Between 1943 and 1944, the German forces in Italy, under Field Marshal Kesselring, used forced labour to construct a defensive line of concrete bunkers, anti-tank ditches, air defense installations, over 2,000 machine gun nests, and other fortifications in a 10-mile-deep corridor that stretched across virtually the entire width of Italy.
Running from east to west along the summits of the Apennine Mountains in Northern Italy, the Gothic Line was the final stronghold for the German troops in Italy. The only part of the fortification that is essentially intact today is centered around the village of Borgo a Mozzano in Tuscany. It survived because the defending forces withdrew several miles to the north when an adjacent part of the line was breached.
The nature, complexity, and mode of construction of this defensive chain shows the inner workings of Kesselring’s mind in his intent to defend the southern borders of Germany. It is therefore of great historical importance. Many of the fortifications can only be visited on guided tours by appointment. But one important structure, an anti-tank wall which almost completely crosses the floor of the valley, is freely open. It can be seen across the road from an information board at a pull-off on highway SP20.
The information board shows the position of all the fortifications, the local German command centre, the offices used during the construction by conscripted Italian laborers, and the position of the nearby concentration camp. In the village is also a small museum dedicated to the fortifications, based in the old railway station.
Borgo a Mozzano was finally liberated by the advancing Brazilian Expeditionary Force, and a memorial to that event can still be found in the village. A banner advertising the 50th anniversary celebration of the capture of the town by Brazilian forces can still be seen attached to the prominent anti-tank wall.
Know Before You Go
For most of the fortifications the only way to visit is to book a guided tour. Tours can be organized for up to 10 people at a charge of €150 for a 3-hour trip.