Sentiero della Libertà

During WWII, with the Allies advancing swiftly through southern Italy, the inmates at one of the country’s most notorious POW camps – Fonte d’Amore (Campo 78), 5km north of Sulmona – began to sniff freedom.

Their excitement wasn’t unfounded. When the Italian government surrendered in September 1943, the camp’s Italian guards deserted their posts and promptly disappeared. Their boots were quickly filled by German soldiers invading Italy from the north but, in the confusion of the changeover, many POWs escaped.

Using the Apennines as a natural refuge, the prisoners fanned out into the surrounding mountains. With the help of local partisans, most fled east across the Majella range from German-occupied Sulmona to Casoli on the Sangro river, which had been held by the Allies since September 1943. The rugged and dangerous escape route – nicknamed the Sentiero della Libertà – was used multiple times by escaped Allied POWs during the exceptionally cold winter of 1943–44, when the Allied advance was temporarily halted by German troops dug in along the Gustav Line (a fortified defensive line built by the Germans across central Italy in 1943 to stem the Allied advance).

Having to negotiate well-guarded checkpoints and rugged, mountainous terrain, not all the escapees made it. On a windswept mountain pass known as Guado di Coccia, halfway between Campo di Giove and the small mountain village of Palena, a stone monument memorialises Ettore De Conti, an Italian partisan captured and executed by the Germans in September 1943. It acts as an enduring symbol of the underground resistance.

Today, the Sentiero della Libertà has been turned into a historic long-distance hiking trail that cuts across the peaks and plateaus of the Parco Nazionale della Majella. Well-signposted with red and white markers, the 60km-long path starts at the eastern suburbs of Sulmona and is usually tackled over three to four days with stops in Campo di Giove and Taranta Peligna. Since 2001, a commemorative communal march along the trail has been held in late April attracting up to 700 people. See the Sentiero della Libertà website (Italian only) for entry details.

The foreboding fences and watchtowers of the now disused Campo 78 still rise above the village of Fonte d'Amore.