The martyrs of Fiesole

by Rebecca Bricker on January 14, 2015

In the hills above Florence, on the edge of the cliff that rims the village of Fiesole, there’s a monument to three military police officers – carabinieri – who sacrificed themselves to the Nazis so that 10 innocent hostages would not be killed. On August 12, 1944, the three officers stood against the wall of the Hotel Aurora, by the village’s main square, and were shot to death.

Only the day before, on August 11, the Allies had liberated Florence, just five miles away. The Germans, in retreat, had blown up Florence’s bridges, all except for the Ponte Vecchio, which according to many accounts, was spared by orders from Hitler.

Ponte Santa Trinita, Florence – 1944

The Nazis unleashed their vengeance on Fiesole. Civilians were slain. Women were raped. The village was savagely scarred by the last desperate acts of despots.

During a recent visit to beautiful Fiesole, I looked down on Florence, which sits in a sprawling basin ringed by foothills and mountains, and tried to imagine the Allied assault. The road up to Fiesole is winding and steep. The bloody campaign to take Fiesole lasted into September of that year.

The police officers’ names are set in a slab of stone that sits beside the memorial to their sacrifice. Vittorio Marandola. Alberto La Rocca. Fulvio Sbarretti. All three were in their early 20s. Their story is heartrending.

The carabinieri of Fiesole acted as cover for the clandestine activities of resistance fighters. On August 6, the German command ordered all men in Fiesole who were between the ages of 17 and 45 to present themselves – or be shot if they were caught in hiding. The Germans randomly chose 10 young men, to be used as deterrents against acts of resistance, and locked them in the basement of the Hotel Aurora.

On the eve of the liberation of Florence, the three police officers had received a message to disguise themselves as monks and escape through German lines. The three abandoned the police barracks and tried to get to the monastery, but the roads were blocked. They hid out that night in the village’s Roman ruins. But when a German lieutenant discovered the deserted police barracks the next day, he vowed to execute the hostages in retaliation.

Hearing of this, the three young police officers calmly walked through Fiesole’s empty streets and turned themselves in. After brutal interrogation, they were held in the hotel basement, alongside the hostages, and that evening the three met their death outside the Hotel Aurora.

The hotel is still there today. It has a four-star rating with luxury suites and a terrace restaurant that has an incredible panoramic view of Florence.

You can’t imagine what transpired on this spot. But that’s the nature of history if it’s allowed to recede into the haze.

The memorial on the cliff of Fiesole is a stark reminder of what happened in this village on August 12, 1944. Its jagged edges reach out like claws, defying you to forget the goodness, courage and sacrifice of three young men, known here as the martyrs of Fiesole.

{ 2 comments }

Susan In Italy January 18, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Beautifully done, Rebecca. Thank you for reminding us of the brave, young (so young!) men who fought against the Nazi invasion of their country.

Rebecca Bricker January 18, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Grazie, Susan. I’m reading Iris Origo’s war diary, “War in Val d’Orcia,” which tells what happened in Tuscany in 1943-44. An incredible story.

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