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Monte Cassino is a renowned attraction in Italy due to its famed presence as a historic abbey, its sheer beauty and domineering panorama over the surrounding countryside and the role it has played as a cultural and physical reference point in wars and conquests. All that being said and with a good proximity to Rome, it is often considered a great day trip or stopover between Rome and Naples.
The Abbey has been destroyed 4 times since its founding around 1400 years ago. Most recently in the second world war when it was completely bombed. The newly restored monastery is beautiful and ornate and can be seen on approach from the A1 highway for miles in the distance on a clear day. It sits around 130km South of Rome and 100km North of Naples. On the A1 highway (autostrada) simply exit at the Cassino exit and follow signs for 8km up winding mountain roads to the Abbey.
The Abbey is open to visitors for no cost on most days (During Masses especially sundays the church is not open for tourists to wander around.) There is a small fee for parking with plenty of spaces. Plan visits around normal Italian work hours meaning 9:00 – 12:30 AM and 3:30 – 5:30 PM (until 6:30 in summer) with a closure for lunch. Guided tours are available but really one can see and appreciate most things from a self guided exploration.
Buses to the area do exist but are less frequent than trains which go constantly since Monte Cassino is on the Rome-Naples railway line. From the station in town it is best to get a taxi up the mountain.
What to see:
Once inside the outermost walls one enters a first enclosure known as the entrance cloister. It is mostly a garden area from which one can see outer extensions of the monastery. It was formerly the site of a temple to Apollo and so it has some parts of ruins exposed.
Inside the next area is the central courtyard called the Bramante cloister. It is a scenic and flat area that connects the central chapel with a common courtyard, set with a well in the middle. At the furthest end one can look out over the mountainside and on a cemetery below. Up the large flights of stairs lies the entrance to the Basilica or main Church.
At the basilica entrance are three bronze doors, The highlight of the art in the Basilica are the frescoes and mosaics. It is an ornate and uplifting sacred space that takes a while to sit back and take in. There is a chapel of Relics as monasteries often have many bodies of deceased monks and declared saints. Downstairs there is a crypt, which is carved right into the solid rock mountain upon which the whole monastery stands and it too has stunning artwork.
There is outside the Basilica a small gift shop with goods made by the monks as well as other collectible souvenirs. There is also a monastery museum which has photographs, ancient coins, mosaics, Roman ruins, manuscripts and many things which date the long history the abbey has observed and is founded upon. The museum is only open on sundays and holidays in winter time.