Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Battle of San Martino - Battlefield Walk

Nancy and I visited northern Italy in 2009.  One of the stops included two nights at Desenzano on Lake Garda.  Although there were Roman ruins, villas and fortified towns to see, my main objective in a Desenzano stay was a visit to the battlefield of San Martino just a few miles outside of town.  We missed the 150th anniversary celebration of the Franco-Italian victories at the twin battles of Solferino and San Martino in June but a September visit would suffice.  One benefit of a September visit was that we enjoyed the walk nearly alone.

Without renting a car, we relied on public transportation.  With help from the hotel desk clerk and fortified by breakfast, we made it onto a bus that she assured us would get us "close to the battlefield."  Actually, "close" meant getting off the bus at the end of the line and trying to cover the remaining distance on foot.  Well, the bus deposited us near a little tavern at the end of the bus line.  Not knowing exactly where we were, we sought aid from the tavern owners and patrons.  The tavern patrons, while animated and wanting to help, spoke no English and we spoke not much more than very basic, tourist-phrase Italian.  We stood in the parking lot with two gentlemen waving and pointing in various directions when we asked about the location of the battlefield.  Finally, I uttered the key word "torres" and both gentlemen knew how to help in providing directions.  Again, the directions given were a combination of pointing, hand gestures, and relaying compass points in Italian.  Nancy caught part of the message that we would need to head southeast over the freeway.  We thanked them and struck out in search of the battlefield.

After gaining a bit of elevation as we climbed onto the highway overpass, we caught sight of the tower.  Walking south on the Strada Provinciale 13 towards Pozzolengo we reached the road leading west onto the San Martino heights.  The southern approaches to the heights are now dominated by vineyards.  The view from the Strada looking east shows the Ortaglia farm with the tower in the background.  Now, the tower wasn't present at the time of the battle but built later as a memorial.

After paying a modest entrance fee, we entered the grounds of the tower and museum.  The museum contains a number of artifacts from the war including a couple of cannon, uniforms, and flags.
Museo della Battaglia
Austrian uniforms
French uniform plates
Italian uniform plates
After a quick look around the museum, we exited and made our way towards the tower.

Inside the rotunda are a number of plaques listing the units engaged, officers present, and casualties sustained on the day of battle.

Murals cover the inside walls of the tower and paint a picture of the conflict in a seemingly never-ending spiral all the way to the top.  Samples of the murals are included below.
Sardinian infantry fend off an Austrian cavalry attack
Garibaldi's "Red Shirts"

Bersaglieri in action

Reaching the top of the tower, the visitor is greeted by vast, sweeping vistas.  In the first photo, the Monte Cipressi tower at Solferino can be seen in the distance to the south.

Looking west, the road from Lonato (off picture to the right) to Madonna della Scorperta (off picture to the left) follows the heights.  The Columbara farm can be seen in the foreground.  Pinerolo would have attacked from the west towards Columbara.

Looking north, Lake Garda, Rivoltella, Desenzano, and Sirmione can be seen in the distance.  In the foreground is the Roccolo farm with the Monata farm in the center.  The main Sardinian effort advanced on the heights, deployed on either side of the road in the center of the photo.

A closer inspection of the Monata farm.

Inside Ossuary with stacks of skulls


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