Italian Memorial

Egypt

The Italian Military Shrine at El Alamein lies about ten kilometres west of the town of El Alamein. The entrance to the Shrine, seen here, lies directly on the northern side of the main Alexandria-Marsa Matrouh Road. From the entrance gates, there is a 400 metre walk uphill to the main Shrine, whilst a small military museum lies close to the entrance. The Shrine is dedicated to the 4800 Italian soldiers, sailors and airmen who are buried in the area, in addition to approximately 38,000 service personnel who are recorded as missing in the area.

The geographically position of the Shrine is also of historical significance. As a height overlooking much of the area to the south, Trig 33 was a key location in the fighting around El Alamein in 1942.

Commemoration services are held in this cemetery every three years. In the intervening years services are held at the nearby German or British cemeteries.

Image: The entrance to the Italian Military Shrine
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Like the German War Cemetery nearby (to the east), the octagonal shape of the main white sandstone tower of the Shrine, as illustrated here, is visible from much of the surrounding area. Poised on the heights of a hill (known to Allied forces during the campaign as Trig 33), this stands out vividly against the typically clear blue Western Desert skies and the aqua-coloured waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy entered the Second World War on 10 June, 1940. Several months later, in September, 1940, the Italian Tenth Army invaded Egypt and advanced as far as Sidi Barrani, about 100 kilometres west of the Libyan-Egyptian border and about 200 kilometres west of El Alamein. For the following two years the campaign in North Africa swung between one side and the other. Eventually the Italians reached the area near El Alamein as part of Rommel’s Second Offensive in mid-1942. Fighting continued in this area for several months before Rommel’s forces were forced back out of Egypt following the Second Battle of El Alamein in late-October, early-November, 1942.

Image: The Italian Military Shrine
Creator: Christopher Karykides

The interior of the Italian Military Shrine presents a very sombre atmosphere. A marble casket stands close to the centre of the main room, and the clear space above this stretches high up to the ceiling. Italian soldiers are commemorated individually on stylish white marble blocks, lined up in a series of rows and columns through several niches within the Shrine, as seen in this image.

Also included inside the Shrine is a bust of Paolo Caccia Dominioni. Caccia Dominioni led the 31st Guastatori (Engineer) Battalion in action during the fighting around El Alamein, and after the war he returned to the area to retrieve soldiers’ bodies on the battlefield and assist in designing and constructing the Shrine.

The cooler temperature within the Shrine can be a welcome escape from the hot Egyptian sun, and from the northern platform within the Shrine (or from the balcony outside) visitors can gain clear views along much of the nearby Mediterranean coast.

Image: The interior commemorative walls of the Italian Military Shrine
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Within the main entrance lies a mosque, chapel, hall of remembrance and a small museum. The museum, seen in this image, focuses on items relating to the Italian experience of war during the Western Desert Campaign, but there are also a small number of items relating to the experiences of other units serving in the area, including Australians.

The area near the entrance also contains a number of other memorials and memorabilia dedicated to Italian and Libyan service personnel. This includes a Libyan War Memorial. During the Second World War Libya was formally an Italian Colony, and Libyan troops fought alongside the Italians and Germans. Due to religious and cultural differences, Libyan soldiers are typically buried and commemorated separately from Italian soldiers.

Image: An interior view of the small war museum that lies to the right of the entrance of the Italian Military Shrine.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

 

Sources:

Traces of War http://en.tracesofwar.com/

Australian War Memorial, http://www.awm.gov.au

Jon Latimer, Alamein, Harvard University Press, 2002.

Glenn Wahlert, The Western Desert Campaign 1940-41, Army History Unit, Canberra, 2006.

 

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