Study Abroad in Northern Italy 2018
History and Geology of the area.
Today we mixed things up a little bit and checked out the history available within our small town. Apparently, the town of Tourbole is rich with World War II history and was the center of the Alpine front against the Germans for American troops. As we walked through town, our guides pointed out various things that had simply eluded me before, specifically the plaque for the missing in action soldiers in the town square that I had walked past a handful of times. The reason that this town was such a hub for action in World War II was because the area that is now Trentino was, at one point in fact, Austria; a member of the axis against the allies during the war. The part of the day that I found most stimulating of all was when we entered the bunker carved in the mountain right next to our hotel. It was unbelievable to me that there was something excavated so deep within a mountain that I had been looking every day off of my balcony. When I asked how long it took to excavate such elaborate tunnels within the mountain. I was shocked to learn that it took only weeks to do but then again also not so shocked to learn that the Germans enslaved the people of Tourbole and forced them to work on it day and night which was indeed the reason for the expedited process. The underground shelter was originally intended to be a center for German control but once the Germans lost control of the region and the Americans took over it turned into a shelter for the people to use when the air bombings were coming through.
During the second part of our day, we took a hike up into the mountain that overlooked Tourbole and also housed military structures that were intended to be strategic in protecting the area from attacks. It was wild to hike up in that mountain and look at what a beautiful view it must have been when the people of the area were trying to kill each other at every turn. The concrete structures that were built right into the mountain side were much larger than I thought they were be considering the time they were built and the technology they likely had to utilize. I had no idea that such a small area would have such a large impact on the war and the fact that it was sitting under my nose this whole time makes it even more interesting. As we were walking down the other side of the mountain we came across the olive grove which had rows and rows of olive trees waiting to be harvested and turned into olive oil. It was crazy to me that olives grow this far north considering the mediterranean climate they usually call for in order to grow properly. The lake however provides a much more moderate climate than that of the rest of northern Italy because of its size and allows the olives to be cultivated here in the north. As a whole the day was both interesting and tiring but, you learn something new every day and the history that surrounds this little town goes much deeper than I would have ever thought.
I really enjoyed the activities today. We went on an urban walk around Torbole and visited a few historic sites from WW2. One of them was a horseshoe shaped bunker that civilians hid in to get shelter from Bombay. It was a little ironic that the civilians needed that shelter to protect themselves from the allies bombing, when they were only bombing the area to liberate the Italians from the Germans. I was surprised to find out that they made a defense line of 70 bunkers called the Blue Line. Not all of them were used for shelter. This bunker was originally made by Italians that were hired by the German military to make it into a military base. When the Germans retreated it was used to shelter about 45 citizens. They would stay there for 4-5 days at a time in the cold with only candlelight. Being there was very surreal because I could not imagine what kind of life that must have been.
For today we had more of a history lesson compared to an environmental lesson like we have had before. We learned that during World War II Italy was actually on the same side as Germany and then they switched to the allies in 1943. Because of that switch Germany began to invade northern Italy. Due to those invasions they created 70 bunkers to protect northern Italy and they were mainly along the lake coming down from Verona. The bunkers were originally made for soldiers but then it ended up becoming a civilian bunker. When they first discovered the bunkers, decades after the war was over, they found a rosary and some empty bottles but the tour guide, Aldo, said that it was beautiful in a sense to find something like that to show that there was still life inside of such a dark place. People would also stay in the bunker/bomb shelter for up to 4 to 5 days at a time without leaving. They also had electricity and telephones in the bomb shelters but in the specific one we were in today only had candlelight. One of my favorite things about today’s WWII urban hike was how they actually honored Americans here because they believed that it was unfair for the Americans to die fighting for Italy and protecting Italy only a few days before the war was over. Another story that the tour guides talked about was how instead of crashing into a city full of children and women the American pilots crashed into the water to protect the small town which was greatly admired. I thought it was inspirational how the people here of northern Italy were so appreciative of what the Americans have done. Today was a really interesting history lesson because I was never taught in my history classes about the things the US did in Italy and how appreciative the Italians were/are or even about the 25 soldiers who were MIA in Lake Garda.
Today we learned about the history and geology of Lake Garda. I enjoyed learning about unique ways in which Lake Garda has played in both World Wars. I enjoyed seeing a structure that was utilized during the First World War, in order to protect the village. The fort was so sucessful, that it never was used in action. The placement of the fort views the entire lake, and had many holes that could be used for defense. I also enjoyed seeing the bomb shelter that was used during World War Two. We were able to explore the tunnel, and I was amazed to see that there was no artifacts remaining, and that the bomb shelter was stripped of the wood flooring, walls, and ceilings immeadiatelty after the war ended. In fact, when the bomb shelter was re-opened, nothing remained besides a few bottles, and a rosary. Similar to the Santa Massenza hydroplant, the construction of the bomb shelter resembled a horse shoe, because of the front were to be bombed, the civilians inside were still safe. I was also intrigued to learn about the involvement of both Lake Garda and the United States in World War II. Prior to this, I did not know that the United States has military presence directly in Lake Garda. Unfortunately, even though the United States’ prescense during the War was not until the very end, however, more than twenty American lives were lost. As a result, there is a memorial for these soldiers along the lake, as well as a visual exhibition with photos from the time period of the war, specifically on Lake Garda. Because these soldiar’s bodies have yet to have been recovered, a submarine dive is scheduled for October, striving to locate artifacts or possible bodies from the war. I was disappointed to learn that we will not be here for this expedition, but I was surprised to learn about the close relationship between Lake Garda and America. Overall, this helped me to understand the history of the lake, as well as an brief overall history of both World Wars.
We had a lot of fun adventures today. Starting with a very exclusive tour of bunkers within the city of Torbole. The tunnels and bunkers were built in 1944 to 1945, after Italy switched sides from Germany to United States. This particular bunker was called blue line which was one of the seventy bunkers around Northern Italy that were placed mainly around the lake coming from Verona. The bunker was made for the use of a commanding operations bunker, but wasn’t put to use. Therefore they gave it to the civilians in the town to go for cover when there were bombings. When the bunker was found closer to present day after the war they didn’t find that many remains other than a couple little artifacts and a rosary. The guide was explaining that it is important to see the human side of the war. One of our guides shared a personal story about his mother, who was in hiding within the bunkers for four to five days with his 15 day old brother. The causes were unknown but his brother ended up passing away. Listening to these stories reminded me of my Oma who is from Nuremberg, Germany and would tell me about the bombings that she had experienced there. Being in the bunkers made me really connect the two stories and bring them into a more real perspective.
From there we went farther to Riva del Garda, and walked to Fort de Garda. Although Fort de Garda was interesting our guide explained the lay out of the land and the use which really caught my attention. The guide showed the land and how the agriculture was forced to move onto the slopes. One of the reasons being that people were coming into the land and didn’t want to be living on the slopes, so they took over the flat regions. The issue is that the flat land had a lot of the good soil and deposits from the runoff from the slopes. The farmer would go down and retrieve soil from the flat land and bring back to their farm and would build walls to try to keep their soil in place. The last thing that I also caught my attention was the fact that at the Olive tree was being grown and used bak in Roman times. Even today they do not always use machines, but most of it is manual labor.
Today was another adventurous day and also a very interesting one as well. We had the opportunity to have a short tour of the area near our hotel and learn about some lesser-known history of the area regarding the events that took place during the Second World War. What today is known as the Trentino region used to have some parts be a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire who were allied with the Germans during the war. The Italians were also allies with the Germans at the beginning of the war, but as the war ensued and Italy could not defend their homeland, they switched sides during the war and as a result, the Germans began to invade Italy. For this reason, there is actually quite a bit of interesting history, which took place here in Torbole, which we learned all about on our tour. The first stop on our tour was to see where a bomb shelter had been built into the side of a mountain about 100 yards away from out hotel. The shelter was built in a matter of weeks by the Germans and was used to shelter civilians and troops from attacks during the war. The guides went on to tell us more about the US presence in this area, where we learned that Torbole is the place where a well known US general – General Darby – died two days before all German forces surrendered in Italy. Lake Garda was also the location where a US amphibious vehicle sank during a storm, killing 24 men on board, as they attempted to cross the lake and flank the Germans, which up until a couple years ago, had been missing at the bottom of the lake. I thought it was pretty incredible to learn about the presence that the US had in the war here, and as our tour guides expressed many times, they worked to help preserve the history and heritage of what happened here in the war so it is not forgotten.
After our guided tour of the events which took place in Torbole involving the Second World War, we went on a guided walk up to visit Forte Garda, which was an Austro-Hungarian fortress built on top of Mount Brione and overlooked the areas of Lake Garda, Torbole, and Riva Del Garda. Our tour guide told us a little bit of the history of how the lake was formed, and explained to us that the African continental plate was pushing up against the European plate which was the reason for the giant mountains as well as lake Garda being formed in this region. Our guide also explained to us how during the last large ice age, while most of the alps was covered in Ice, the top of nearby Monte Baldo was high enough in altitude that the foliage and flowers atop the mountain was not as impacted, and for this reason there were completely different flowers that are found a the top compared to anywhere in the surrounding area. She also told us a little bit about the agricultural practices of the nearby areas below because we had such a nice perspective from the top of the hill. One of the practices was visible, and this was how most of the cultivated farmlands was in the valleys of the basin, because this is where the best soil is. Lastly, it was very interesting to see the olive trees which were planted along side the Mount Brione as we walked down the mountain, because they employed some similar strategies to the ones used at Castel Campo which we visited earlier. The most noticeable was that they allowed many different varieties of plants to live alongside the olive trees that were planted here, which was healthier for the environment.
Today I felt pretty special because we got to experience something that the public and many Americans don’t normally get too. We had the opportunity to visit a few historic sites related to World War 2 and the arrival of the US Army in the Garda region.
Our first stop, which was the one closed off to the public was the Air Raid Center. This was where people went to hide from bombings! It was initially a German bunker, but the Germans started to retreat, it started to be utilized by the town as a hiding place/shelter from bombs. Going inside really humbled me because in the 10 minutes we were in there, I was FREEZING.. I couldn’t imagine having to live in there for 4-5 day incriminates like they had too. The guides were telling us that when they initially were looking through the bunker, they didn’t find much, but they did find a rosary! They said this showed them that this was a physical shelter for people but also a space where people grew stronger spiritually. This trip has brought me a lot closer to God and I’m constantly being reminded of His grace, power and ties to multiple aspects of the world.
After the tour with the local heritage volunteers’ group we went on a guided hike of Mount Brione. The tour guide was SO passionate about teaching us about the history and climate of the mountain and surrounding area. I asked her “what inspired her to do such extensive research on the area” and her response was so heartwarming. She said “I am passionate because roots for me are important. To see where I come from and the place I am living is important. – this has always been a place of traveling and migration. – I see lots of potential! I don’t want people to be scared of the land, I want them to be proud. My Grandpa was a farmer, I’m not a farmer but this is my connection to the land.” I pray that in 10 or so years, when a student asks me why I decided to go into the career field I do, I inspire them and come off as genuine as she did.
World War II. The Allies vs the Axis Powers. Today’s tour through Torbole visiting different sites that were affected by the war reminded me of the horrible consequences of war as well as the fact that history is written by the winners. While we were walking around the beautiful lake, I was having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that in my history textbook, Italy was considered an “evil” country during this time. Of course, I know there are “evil” people in countries, not “evil” countries who happen to have people living in them, but I still found it interesting to think about. I can’t imagine the absolute terror families living all over Europe felt when they heard the signal to run to the bomb shelters, knowing that it might very well be the last time they see their homes. Coming from an environmental perspective, the bombs dropped by both the Allies and the Axis powers were extremely detrimental to the land to the surprise of no one. However, the land has and continues to heal itself with some aid from the humans who destroyed it in the first place. Groups such as Associazione Benach that we heard from today help us remember the horror of the past so that we can better appreciate the beauty of the present, while environmental specialists aid us in understanding the region’s flora and whether these plants are native or come from other countries that inhabited Italy at some point of time.
Today was interesting because we were able to learn about a part of World War II history that not many people are aware of, and it was a different point of view from what we are taught in the United States. It was also interesting to learn about this from someone who had a first-hand experience; Aldo’s mom and his 15-day-old brother were both in the bunker, and his brother later died (most likely) because of this. I think it’s shocking how much there is a lack of awareness about this time in history; even our guide Ben was unaware of it until he learned about it through Aldo and his additional education. In addition to this, it’s shocking that 25 people are still missing in action at the bottom of Lake Garda; it seems like with the many scuba divers in this area that someone would have stumbled across the remains of a body at some point, but further than this, it seems like there should be much more time going towards searches for these men. I was really amazed to learn that a single American was going to come to Italy with a submarine for the purpose of exploring the wreck, and that “Ranger Rick,” another American, puts together a 40 mile walk every year in honor of General William O. Darby (and the other men who lost their lives).
The second part of today was also interesting because we were able to hike up and around two of the forts that were built for the First World War, but were never actually used in battle. This hike had beautiful views, but it was also amazing to see the design of the forts, specifically Fort Garda, which was set within the mountain. During this hike we also learned that this section of Italy is actually on the African tectonic plate because when these mountains were formed over 200 million years ago, it was because the African plate shifted up over the European plate. I feel like I’ve learned so much on this trip in just a short amount of time, about things that pertain to just Italy in general, but also to my knowledge of the rest of the world.
Today I had the great opportunity of being able to visit old German bunkers from the Second World War. These bunkers where used as both official war outposts and refugee bunkers. According to our
historian tour guide, these Italian refugees would stay in these bunkers for 5 days at a time in almost complete darkness. He also has a personal connection to the bunkers because his mother took refuge in the hiding spot we visited, and sadly, his younger brother of only 15 days of age had died in the place of refuge. It is awesome to notice just how the city of Torbole was at the front of the second global war,
but at the same time, makes me realize that we should never forget what truly happened.
The amphibious craft that sank in the Guarda Lake near Torbole seemed almost unthinkable. I would have never realized that most of the people fighting here were Americans from California, and also that they landed right in front of my hotel. The duck or amphibious craft that the Americans traveled on is now well preserved in the lake because of the fresh glacier water and lack of salt.
From our second tour guide, I learned that the biggest lake in Italy was made geologically by the movement of tech tonic plates. I was standing on the African side of the major plates, not on the
European ones while on lake Guarda. It was cool to find how the Holy Oak and olive trees are found and able to thrive only in the more Mediterranean climate zones. As we climbed up the mountain I was able to now see spruce and coniferous trees. The province of Trento is definitely a spot of various climates and in turn produces various types of trees. In ancient times, people who were visiting and traveling to the lake only set up passageways in the mid
mountains. This is so because being in the valleys meant that you were going to get full of mud and more importantly, you were easily visible to enemies in the area. It was interning also to find out that
most of the flatter valleys were taken and owned by wealthy families. This would be the main reason why there was agricultural production in the hills, because they were much more accessible to the common folk. Retaining stone walls and constantly bringing up soil from the valley was a common practice for these people.
Today we visited an old bunker and learned how the Germans lived the bunker for 5 days without electricity. I thought it was very interesting being able to walk freely through the very tunnel that was once being heavily bombarded. I learned how there were 70 different bunkers in Northern Italy and how the entrance of these bunkers were often reinforced with two pillars, an extra one to absorb the impact if they were to be bombed. The bunker was 140 meters long and only took a few weeks to build.
It was also very interesting to see how there were beautiful apartments right outside the bunker, which shows the human side of life- and how history is always ask around us, but unless it is preserved it will erased.
It is crazy to think that Americans were fighting on Lake Garda! The bunker that turned into a sanctuary for civilian protection was incredible to see. A relatively small community is making such a big effort to restore its history. The rosary that was found in the bunker humanized the tour, really emphasizing the fear and desperation that was felt by the people trying to stay alive. I think that it is very easy to learn about wars and the soldiers who fought in them, but it is another thing to think about those who weren’t fighting, but still suffering. The roary put the tour into perspective for me and made me think about more than just the war itself, but it’s affect on other things as well. You could think about this in terms of the environment. It is natural to look at things on the surface level, but looking more closely and deeper can bring awareness to something that isn’t easy to see. The geology tour also showed us more military memorabilia. The barracks that had been roofed by cement blended in perfectly to the mountain. The 300 foot tunnel that ran through the inside of the mountain and below our feet as we walked highlighted the importance of the mountains. Not only did the Italian militia take advantage of them, but the hydroelectric power plants did as well. Although they both have different intentions in doing so, it proves that the natural landscape can be used for the protection of life and the creation of energy.
Today we visited a ton of WWII sites with representatives from the BENACH Association which is a historical preservation society in the area. The first thing that we learned today was basic information regarding Italy’s role and position during the war. Italy entered the WWII along with Germany in 1940. In ‘43 the allied invaded Italy so Italy signed a truce with the allies because they couldn’t defend themselves anymore so basically from ‘43ish to ‘45 Germans invaded from the north and allies were invading from south of Italy. There was basically a civil war in Italy during this period. The first thing that we saw was an air raid shelter that was originally supposed to be a military shelter but ended up being a civilian shelter. It is in a horse shoe shape that is about about 140 meters long. Some strategic things that we installed include two pillars that we installed to have one absorb the impact from a bomb to protect the second pillar from collapsing so it will protect the entrance in order to keep the people in inside from being trapped. The second is a depression on the right of the bunker was meant to run water out of the bunker. We were told a personal story by one of the historians who had a little brother that had to be taken into the bunker when he was just 15 days old and about 2 months later he died probably due to complications from being in the bunker for two long. It’s heartbreaking to know that there were civilians impacted by such horrors because of government and militaristic affairs. However he said that there were still happy memories like children who were stuck down here for 4-5 days still finding ways to play and be cheerful. The second place that we went was the place that General Darby of the 10th mountain division was killed by a bomb that was launched from Brione. This bomb was one of the last retreating shells which was senseless loss of life as the war was supposed to be over and the fighting was over. An interesting thing that is done nowadays in memory of him and other soldier who lost their life is the Colonel Darby 30 mile march which was started by Ranger Rick about 8 years ago and has now gained the attention of more than 300 marchers a year. The last part of the walk is through the tunnel that the soldiers had to walk through to get to Torbole so it’s a very humbling experience. The BENACH is essentially raising awareness of the senseless deaths and hardships faced by everyone who was effected by the war and they do so by remembering them and educating the public through tours, plaques, memorials, and marches. I believe that being with them today was a very humbling experience that made me really aware of how war can affect civilians and soldiers alike. We as a world population have become desensitized to war and this association brings attention to that fact while educating. I think that their work is very noble and I was very happy to have been apart of it today.
The coolest thing about today was going into the bunkers and knowing that less than a century ago, there were terrified soldiers and families praying that they would live to see the war end. There was an energy in the bunker that almost made you feel like you were there to see all of it when it was happening. It was extremely cold down there so I cant imagine being stuck down there for 5 days at a time, while also having very little light. It was also cool to learn that the people we spoke to are working to have a museum built to teach tourists that come through the historical significance of the town. Also, I think I’m going to do the 40 mile walk with Kernel Darby next April.
Next we took a hike to further expand our historical information regarding the city and also see the amazing views of the beaches. It was cool to hear a local talk about the area and how she feels about everything as well as learn about the agriculture of the area. I was also interested to learn about the problem that they are having with the German mountain bikers damaging the ecology of the mountain sides. All in all, it was a relaxing day full of new experiences and learning opportunities.
Today we had a history lesson, learning about Italy at the end of the second world war. We were able to go inside of a bomb shelter that was used as the germans were retreating and the allies bombed the town. Inside it was dark, and the previously installed wooden panels had been stripped down for the resources. Many families would come here together, for four or five days, as bombs fell around the outside world. It was damp and tight, and a horrifying reality check. Once we were back on the outside we went to the Colonel Darby memorial, a Colonel who died 2 days before the german surrender. There is a yearly 40 mile hike in memorial of the man who started the U.S. rangers, which I found incredibly cool for a different country to host. After that we had an amazing view from the top of a nearby bunker that prevented invasion of all the surrounding area. It also had an amazing angle of all of the beaches near Trobole.
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