L’Aquila (Aquila until 1863, and Aquila degli Abruzzi until 1939) is a city with a population of 70,221; it is the capital of the province of the same name, as well as the capital of the Abruzzo Region.
The city’s population swells to 100,000 daily, owing to the presence of large numbers of students, service industry workers, commuters and tourists. The city boasts a university, and many agencies and associations that make for a lively cultural life.
L’Aquila is situated in the heartland of Abruzzo and administers a territory covering 467 km², the ninth largest in Italy. Given the vastness of this territory and the fact that it is in a mountainous area, the city’s infrastructure and services are spread out, complex and challenging to administer. L’Aquila has more than ten cemeteries, several water purification plants, dozens of schools, nearly 3,000 km of roads, and thousands of kilometres of utility lines. It is divided into 12 districts, comprising in total 59 neighbourhoods and boroughs. Part of its territory is located in the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, some of it at elevations of more than 2,000 m.
The city has had an asteroid named after it: 7499 L’Aquila.
L’Aquila sits in a shallow basin just north of the Aterno River, surrounded by hills and with a spectacular view of the Gran Sasso d’Italia massif. It is situated at 721 m above sea level, and this makes it the third highest provincial capital in Italy, after Enna and Potenza.
The city’s historic centre is located on a hill that rises approximately in the middle of the basin. Many communities (such as Aragno, Roio, Pianola, Bagno, San Giacomo and Collebrincioni) are scattered on the slopes and hilltops around the city. In the postwar period, the city expanded chiefly on the west side, which is more low-lying, and today it is spread out in irregular fashion along the east-west axis, following the course of the river.
The city’s vast territory encompasses many villages and agglomerations, and some large towns that were formerly independent municipalities, such as Paganica. It even has an exclave in the mountains, on the border with the Parco Regionale Naturale del Sirente – Velino and the Riserva Naturale Montagne della Duchessa.
The number 99: Legend has it that the inhabitants of 100 Abruzzo castles came together to found the city of L’Aquila. Each castle had to provide the city with a square, a church and a fountain, for a total of 100 squares, 100 churches and 100 fountains. At the last minute, one castle backed out, so the city came to have 99 squares, 99 churches and 99 fountains.
In reality, the founding communities were far fewer than 99, and many of them were villages with a few dozen inhabitants that survived only a few decades and were in no position to build anything in L’Aquila.
About 20 km from L’Aquila, in the middle of the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, more specifically in Campo Imperatore, at an elevation of 2,200 m, is a major sports, tourist and scientific facility of considerable historical significance. It is most famous for being the site of the Campo Imperatore Hotel, where Benito Mussolini was brought on July 26, 1943 and imprisoned for 48 days. The rooms in which he was held captive are open to visitors. Nearby are many ski resorts, including those at Campo Felice, Ovindoli (in the Parco Regionale Naturale del Sirente – Velino), and Roccaraso (in the Alto Sangro area).
Monuments and attractions:
- The basilica of San Bernardino, built after the saint’s death in 1444 to house his remains. It has a superb Renaissance façade designed by Cola dell’Amatrice. The interior, rebuilt in the Baroque style after the 1703 earthquake, houses the San Bernardino mausoleum and the Camponeschi family mausoleum. The basilica, which is reached by climbing a massive staircase, is located near Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
- The basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, a church in the Romanesque style built in 1288 at the request of Pietro da Morrone, who became Pope Celestine V. It was the site of papal investitures and hosts an annual jubilee.
- The cathedral of San Massimo, L’Aquila’s main church
- The church of San Domenico
- The church of Santa Giusta
- The church of Santa Maria del Suffragio (1713), also known as the church of the Anime Sante, or Blessed Souls
- The church of Santa Maria Paganica
- The church of San Pietro a Coppito
- The church of San Silvestro
- The sanctuary of the Madonna d’Appari
- The church of Santa Maria del Carmine
- The Emiciclo building (houses the offices of the regional council)
- The Carli Benedetti building
- The Pica Alfieri building
- The Centi building
- The Fontana delle 99 Cannelle (the Fountain of 99 Spouts, built in 1272)
- The Fontana Luminosa (an illuminated fountain)
- Costa Masciarelli, the medieval quarter. It is located on the steepest slope of the historic centre, which extends from Piazza Duomo to Collemaggio. It features medieval residences, ancient doorways, flights of stairs, and spectacular views; it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of the city.
- Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the city’s main thoroughfare, which extends from the Fontana Luminosa to Piazza Duomo, where it joins Viale Crispi. Long stretches of the Corso are lined with arcades, making it a popular destination for strolling and shopping.
- Piazza Duomo, the largest square in the city. The Cathedral and the Bishopric are located here, as well as some of the city’s most interesting architectural landmarks. The city market has been held in this square since 1303.
- Piazza Palazzo, a tree-lined square on Corso Umberto I. At its centre is a statue of the ancient Roman historian The Palazzo Margherita (the city hall) is located here, as is the Palazzo della Provincia (headquarters of the provincial government), which also houses the Salvatore Tommasi provincial library.
- The city walls. The walls were built in 1276, barely 20 years after the second founding of the city, and they encircle the entire historic centre. They were repaired and restored at various times over the centuries; gates were added (originally there were twelve), portions of the walls were moved to make room for the 16th century Spanish Fort and other parts were demolished.
- The Spanish Fort, a massive fortress located in the northern part of the city next to the walls. It was built by the Spanish as a symbol of their dominion over the local population. It is a square structure with four enormous ramparts in the corners. The Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo is located here.
- The Amiternum archeological site
- City parks: Parco del Sole; Parco del Castello, which is designed around the Spanish Fort, includes a playground, and is flooded in winter to be used a skating rink; and Piazza D’Armi, which includes a track and other sports facilities.
- The Parco del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, the third largest national park in Italy.
- The Grotte di Stiffe
- The Roio pine forest
- The San Giuliano pine forest
- The Tre Nevi ski complex, which includes the ski slopes at Campo Imperatore, Campo Felice and Ovindoli
Culture and education:
- The Museo Nazionale D’Abruzzo: The museum, which has the most important art collection in the Abruzzo Region, is housed in the Spanish Fort; it occupies 41 rooms on three floors, as well as the courtyard.
- The Casa Museo Signorini Corsi (the museum is located in a house decorated with art and period furnishings).
- The Museo Archaeologico di Santa Maria dei Raccomandati
- The Museo Sperimentale d’Arte Contemporanea
- The Museo di Scienze Naturali e Umane
- The Museo delle Ceramiche
- The Università degli Studi dell’Aquila: This is the oldest university in Abruzzo and has an enrolment of 20,000 students (after the earthquake). It offers programs in biotechnology, economics, engineering, letters and philosophy, medicine and surgery, psychology, education, mathematics, physics and natural sciences, and motor sciences. It offers post-graduate studies in mathematical engineering. Research activities are conducted through 18 departments and two centres of excellence: CETEMPS (Centro di Eccellenza per l’integrazione di tecniche di Telerilevamento e Modellistica numerica per la Previsione di eventi Meteorologici Severi – telesensing of environment and model prediction of severe events), and DEWS (Design Methodologies for Embedded controllers, Wireless interconnect and System-on-a-chip). The university includes a language school and a microscopy centre. It manages the Alpine botanical garden in Campo Imperatore and the botanical garden next to the basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. Its sports facilities are located in Centi Colella.
- The Accademia di Belle Arti, a fine arts institute
- The Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose
- The Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso: These are the prestigious particle physics laboratories operated by the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN); they are located underground, 1400 metres beneath the Gran Sasso. The INFN works in close co-operation with scientific centres in Germany, Japan, the United States and Switzerland (the CERN in Geneva).
- The Scuola Superiore Guglielmo Reiss Romoli, formerly a research and training facility
- The Accademia dell’Immagine, a media studies school
- The Istituto per le Tecnologie della Costruzione
- The Parco Scientifico e Tecnologico d’Abruzzo
Events and celebrations:
- The Perdonanza Celestiniana, or Celestine Pardon, a ceremony commemorating a general absolution declared by Pope Celestine V in 1294
- The Festa di Sant’Agnese e delle Malelingue (literally, the feast of Saint Agnes and the gossips), celebrated on January 21
L’Aquila, land of earthquakes:
L’Aquila lies in one of Italy’s most earthquake-prone zones and has been devastated by seismic events numerous times since its founding.
The first recorded earthquake took place on December 13, 1315.
A strong earthquake occurred on September 9, 1349. It is estimated to have had a magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale and an intensity of X (Extreme) on the Mercalli scale. It damaged and brought down large portions of the city walls and destroyed numerous dwellings and churches. There were 800 fatalities, and since the city had fewer than 10,000 inhabitants at the time, this represented almost 10% of the population. The earthquake released a large amount of dust that lingered over the city, making it difficult to quickly rescue those who were trapped under the rubble. Reconstruction was difficult and laborious, and many of the inhabitants decided to abandon the city and return to their ancestral villages and castles. Faced with a large-scale exodus of the population and the possibility that the city would become deserted, Count Pietro Camponeschi, who was the city’s administrator, placed guards along the city walls and had its breaches boarded up.
In the 18th century, L’Aquila was hit by a seismic swarm culminating in a powerful earthquake that once again flattened the city. The first in the long series of tremors occurred on October 14, 1702, but the most violent shock took place on February 2, 1703; it is estimated to have had a magnitude of 6.7 on the Richter scale and an intensity of X on the Mercalli scale. Nearly all the churches, including those of San Berardino, San Filippo, San Massimo, San Francesco and Sant’Agostino, were either destroyed or heavily damaged, as were all of the city’s public buildings. More than 6,000 people are believed to have perished in that year’s earthquakes.
On April 6, 2009, at 3:32 a.m., after a series of light tremors that took place over several months in the area, L’Aquila was struck by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3 Mw (5.9 on the Richter scale) and an intensity between VIII and IX on the Mercalli scale. Three hundred and nine people were killed, 1,500 were injured, and 65,000 had to be evacuated. Strong tremors continued to be felt in the days that followed: one with a magnitude of 5.6 Mw on April 7, 2009, one with a magnitude of 5.4 Mw on April 9, 2009, and one with a magnitude of 5.2 Mw on April 9, 2009. The force of the earthquake was felt in the city and in many nearby communities, including Onna, Roio (the epicentre), Villa Sant’Angelo, Castelnuovo, Tempera, San Gregorio and Paganica. Parts of the city were flattened, and most buildings of historic and cultural value suffered enormous damage. The main churches were either seriously damaged or destroyed. Particularly striking was the fact that many public buildings, old and new, were not able to withstand the shocks and suffered irreparable damage. They included the engineering hub (a modern structure), the government building, the student residence on via XX settembre, the San Salvatore hospital, and many elegant residences from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Artisti Uniti Per L’Abruzzo: Domani 21/04.2009 This is a cover of the song Domani, written and sung by Mauro Pagani and included in his album of the same name released in 2003. In 2009, the song was given a new title and recorded by 56 of Italy’s most popular pop and rap artists (including the author), all of whom worked for free. The supergroup called itself Artisti uniti per l’Abruzzo, in reference to the earthquake that devastated L’Aquila in 2009. The song was released as a single and all the proceeds of its sales were donated to the art preservation campaign Salviamo l’arte in Abruzzo. The main promoters of the project were the singers Mauro Pagani, Jovanotti, and Giuliano Sangiorgi of the rock band Negramaro.