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main index      © Jeff Matthews      entry June 2014

Guns and butter

T
he Museum of Piana delle Orme


I don't know if this is the best museum of its kind in the world because I've never seen another one like it. I had never even heard of this one until quite recently. There are a great number of fine, smaller museums in Italy dedicated to single subjects: museums of the history of farming culture, for example. You see rows of period agricultural tools, old wine or olive presses, an old tractor or two and probably some great old B&W photographs—carefully cut from private scrapbooks for the museum—of weathered old farmers bringing in the sheaves. There are also a lot of military and war museums, as there are in many countries—museums for the army, navy and air force, or dedicated to this or that conflict. It is rare, however to find all of that in one place.

A friend of mine drove up to the Piana delle Orme musem near the town of Latina on the west coast above Terracina, about 100 miles north of Naples.  It's not far from the Italian National Park of Circeo (which is where Aeneas and Circe met, but that is a different tale and museum!). He returned and said, "Eclectic? This is nuts!" Indeed, you know there's something strange going on when you drive up to the grounds and see the sign at the entrance that declares this to be an agricultural display, and right behind the sign there's an F-104 jet aircraft! (photo, top right)

Piana delle Orme means "Plain of Footprints" (in the metaphorical sense of "historical traces"). The museum describes  itself as a "museum of Italian Agricultural and Military History in the 20th Century." It was started in 1996 by Mariano De Pasquale (1938-2006), a floraculture  entrepreneur who took his share of the family farm and made a fine living growing and selling roses. Sometime in the 1960's they say he saw the wreck of an old US Army jeep (this was the fiercely contested area of Italy that led from Monte Cassino to Rome in 1944 and 1945), and that was that.  He  decided to restore it and then caught the collector/hoarder bug. (They tell me that quite a lot of museums started this way!) He set out on a life-long quest to collect every artifact he could find relating to the activities of the local farming communities and of their lives and experiences in peacetime as well as war: tractors, artillery pieces, butter churns, toys,  armored vehicles...you name it. The gentleman passed away in 2006, leaving behind a seven-acre (3 hectares) exposition ground that so-far includes pavilions dedicated to


--period toys;
--the reclamation of the Pontine marshes in the 1920s and 30s,
one of the great land reclamation projects of Fascist Italy (the
museum is, in fact, on that reclaimed land).
--period agricultural equipment;
--life in the fields;
--period war-time (WWII, mostly) vehicles and weaponry used
 by Italian, British, U.S. and German forces in WWII in Italy.
--from el Alamein to Messina and Salerno;
--the Landing at Anzio;
--the Battle of Cassino
--Civilian use of leftover wartime equipment









Besides the F-104 (obviously post-WWII, but the displays cover some of the NATO years, as well), there's also a Fairchild C-119, a locomotive, a helicopter, and they are probably hauling more stuff in even as we speak! There are various life-size displays of infantry slogging along next to authentically restored vehicles (image, above, left); there is a fine collection of model aircraft, a war-time first-aid station, and a memorial display to the bombed-out monastery at Monte Cassino (image, below right). Yes, the rubble is real; they went over and got it and dragged it back to the museum. They say you can do the whole museum in four hours, but you can't.
My friend was right: “This is nuts!”

The grounds are laid out such that there are very few barriers between you and the displays. You can climb into some of the vehicles that are spread around the premises. There are ample green spaces and benches to take a load off whenever you need to—and you will. There are audio-visual displays and a strange store/trading post that will apparently let you buy a replacement for that bayonet you lost—or bring your old one in and haggle over a price. The museum offers guided tours and is ideal for school field trips and has a good restaurant
—good in the sense of down-home farmhouse cooking. Yes, that good.

By now the museum employs teams of mechanics, restorers and other experts; after all, many of the items on display had to be dug up from the fields, hauled down from the mountains, or dredged up from the beaches of Anzio. Needless to say, this thing is threatening to get out of hand. I love it!

all photos by Piana delle Orme

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