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Monday, March 15, 2010

Why a bridge with an Italian name in a medieval French village?


At the entry to the small medieval village of Catus, France, there is an ancient stone bridge across the Vert river called the
Pont Garigliano
, named after a river in Italy. On one wall of the bridge there is a plaque inscribed with the names Bayard, 1503 and CEFI, 1944. These two dates commemorate two significant battles along the river Garilgiano in Italy.

In WWII some fierce fighting took place between the Allied forces and the Germans around Monte Casino from November 1943 to May 1944 during the Allied advance on Rome. In the fourth and last major battle of Monte Casino, codenamed Operation Diadem, the French Expeditionary Corps in Italy (CEFI, Corps Expéditionaire Français en Italie) under General Alphonse Juin crossed the river Garigliano after some fierce fighting, pushing the Germans back and thus paving the way for the capture of the heights of Monte Casino and the Allied march on Rome. A number of young men from Catus took part in this battle and succeeded in getting the local council to commemorate their participation by erecting the plaque and naming the bridge the Pont Garigliano. A bridge across the Seine in Paris is also called Pont Garigliano to commemorate this battle.

In Catus it was decided to include the name of the Chevalier de Bayard, a medieval French knight. Pierre Terrail, the Seigneur de Bayard, often referred to as "the knight without fear and beyond reproach" (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche), had a reputation for courage, daring and bravery and his fame spread to many parts of medieval Europe. It is said that in 1503 he single-handedly defended a key bridge across the Garigliano against 200 Spaniards and in so doing prevented the complete destruction of the French army. An interesting account of the life of Bayard and of the battle can be found in Bayard by Christopher Hare.