Situated in a strategic position on the top of Mount Calvario, the abbey dominates the town and the underlying valley. The monastery of Montecassino was founded by San Benedetto da Norcia in 529 and rose up on the foundations of a previous Roman fort. Here the Saint laid down the rules for his monastic order, adding the obligation to study and do manual work to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. The monks specialised in copying ancient texts, thus allowing classical thought to be conserved during the Middle Ages. The museum situated inside the monastery conserves documents illustrating the long history of the place, including the placito cassinese, the first document in vulgar Italian, written in around 930.
Celebrated for the prodigious life and tomb of its founder, over the centuries the hermitage of Montecassino has been the scene of a fertile history of sanctity, culture and art, which has made it famous all over the world. Montecassino may be compared to the symbolic image of an oak tree, which although uprooted by the force of the storm always springs up again with renewed vigour. During its long history the monastery has indeed been razed to the ground and reconstructed on several occasions: in 577 it was destroyed by the Lombards, whereas in 883 the Saracens invaded and sacked it, then setting it on fire (on this occasion many monks were killed); finally in 1349 it was destroyed for the third time as the result of an earthquake and little of the building remained except a few walls. On 15 February 1944, towards the end of the Second World War, Montecassino found itself in the line of fire of opposing armies. In just three hours, this place of prayer and study, which had also become a peaceful place of refuge during war for hundreds of unarmed civilians, was reduced to a mound of rubble, under which many refugees died.
Today the Benedictine monks do not offer the opportunity to stay overnight in this holy place, but they open their doors to all those wishing to visit the monastery. Indeed, every day hundreds of visitors come to the abbey, which welcomes those wishing to experience a moment of intense spirituality and to have a closer look at a piece of history. A visit to the museum of Montecassino, open every day in the summer and on Sundays only in the winter, should undoubtedly not be missed.