. If you need to stay, try the central Hotel Piazza Marconi on Via Marconi 25 (Tel:0776.26.025. Web: www.hotelpiazzamarconi.it ; Price: 76-100) where the rooms are spacious and modern, each with free internet access.