4 The  Camillo Story

Nervesa della Battaglia

Nervesa is a small Veneto town which lies about 50 kms from Venice, at the foot of the Montello hill, by the river Piave at the point where it changes from a rushing mountain stream, into a wide placid river as it reaches the plain.  

             Northern Italy map of 1796 showing position of Nervesa

The Montello hill is a terminal moraine, composed of rocks and earth deposited by an enormous glacier, that during an Ice Age, arrived this far from the Alps. The forest that grew there supposedly supplied the wooden poles that served as foundations to support the buildings of the city of Venice and lumber for its shipyards.

Nervesa’s favourable geographical location encouraged its human habitation well into the past and the stone utensils found there show its occupation even from paleolithic times, 60,000 years ago. The numerous caves of the Montello provided primitive shelter to these first tribes, who contended them with the giant cave-dwelling bears of the time.

Agriculture was first experimented at Nervesa about 5000 B.C., but the town acquired a commercial importance from its crucial position on the River Piave. It controlled the transit of goods between the alpine areas and the plain; in fact there was much traffic up and down the river on wooden rafts, which  continued right up to the present century, to the 1920s.

The first historic reference to Nervesa, came from King Otto III, who cites "in vico Nervesae iuxta fluviam Plavam" (in the town of Nervesa close to the river Piave), in 994 when the German king granted feudal dominion of Nervesa and the Montello to the Collalto family. In the early 1000, this family (whose name translates as "High Hill") founded there a Benedictine Abbey and in the 1300s, the Certosa Convent.

As the name of the town implies, Nervesa della Battaglia was the centre of a great battle during the first world war and the war memorial on the Montello, is a solemn reminder. On this hill there is also a monument marking the spot where the fighter pilot hero, Francesco Baracca, crashed to his death in 1918, after having been shot down by the Austrians. He himself had downed a total of 34 enemy planes in 63 aerial combats.  

                             Two scenes showing the devastation and horror of the fierce battle in the centre of Nervesa

The Montello played an important part in the First World War as a defensive stronghold of the Italian Army against the occupying Austrians, who were on the other side of the river Piave. On the 15th of June 1918, the enemy made a heavy frontal attack, crossing the river and managed to take Nervesa and Giavera.

A few days later, on the 19th, the Italians made a heavy counterattack, centred right around Nervesa and after a bloody battle with heavy losses on both sides, they succeeded in pushing back the Austrians. They fiercely defended the town till the end of the war.

During the battle Nervesa was reduced to rubble, including the famous abbey of Collalto and Villa Soderini, with all its Tiepolo frescoes. (In this abbey, Monseignor Giovanni Della Casa wrote the famous "Galateo" in 1558, a book, which became the bible for all Italians, of good manners, of conversing, dressing, eating and general good behaviour towards others).  

Celeste Camillo's testimony tells that at the start of the shellings, the soldiers arrived to tell them to evacuate their house, so he tied the cow to the cart, quickly killed a pig with a hoe, tossed it on and fled with these few precious possessions. It was just in time, as their house was destroyed, as it provided a critical military observation point.


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