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The Volturno River


Rivers of Campania of c.60+km  
  1. Sele  
2. Volturno 3. Tanagro 
 4.Calore   
5. Garigliano      

The Volturno river (n. 2, right) starts in the Italian region of Molise (above the region of Campania) at about 500 meters (1500 feet) above sea level near the town of Rocchetta a Volturno. The river winds—really winds!— through the Campanian plain to enter the Tyrrhenian Sea at Castel Volturno up the coast from Naples. Including the section in Molise, the river is 175 km long (108 miles). The river picks up about a dozen tributaries on its path to the sea and has an average discharge of 82 m3/sec., the most of any river in southern Italy. The waters are used for fishing, irrigation, recreation, and the production of hydroelectric energy. The principal city along its route is Capua, which at the time of the Romans actually had a port and was, thus, an outlet to the Tyrrhenian.

The river has seen considerable history, a lot of it nasty. In the Second Punic War, Capua defected to Hannibal and was his headquarters in 215 BC and was then the site shortly thereafter of two "Battles of Capua" (212 & 211 BC). Hannibal eventually gave up the city; the Roman colony of Volturnum was then founded nearby on the south bank in 194 BC. In 554 AD the Byzantine general Narses defeated a Frankish army (the "barbarians") along the Volturno during the Gothic Wars that devastated Italy just so Justinian the Great could have a united empire for a few years. Much later, in 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi defeated the Bourbon forces of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies at the "Battle of the Volturno," one of the military actions that led to the ultimate unification of Italy into a single nation state. And just a bit later, in 1943, the Volturno Line was one of the endless strings of German defensive lines as they staged their methodically deadly retreat up through southern Italy: the Gustav Line, the Volturno Line, the Hitler Line, the Reinhard Line, etc. etc.


The bizarre "non-Battle" of Castelnuovo al Volturno

There is a strange story from WW2 about the town of Castelnuovo al Volturno (near the headwaters of the river in Molise). For the purposes of filming a documentary about the assault on the German Gustav line, Allied film-makers staged a mock battle using the town as a set. They used fake bullets, fake wounded and dead, and even fake enemies—GIs running around in Wehrmacht uniforms—but actually bombed and destroyed much of the town, itself! This happened in June 1944, well after the front had moved north. The village was small, many of the inhabitants had emigrated in the 1920s or been forced out by German presence in 1943, and the movie-makers needed a place to reenact just how difficult the fighting had been along the Gustav line. I didn't believe this when I read it, but various Italian sources carried the story: Il Paese of 21 January 1949; La Domenica del Corriere no. 23 of 10 June 1962; Cronaca of 11 Feb 1967 and ABC no. 47 of 22 November 1964.


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