View of the Mountains from Terelle Italy © Louise Shapcott

photo © Louise Shapcott

The History of Terelle

From 744 AD this area was owned by the Monastery of Montecassino. However in 1117, during a period of hostilities against the Abbey of Montecassino, Count Pandolfo d’Aquino, provocatively dared to built a fortress near to the Tirelle forest on the eastern side of Monte Cairo. It had a strategic position overlooking communication routes to the Valle di Comino and the Valle del Liri  and was built to enable raids on the Abbey’s estates.

In 1137 the primitive fortification was burned down by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Lothair of Supplinburg, on the orders of Innocent II. For protection, the survivors migrated up to higher reaches of this territory where they set up camp on an elevated piece of terrain. On this site the Counts of Aquino built a new fortification, and town developed around it.  However Terelle’s turbulent history continued with the fortifications being destroyed again by the abbot Roffredo in 1195. It was rebuilt once more only to be destroyed in 1220 by order of the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia. In 1349 Terelle and the whole area was devastated by a very strong earthquake. In 1370 the Cajetani family decided to build a castle and to transform it into a family residence. In 1458 the castle was conquered by the Count of Trivento during the war between the Angevins and Durazzeschi. The castle and manor house that we can see today dates from the 13th century. 

In 1583 Terelle was sold off to the Dukes of Sora and remained in their hands until 1796 when it was sold to the Bourbon King Ferdinand IV of Naples, together with a number of other towns: Aquino, Arce, Roccadarce, Santopadre, Roccasecca, Colle San Magno and Palazzolo, Palazzolo.

From 1799 the area was occupied by the French and during this time the Napoleonic Cemetery of San Egidio was built.

For two centuries Terelle was involved in the storage of ice, using the “Fosso della Neve”. This was a natural cavity in the ground into which they packed snow and covered it with insulating layers of straw and branches.  Mules were employed  to transport the ice down to Montecassino. However, agriculture was the main  industry in this mountainous area, particularly the growing of wheat, pulses and potatoes.

In the 19th century during the colder winter months, there was a migration of seasonal agricultural labourers who found work in the fields in the warmer coastal area of Terracina. Over a period of time a number of Terellesi chose to settle there permanently.


During The Second World War

In the autumn of 1943 the Allied troops, having invaded the Italian mainland via Sicily and Salerno, were making their way up the boot of Italy.  The Germans created the Gustav Defence Line which ran right through the nearby town of Cassino.  German troops occupied the area of Terelle and forcibly rounded up the local men to labour for them. A new road was to be built connecting Terelle to Belmonte Castello to facilitate the movement of troops and ensure an important communication and supply route to the German front line.

The Germans installed defensive positions in the mountains near Terelle, from which they could control the  valley and the road leading to Belmonte Castello and the Val di Comino. These positions were equipped with guns and anti-aircraft artillery. From October 1943 onwards, the people of Terelle began to take in many families who found themselves displaced from neighbouring towns and villages along the Gustav line. It is said that 3,000 refugees arrived from Cassino alone.

In the last week of January 1944 the people of Terelle found themselves entrenched in what became known as the Battle of Belvedere. French Expeditionary Force troops, under the Command of General Monsalbert, were ordered to penetrate the German Gustav line, north of Cassino. The plan was to cross the flooded Rapido valley and then push on into the mountains behind Cassino and occupy the summits of Belvedere (2000 metres)  and Casale Abate. The intention was to then attack Monte Cassino from the high ground.

On the 25th January 1944 the assault commenced. Initially the operation went well with the French troops successfully crossing the river. Yet as they stormed up the steep mountain slopes they began to suffer losses. The German line was well fortified with bunkers and mines and was defended by units of the German 44th and 71st Infantry Divisions.  The Allied artillery pounded the south east side of Monte Caira, where Terelle was located, and on the 28th January Terelle was bombed causing numerous civilian deaths and casualties. The French doggedly fought on but by the 31st January, under heavy fire, their assault had grounded to a halt and they were forced to retreat. In all they sustained around 2,500 casualties. 

At the end of January many of the civilians gathered in Terelle were rounded up by the Germans and deported to collection camps north of Rome. Any civilians who had managed to avoid deportation sought refuge in the countryside, finding shelter wherever they could in caves and isolated houses. On the 9th April 1944 the Germans carried out a massive raid in Terelle,  in an event that became known as the Valley of Death. 66 people were killed.

Terelle was awarded with the Silver Medal for Civil Merit:

Strategically important center north of Montecassino, during the last World War in which the population gave hospitality and comfort to numerous refugees of the neighboring towns. It then found itself at the center of numerous fights, undergoing bombings and reprisals that caused numerous civilian victims and the almost total destruction of the town.”


The War Memorial in Terelle



Following the war there was an exodus of people from Terelle, with many leaving for France and America. During the early 1960’s there was another wave of emigration this time to Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.

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