Perched atop a rocky mountain above the town of Cassino, Montecassino is a beautiful monastery, famous as being the World War II battle site of Monte Cassino. The abbey has been badly damaged and restored several times throughout its history, including most recently in a major battle in 1944. Following World War II it was rebuilt based on the original plans. Montecassino is one of the top places to visit between Rome and Naples.
What to See at Montecassino Abbey
Founded by Saint Benedict in the 6th century, the Abbazia di Montecassino is one of Europe’s oldest monasteries and is still a working monastery and pilgrimage site today. The remains of Saint Benedict and his twin sister Saint Scholastica are kept in a bronze urn under the basilica’s high altar. Relics of other saints are displayed in the Chapel of Relics.
A pair of 11th century bronze doors made in Constantinople are at one of the doorways of the basilica. Beautiful mosaics, frescoes, and marble decorate the inside of the ornate church that dates from the 17th century. A tomb of Pietro di Medici by Antonio di Sangallo is one of the top art works housed in the church. Also of interest is the carved choir behind the high altar. Under the church is the 16th century crypt, richly decorated with mosaics, with the tomb of Saints Benedict and Scholastica.
Visitors pass through a medieval cloister with an ancient Roman well on the way to the Montecassino Abbey Museum. Inside the museum, visitors get a good look at the abbey’s history as well as information about monastic life. Items in the museum date as far back as the 6th century BC and going up through the 20th century. On display are pieces of the old abbey, artifacts found during the excavations near the monastery, ancient manuscripts, prints, religious vestments, and medieval paintings. Also on display is a nativity by Sandro Botticelli and there’s a section about World War II.
In the outside areas are gardens and cloisters, one of which is believed by some people to have been designed by Bramante (called the Bramante cloister), and a bronze statue of Saint Benedict. You may see monks strolling around the grounds. Overlooking the valley is the Loggia of Paradise with amazing views.
Montecassino Abbey Visiting Information
Visiting Hours: The monastery is open every day with hours varying by season (see web site below). Currently it opens at 8:30 or 9 AM and closes at 5PM in winter or 7PM from late March through October. On Sundays and holidays it’s open from 8:45 until 5:30 but the church cannot be visited during mass. In winter the museum is only open on Sundays.
Location: 90 miles southeast of Rome in the Lazio region.
See location on our Lazio Map and Guide.
Getting to the Abbey: The easiest way to reach Montecassino is by car, taking the Cassino exit off the A1 autostrada. From the town of Cassino it’s a 5 mile drive up a very curvy road; follow signs to Abbazia di Montecassino. There’s a big parking lot at the monastery. If you take the train to the Cassino station, there are usually 3 buses a day to Montecassino or you can take a taxi. Montecassino is on the Way of Saint Benedict, a route that runs between Montecassino in the south and Norcia, in the Umbria region.
Cost: Currently the only charges are for the museum and for parking but donations to the monastery are appreciated.
Web Site: Abbazia di Montecassino
Where to Stay Nearby: Compare prices of Hotels in Cassino
Recommended Reading: Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy: Museums, Monuments, and Battlegrounds
Plan to spend a couple of hours at the site as there’s a lot to see. There’s also a book store with souvenirs at the monastery. Guided tours can be booked through the web site above.
Because it’s a monastery, visitors are asked to follow certain rules such as speaking quietly, wearing clothing appropriate for entering a church (no shorts, mini-skirts, or sleeveless tops), and not eating or drinking. The church is closed to visitors during mass although it is possible to attend masses, some of which include Gregorian chants.
Another interesting Benedictine monastery to visit is Pomposa Abbey in Northern Italy.