San Pietro – Italy’s Ghost Village From World War Two

If you know Southwest Turkey well, looking at the following series of photos, you would be forgiven for thinking you were looking at shots of the ruins of Kayaköy near Fethiye.

During our recent trip to Italy, our friend took us out for the day, and when we asked him where we were going, his reply was, “I’m taking you to Italy’s Kayaköy. San Pietro.”

San Pietro, Lazio, Italy

The ruins of San Pietro

The Abandoned Village Of San Pietro, Italy

We’d done our research before heading off to Italy and new about the horrific Second World War battles that took place around the area where our friend’s family is from, near Cassino.

What we weren’t prepared for, however, was the evidence and the memories of those battles that completely surround this area.

San Pietro Village, Italy

The village of San Pietro lies abandoned

Like Kayaköy, San Pietro was once a thriving village with a modest population. The village is built from local stone and locals made their living by making goods from the strong, local grasses.

Sadly, the original site of San Pietro now lies abandoned because of decisions made by others that were beyond the control of the villagers.

Liri Valley From San Pietro, Italy

Looking down over the Liri Valley from San Pietro

This is the view of the entrance to the Liri Valley taken from the village. During the Second World War, Allied troops had the formidable task of making their way northwards, through this valley and towards Rome while German troops occupied the higher ground.

As they made repeated attempts to advance towards San Pietro, suffering many casualties, the Americans soon renamed it Death Valley.

Abandoned Home, San Pietro, Italy

A peek inside one of the San Pietro dwellings

While the locals of the village were hoping to be liberated by the Allied troops, the occupying German troops conscripted able-bodied men to help them set up defences.

Women, children and older people were told they were being evacuated and, just like the people of Kayaköy, the villagers hoped they would be able to return at a later date.

San Pietro Caves, Italy

Some San Pietro villagers fled to this network of caves

Some villagers chose to flee close by and hid in this network of caves in the woodlands. The rock is soft and they were able to carve shelves, sleeping areas and fireplaces.

Caves Of San Pietro, Italy

Inside the caves and tunnels, close to San Pietro

They were also able to dig holes into the floor so the families could hide the men from the German soldiers.

As the Allied troops advanced, fighting was fierce and many of the villagers hiding in the caves were killed by shells landing near the entrances.

Shelled Buildings, San Pietro, Italy

Many of the buildings of San Pietro were destroyed by shelling

The whole village of San Pietro was destroyed by shelling and grenades.

San Pietro Ruins, Italy

The ruins of San Pietro are a sad reminder of the battles

It soon became obvious that the people of San Pietro would not be able to return to their ruined village and the modern day San Pietro now lies further down the hillside.

San Pietro World War Two

A plaque dedicated to soldiers at the entrance to San Pietro

Until 2010, these ruins sat abandoned – but now there is a museum and visitor centre with visitors coming along to learn about the history and the fate of the San Pietro. It would be nice to see something similar at Kayaköy.

This area of Lazio, Italy is full of reminders of the horrors of the battles that took place here during the Second World War. During our time in the area, we also visited the war graves of Polish troups and those of the Commonwealth troups at Cassino War Cemetery

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  1. Fascinating though depressing story and photos from a place I’ve only discovered now. Mette

  2. thanks for posting this. it is all so very interesting!

  3. @ Italian Notes: There’s a famous film about it, too, that we didn’t know about. Yes, a depressing story.

    @ Jaz: The whole area is really interesting.

  4. Those stone buildings are stunning! Amazing that they are still there.

  5. oh my- these pictures are amazing. The story behind them is sobering.

    Thanks for posting this very informative post!!

  6. It does look like Kayakoy. The same grey stone of the buildings. My father was in the 8th army during the war and landed at Salerno and later took part in the battle at Monte Cassino, it’s very much a part of my families history. It was a long and bloody battle and after a long period of stalemate, the Germans were finally beaten by Polish troops, but the whole area had been destroyed.

  7. @ Anjuli: A very sobering story. We did research before we went so we could understand the history behind the area.

    @ MBS01: Have you read ‘Cassino’ by Matthew Parker? A fantastic book. That was our research before going. We went up to the monastery and the Polish cemetery too. A really moving place. Sadly, there are a lot of new roads being built around Cassino at the moment and roadsigns are non-existent so we couldn’t find the Commonwealth cemetery.

    I’ve got LOADS of photos – I think I’ll probably put them on Flickr soon. Will let you know when I do.

  8. Thanks for the recommendation, I will definitely get hold of a copy and read it. Funny thing, as I’ve got older I am more interested in what went on in WW2 and in particular the part my dad played in it. As a ‘youngster’, fortunately, I did listen to the stories he told and the experiences he had.There is an episode from the series The World at War, which is almost totally devoted to the battle for Monte Cassino, its well worth a look at. Thanks again for the recommendation.

  9. @ mbs01: No probs. I studied WW11 history all through school and university and never once did any of the textbooks mention Cassino. Conveniently omitted I suspect!

    The guide who took us round the village was from San Pietro and her grandparents used to live in the old village. She said she’s really interested as she’s got older and now that the visitor centre is open. She never really spoke to her grandparents about it and wishes she had, now. She doesn’t even know which house they lived in. A shame.

  10. Somehow I missed this post of yours awhile back, but it’s eerie how close this Italian village looks like Kayaköy in Turkey. I’m finally posting my photos of Kayaköy from our trip to Fethiye last year and am including a link to your blog since you’ve written several posts about it. Cheers!

  11. @ Joy: Very similar aren’t they? Looking forward to seeing your photos of Kayaköy and thanks for the link, too, of course. We’ll give your post a mention on the Facebook page. 🙂

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