Marzabotto is a little town 17 miles south of Bologna in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Today, Mazabotto has a population of fewer than 7000 people. For a small town, Marzabotto records a long history starting in the Etruscan era and nearly ending with the worst massacre of civilians committed by the Waffen SS in Italy, almost 800 of them according to the best estimates.
You get downtown via a stump-lined viale, Italian for a wide, tree-lined street. But what you see are carved stumps with flowering cherry trees planted beside them.
So here’s the story. When the maritime pines transforming the via into viale became impossible to maintain, the mayor didn’t just decide to whack them down and rip them from the soil, he had them cut down and then employed the local tree artist group Motosegarte to create art out of the remaining stumps. As if that wasn’t local and clever enough, some stumps have been formed into repositories for books. You open the door and take what you’d like to read. Free. You can never be too educated, can you?
So if you’re walking down the street, you’ll come to the last stump. There’s a little saying on a sign. It says:
A child, a teacher, a book, and a pen can change the world.
These words, a major truth compressed to its essence, were written by an honorary Italian citizen and the youngest recipient of the Nobel prize, Malala Yousaf, who won the prize at a mere 17 years of age after taking a Taliban bullet to the head in 2012 while on her way to school.
In a speech to the United Nations, Malala revealed a truth we might all consider today:
“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens,” Malala said. “They are afraid of women.”
Sacrario di Marzabotto
In the center of Marzabotto you’ll come across the Sacrario, commemorating the largest massacre carried out by the Nazi SS in Europe, the one that took place around Monte Sole, in the territories of Marzabotto, Grizzana Morandi and Monzuno—even though the horrendous event was commonly known as simply the “Marzabotto massacre”. Pictures of those able to be identified are displayed outside the building.
Kainua: Etruscans in Marzabotto
The National Etruscan Museum “Pompeo Aria” is located within the archaeological site of Kainua, an impressively large site with many signs of metallurgy in the 6th century bc—and destroyed by the Gauls in the 4th century bc. The war didn’t do it any good, either.
Kainua is worth visiting for a view of the Acropolis and the two necropolis, as well as the grid of streets that makes it seem more modern than medieval settlements.
When you’re done and desire lunch, instead of returning to the main city of Marzabotto, turn left out of the parking lot and head for the next town, Pian di Venola where you’ll find the popular La Gardenia Trattoria-Pizzeria on the right side of the road at the first stop light.
Where to Stay (Don’t Miss This!)
On the opposite side of Monte Sole is the village of Allocco, which means either “tawny owl” or “fool” in English—take your pick. At the edge of the village as you drive up the hill toward the autostrada is a church and outbuildings called Chiesa Di Ignano 1778. We stayed in the church and you can too.
Of course, we didn’t stay under the pews looking up at the stained-glass windows. 22 years ago, the owner decided to create apartments inside the church and a few of the other buildings. They welcomed their first guest 10 years ago, making it a 12-year project. Why so long? Well, winters at that time were harsh, so nobody worked that time of year, plus getting the materials up to the mountains wasn’t easy.
But the result is fantastic. Our apartment, called “tea” was cozy and included a small kitchen. The entrance is seen in the bottom right of the photo.
You can walk the trail right from the property that takes you to the ridgeline that offers a great view over the historic park of Monte Sole.
We spent a fantastic three days there. At breakfast, the owners told tales of the area’s history and its quirks enthusiastically. It added immensely to our understanding of the area.
Book a room: Chiesa Di Ignano 1778