The Battle of Porta Lame

Remembering a historical event that took place in one of the busiest places in the city.
Gen. Lanfranco Roccetti, Former Commander Special Unit AUC

Walking today in the centre of Bologna, between Via Don Minzoni and Via Riva di Reno, looking at the shop windows of Piazza dei Martiri and arriving at Porta Lame, distracted by the traffic and pedestrians coming and going, we have no idea of the historical events that took place there. In fact, in the early days of November 1944, in that area took place in a city centre one of the largest and most significant battles fought by partisans in Europe during the Second World War. The autumn of that year the Allied army fought the German armed forces on the Gothic line of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. Villages, towns and cities are reconquered step by step and, even for Bologna, the moment of liberation seems to be approaching.


Monument at Porta Lame, picture by Gianpaolo Zaniboni

To push ahead the allied army, several partisan brigades converged from the plains and the mountains to the city to coordinate their action. Men gathered among the ruins of the neighbourhood around the Porta Lame, severely affected by bombardments. The former slaughterhouse on Via Azzo Gardino, the Maggiore Hospital on Via Riva di Reno (where the Sports Palace is today), and the Porta Lame were piles of rubble where civilians no longer lived. This is where partisans hid to face the enemy's army. Hundreds of men armed with rifles and courage spent long days hidden and awaiting the imminent insurrection. But on November 7, 1944, at dawn, the German army together with the Black Brigades and the Police Assault division attacked partisan patrols. Strong with cannons and tanks, the enemies surrounded and bombed the slaughterhouse. Forced to leave their shelter, partisans escaped along the banks of the Cavaticcio Canal up towards Via Roma, today's Via Marconi. Smoke shells and darkness allowed them to reach Piazza Umberto I (Piazza dei Martiri) while the companions from the former Maggiore Hospital attacked the Germans. After more than ten hours from the first offensive, the real battle took place just around Porta Lame. Surrounded and attacked simultaneously by the partisan brigades, German troops were forced to withdraw. A few days later, however, on November 13th, the British General Harold Alexander declared the offensive on the Gothic line of the Italian front closed: other war strategies were planned. We had to wait for the spring of 1945 for the liberation of the whole of northern Italy, but the heroic gesture of Porta Lame will never be forgotten. One just has to look today at the statues of the young partisans, the work of the artist Luciano Minguzzi, who observe the passage. Approaching, we have a sense of warning, their poses forever preserving the bravado of youth. Looking at them, perhaps, we can understand the meaning of history and reflect on episodes from the past which can guide us towards a different and, hopefully, better future.


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