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Italy's Worst Nazi Massacre and an Etruscan town

Monument to the Fallen

Marzabotto is best known to Italians as the site of the worst Nazi massacre in Western Europe, the equivalent of Lidice in the Czech Republic or Oradour-sur-Glane in France. On a far happier note, it also has the ruins of Kainua, a rare example of an Etruscan town that never grew into a Roman city.

The Massacre

Between September 29 and October 5, 1944, as the Nazis were being pushed back by the Allies, a Waffen SS column tore through Emilia-Romagna with the expressed purpose of brutalizing the population who were accused of supporting the Resistance. As they made their way up Monte Sole, they shot 770 people, including 155 who were under 10 years old. The village priest, Don Fornasini helped many escape the slaughter, but was shot when he returned to give his parishioners a dignified burial; he and two other priests of Marzabotto have since been beatified.

Marzabotto was awarded a gold medal for its heroism, with the dedication:

... Positioned between sheer cliffs and the green scrub of the ancient Etruscan land, Marzabotto chose iron, fire and destruction rather than surrendering to the oppressor. For 14 months, it bore the steely arrogance of the Teutonic hordes who were unable to weaken the pride of its sons sheltering on the rugged summits of Monte Venere and Monte Sole, strengthened by the love and incitement of the elders, women and children. The ruthless massacres of unarmed youths, blossoming wives and their falling parents did not break them and the 1,830 dead rest on the mountains and in the valleys as an everlasting lesson to future generations of what love for your country can mean.

Remains of Marzabotto's church

The victims are buried in the crypt under the church (open daily exc Mon) and remembered in the Memorial, the Sacrario dei Caduti in the village. Nobody forgot Marzabotto; prosecutions of the surviving German participants dragged on as late as 2007. Monte Sole, where many of the deaths took place was made into Italy's only historic park, the Parco Storico di Monte Sole.

Archaeological Site of Kainua

In 1831, the ruins of an important Etruscan city of over 40,000 inhabitants were discovered above Marzabotto. Originally known as Misa but now Kainua was founded (according to legend by a certain Ocnus, son of Aulestes, the founder of Perugia) in the 6th century BC in the Reno river valley, along the main route between Etruscan Felsina (Bologna) and Etruscan Tuscany.


The first Etruscans lived in simple thatched huts, but by the early 5th century BC, Kainua was laid out as a proper city in a grid plan according to the precepts of the Greek geometer Hippodamus, looks ahead to the classic Roman colony, with 15m wide main north-south and east-west streets and residential areas neatly laid out in the 'suburbs'.

Kainua was abandoned in the mid 4th century BC, when the Gauls invaded the Po Valley. The invaders briefly moved in, but soon abandoned the site, leaving behind the uniquely intact foundations of an Etruscan town (only the cemeteries survive of the famous Etruscan cities of Tuscany and Lazio).

Many of tile-roofed houses had courtyards; the presence of kilns showed the many doubled as workshops. Fairly scant remains of Kainua's temples are on the acropolis hill to the north west; another religious area, a fountain sanctuary, stood just north east of the centre.

Etruscan tombs

On the far north and east edges of town, the Etruscans buried their dead in squarish rock tombs, made of travertine plates and marked by onion shaped rocks or columns.

Museo Nazionale Etrusco Pompeo Aria

The best of the finds have been taken off to Bologna’s Museo Civico Archeologico, but the site's new museum has some fine bits, including the head of a Greek kouros, bronze statue of the Etruscan goddess of love, Turan, Greek urns and Etruscan copies, and the reconstruction of part of the fountain sanctuary with its painted terracotta decoration.

San Lorenzo di Panico

Interior of San Lorenzo di Panico

San Lorenzo di Panico (Via Lama di Reno 29, Panico, across the Reno from Marzabotto; +39 051 931 230 open Fri-Wed 10am-noon & 2-6pm). One of the region’s Romanesque gems, this handsome sandstone church was built in 1145 by the Comacini Masters for the Counts of Panico.

In the Middle Ages the Counts were the most powerful family in the Apennines and the sworn Ghibelline enemies of the comune of Bologna, who only stopped causing trouble when the last one, Ugolino da Panico, was beheaded in the Piazza Maggiore in 1389. Their church, however, is calm and evocative and decorated with roses, the symbol of the Counts, notably on the apse.

Practical Info Practical Info icon

Monte Sole: Via Porretana Sud 13 (Get to Marzabotto on Bus No. 706)

Hours Archaeological site: daily Apr-Oct 8am-7pm, Nov-Mar 8am-5.30pm. Museum: Apr-Oct Tues-Sun 9am-6.30pm; Nov-Mar Tues-Sun 9am-5.30pm.

Adm €3, €1.50 ages 18-25. EU citizens under 18 free (includes museum and the archaeological site).


+39 051 932353

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: NicFer from it, Creative Commons License, Roberto Ferrari, Creative commons license, Francesco Lazzarin, Creative Commons License, Stefano Muratori, Creative Commons License, PietraL, Creative Commons License