Visiting San Luigi Bridge, Near Ventimiglia, Italy: Remembering Events of World War Two
The Italian state honouring a fallen French partisan
This bridge, known in Italian as the Ponte San Luigi (1) and the road beyond, leads from the Italian-French border near Menton to Grimaldi, Italy near Ventimiglia, in Liguria province. Since Roman times, the immediate vicinity has been a thoroughfare. The building in the picture is the former customs house, and overlooks the Mediterranean coast.
In World War Two, the vicinity of this bridge was the scene of conflict. In June 1940, French troops dug in securely within sight of the bridge held out for several days, and were in fact undefeated until France signed an Armistice with the Axis powers, whereby Italy would occupy part of the coastal region of south-eastern France.
In 1944, the vicinity of the Ponte San Luigi was again the scene of conflict; this time the belligerents were members of the French Resistance; German troops were by then occupying this area of Italy, having only recently vacated the neighbouring French city of Menton.
Among a platoon of French Resistance fighters were Jojo Arnaldi, aged 18 and Jean Bolietto, aged 29, who crossed into Italy on September 16, 1944 with a view to doing reconnaissance of rail movements of German troops. However, Jean Bolietto stepped on a landmine, and received fatal injuries to his legs; Jojo Arnaldi was fatally hit by gunfire emanating from the nearby Villa Voronoff. Other members of the platoon escaped back onto French territory.
In 2012 Commissioner Luciana Lucianò, representing the Italian state and the City of Ventimiglia, presided over the unveiling of a memorial to Jean Bolietto on Italian territory at the San Luigi Bridge; she was accompanied by members of commemorative committees and representative French observers, including the Deputy for and Mayor of NIce, Jean-Claude Guibal. A memorial to Jojo Arnaldi on nearby French territory had already been unveiled, and the roadway leading to the bridge had been named Esplanade Jojo Arnaldi .
It is significant that by 1944 Italy was occupied and so the action at Ponte San Luigi undertaken by the fallen partisans thus honoured was an act by co-belligerents rather than by aggressors; which makes their loss and the presence of the Italian Commissioner and her commemoration of the partisans all the more memorable and poignant.
(Given the proximity of the French border, and the nationality of those who fell just inside Italian territory in 1944, I am including a French as well as an Italian flag.)
April 3, 2012
(1) Sometimes it is referred to more formally as Ponte San Ludovico . The French version is Pont Saint-Louis , or sometimes more formally, Pont Saint-Ludovic .
Also worth seeing
In Ventimiglia (approx. distance: 8 kilometres) are the Medieval Cathedral and the Sant' Agostino and the San Michele churches; there are remains of a Roman amphitheatre; the Palazzo comunale , is a Rationalist style municipal building.
How to get there:
Alitalia flies to Genoa (Aeroporto di Genova ); there are rail links from Genoa to Ventimiglia. The nearest sizable international airport to Ponte San Luigi is Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ). Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice. The French railroad company SNCF serves stations between Nice and Ventimiglia (French: Vintimille ); the nearest railroad station to Ponte San Luigi is Menton-Garavan, over the French border, which is withing walking distance of Ponte San Luigi. Enquire also at Nice Airport for bus links to nearby Menton, France. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.