“The destruction was terrible. The only building to survive in any form at Aulla was the church of San Caprasio and the old palace of the dukes of Modena”
(Aulla in 1945)
So writes Kinta Beevor in her adorable memoir “A Tuscan childhood” (1993).
Aulla was even more strategically placed than Sarzana in WWII, controlling the railway lines from south, west and east. Bombing raids by the allies started in 1943 shortly after the abortive September armistice when Germany moved in whole armies and occupied Italy as a foreign power.
After this time Aulla was virtually deserted when citizens fled to the safer areas of the surrounding mountains as “sfollati” (evacuees)
The real damage to Aulla, however, was not caused by the allies but by a mortar shell fired by a group of partisans which hit a German munition train with devastating results, flattening the town and killing over 600 Germans and 150 allies.
Bombs still remain to be disovered in and around Aulla to this day. Indeed, only in March this year an unexploded one had to be detonated at a safe distance from the town.
If it’s not bombs the town has suffered from then it’s flooding as this photograph, from the disaster of October 2011 when two citizens died, illustrates. Not a very lucky town it seems…
So what’s the point of visiting Aulla today? Not much, people might say except to change trains. This is what would have been my thought but because of the late arrival of my train from Bagni di Lucca I was unable to catch the ‘coincidenza’ to Sarzana. No coincidence at all! Also no ‘coincidenza’ that the station bar, with its delightful model railway running overhead, had been closed down and cleared only days previously? (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/on-or-off-the-rails-to-pontremoli/ for pictures of the model railway and bar).
No coincidence that this super-modern station did not even have a gents or ladies!
The new Aulla station is an absurd white elephant built some distance outside the town to accommodate the re-aligned La Spezia-Modena railway which has now become a high speed track.
As I had more than an hour to wait I decided to catch the bus to see what Aulla could offer, at least in terms of bars.
My first impressions were expectedly disappointing. Large concrete palazzi, erected in the most unimaginative styles, marked the area where the old attractive town would have been. It was market day so I decided to wander around the stalls which, at least, were not disappointing.
Then I thought there may have been some part of old Aulla still standing. I gazed up at the hill overlooking the town and dominated by the fortress of Brunello where Kinta had spent her idyllic childhood (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/carinthia-in-aulla/ for pictures and a description of the fortress).
Indeed, around the old railway station, which bombs had failed to destroy, there were some streets that gave a hint of how old Aulla must have looked like.
I was particularly interested in seeking out the church (formerly abbey) of San Caprasio. I was glad to visit this witness to Aulla’s great past as a major centre on the ancient Via Francigena pilgrim route.
The church and monastery were founded in 884 by Adalbert I of Tuscany and first dedicated to the Virgin. In 1050 it was re-dedicated to San Caprasio (the only church named after this saint in Italy) , a holy hermit whose body was brought here from the Lérins islands off the coast of Provence in order to save it from being despoiled by the Saracens.
Through the ages the church has undergone several modifications and now presents a largely classical appearance.
Beside it, however, there are substantial remains of the original monastery with ancient columns and vaulting.
In the chapter house there’s an interesting little museum conserving all that was saved from the ravages of WWII.
Where is San Caprasio buried? Archaeological excavations in 2003 have revealed the saint’s tomb with a reliquary containing his bones.
Other pieces of interest in this well-ordered museum include recreations of a mediaeval abbot, monks and pilgrim, sculptured capitals, coins, ceramics and a stone gospel.
So if you’re stuck in the concrete and marble desert of Aulla’s new high-speed bar-less and toilet-less railway station don’t hesitate to catch a bus to visit Aulla. The town contains more riches than you might have imagined!