You can pick up a reasonable map of the town and its surroundings free at your hotel. This will get you to the town
centre. The Tourist Information Office is in the main square (Piazza SS
Annunziata) but not obvious to spot. As you approach the square from the Porta Napoli (Naples Gate) at the south end of town there is a narrow little entrance to a passageway on the right side of the street. The Italian Tourism Board has its plaque on the wall but it's easy to miss. The office entrance is at the end of the passageway at street level despite signs pointing upstairs. Here you can get the latest maps and any other information you may need for your visit to the town and the camp.
Campo PG 78 (PG =Prigioneri di Guerra = Prisoners of War) is now completely locked up and it is not
normally possible to get inside. However, since it is now deserted and not guarded, there is no problem in going to see it, walking round outside, taking photographs, looking through the fence etc. It is located near the tiny hamlet of Fonte d'Amore about
5 km/3 miles north of Sulmona. By car you need to cross the main road (SS17) and go via the village of
Marane, or travel along the main road and turn off to the right via Badia village.
I went by bus using the service to Bagnaturo. This left Sulmona at 10:30 and returned at 13:10. The full timetable is available from the tourist office. The bus stop is behind the cathedral and tickets are on sale at the little local shop just across the road.
Bus tickets in Italy nearly always have to be bought in advance and stamped in a machine on the bus as you get on board. It's a strange concept to us British but highly efficient if you think about it as the driver does not have to delay while taking fares and giving change as everyone gets on. Tickets are widely available anywhere displaying the black sign with a white "T" for
"Tabacci". These are usually cafes, newspaper kiosks or local shops near the bus stops or termini.
Get off the bus one village before
Bagnaturo, at Badia which comprises just one shop, a small row of old houses, the huge Morroneze Abbey (right where the bus stops) and, attached to the abbey, an old deserted prison. Fonte d'Amore is signposted from the road junction just 400
metres/¼ mile up the country lane.
As you walk, on your left Mount Morrone soars high in a near vertical slab of rock stretching away into the distance both ahead, behind and, for that matter, above you. The Apennine Mountains are in fact at their highest in this region of Abruzzo.
Monte Morrone itself is 2,061 mts/ 6,762 ft and nearby Monte Amaro reaches 2,793
mts/ 9,163 ft. About half way up the mountainside, perched on the almost vertical rock face, you will see the monastery of St Onofrio (usually referred to as The Hermitage): a substantial stone building on 3 storeys with 10 windows or openings across the ground floor level.
Next along the road you will see the few buildings of the hamlet round the bend in the lane. But first you see the entrance and driveway of a large modern building on your left. It is fenced off with barbed wire and has a security office just inside the substantial gates. The sign by the gates tell you that it is a police and prison officers' training
centre. The Sulmona area has one active high-security jail, one abandoned prison, a former PoW camp and a school for prison guards! Even the army base in the town is, I think, for military police. Then it hits you. Sulmona is the perfect natural prison. Isolated and surrounded by high mountains on all sides; very difficult to escape from even if you can get out of the jail itself
– especially in winter.
Just a short distance farther along the lane, the entrance to the camp is signposted (as the army base) up a narrow track to the left. But already along the edge of the road you can see the concrete slabs of the perimeter wall topped off with barbed wire. Perversely nowadays the top wires slope outwards to keep people out. Rather different from 1942. Little round camouflage-green watchtowers are set all along the fence every 50
mts/yds or so and look rather foreboding, each one surmounted by a large spotlight. Walk up the track and you will find the entrance gates: securely locked and screened off except for a couple of small viewing slits at eye level. Looking through these all you can see is a little sentry post and a couple of yellow
single-storey buildings. Lots of signs warn that this is army property and to keep out. Just to the right of the gate is a small shrine, flanked by a couple of very large artillery shells, and a memorial tablet inscribed with the name and story of a local resistance fighter who was tortured and died in 1945.
The entrance track is a dead-end so return to the road and follow the fence into and through the hamlet. This comprises one shop and even fewer houses than
Badia. Then, suddenly, the fence, barbed wire and watchtowers change direction through 90 degrees and head off up another track towards the foothills of the mountain and the Hermitage set halfway up the cliff-like slope. This is the south-eastern edge of the camp and from here you can get slightly better views inside. Unfortunately all you can see is an expanse of concrete, with weeds and grass growing through the cracks, plus lots more yellow huts all topped off by red tiled roofs. Rather nice little buildings and certainly not the wooden huts usually seen in films about PoW camps.
Farther along, the fence performs another right-angle turn to the left with a narrow gravel track alongside and bushes and open fields to the right. This is the rear of the camp just beyond which there seem to be quarry workings for sand or gravel but no activity. Then, half buried in the bushes, are a couple of strange ruined stone towers
– purpose unknown – but in very ornate Baroque style and very odd in these surroundings. Presumably they pre-date the camp by a long time. One little brick outhouse in the camp carries the date 1917 when it was built for prisoners of the First World War. From this path at the rear you can get one last view of the rows and rows of barrack huts before the perimeter fence again turns square left back towards the main road. This time you cannot follow it as it now forms the boundary of the prison officers' school. The track continues round the school (about
3km/2 miles in all) and eventually returns you to the main road at the entrance to the training establishment.
If making this visit by bus you can now retrace your steps to Badia in time to buy yourself enough food for a picnic lunch before the local shop closes. There is a bench just along the road to sit and eat it while you contemplate your morning and wait for
your return transport
To see a
comprehensive set of photographs from my trip, please click on the navigation
button in the left margin or click here