L’Aquila is the capital of the Abruzzo region and is located in the shadow of the Gran Sasso d’Italia, a famous mountain. The city used to have a very nice historic center, which, however, was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 2009 and has still not been rebuilt. The population is around seventy thousand.
L’Aquila city guide
There are multiple tourist information offices in L’Aquila. The main office is located at Via XX Settembre 8 (tel. +39 086222306), while there is a smaller office at Piazza Santa Maria Paganica 5 (tel. +39 0862410808). A Welcome Point is located in the Piazza del Duomo. Region: Abruzzo. Province: L’Aquila. Zip code: 67100. Area code: 0862. Town hall: Via San Bernardino – Palazzo Fibbioni – 67100 L’Aquila (Tel: +39 08626451).
By car/public transport
Public transport to/from L’Aquila
The train station of L’Aquila is located at the foot of the hill, on the west side of town. There are no direct trains from Rome. Bus lines 5, 8 and 11 go to the center. From Rome it is much easier to take a bus from the Tiburtina station. These buses stop at the Forte Spagnolo and the gateway to the historic center.
To L’Aquila by car
From Rome, take the A24 freeway. The distance is about 110 kilometers. To get to Sulmona, the other major tourist destination in the area, follow the SS17.
L’Aquila tourist attractions
The center of L’Aquila is still determined by the original street plan, with the slightly sloping central square, where the cathedral and the market are located, as a centerpiece. From this square multiple streets, sometimes very steep, go in all directions.
The main attractions of L’Aquila are the Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio, the Cathedral and the castle located near the city’s central bus square (Forte Spagnolo). The Fontana delle 99 Cannelle is also impressive.
The main Roman street used to run from the Porta Rivera to the Porta Bazzano. A walk from gate to gate still offers some interesting sights dating back to the Roman period.
The most important buildings in this part of the city are the Palazzo Arcivescovado and the Agostinian Monastery.
Piazza Giusta and Piazza San Marciano were the main squares of the two districts in this part of town. The houses and palaces here are slightly less densely packed than in the rest of the center.
A brief history of L’Aquila
L’Aquila is a fairly new city by Italian standards, as it was only founded in the 13th century. King Frederick II had the city built by putting people from 99 different settlements to work there. Much of its history is defined by the earthquakes that keep plaguing the region. The damage caused by the last one, in 2009, has still not been repaired.
Foundation and early history
The first nucleus of L’Aquila was constructed on a gently sloping spur on the left bank of the River Aterno, which flows between the Gran Sasso and Velino-Sirente mountains. In Roman times, the Via Claudia Nova street road ran here, leading to the creation of several small settlements. Some of these were converted into castles during the Middle Ages.
As early as the 8th century, plans began to be made to build a city on the well-defended site. However, it was not until the first half of the 13th century that Pope Gregory IX gave his approval. Work began under the Swabian king Frederick II, whose son Conrad IV was to complete the construction of the city in 1254.
Three years later, L’Aquila already became a bishop’s seat.
According to tradition, the original inhabitants were picked from 99 different settlements in the area, and each had to build their own square, church and fountain.
On this site there had previously been a monastery founded by Cistercian monks, around which a fortress had developed. The name of this fortress was Aquili, derived from the water springs that were located there.
Destruction and reconstruction
The first town, which had sided with the papal Guelphs in the fight against the Ghibellines, was destroyed by Manfredi in 1259. In 1265, by order of Charles of Anjou, construction of a new city began.
Of the old city, the central square and the streets leading to it in a fan-shape remained, as did the defensive wall and the churches and fountains in the smaller squares. In the new layout, the streets were aligned in rectangular fashion, although the area between the Porta Barete and the Porta Bazzano, including the central square, remained untouched.
The largest monastic orders (Franciscans, Domenicans and Agostinians) had seats in the center of the city.
As late as the 13th century, major public works were carried out. A sewerage system was installed and the Fontana delle 99 Cannelle and the Collemaggio Basilica were built. Thanks to woolworking and the saffron trade, an era of wealth and a cultural and artistic boom began.
The city’s wealth was largely due to the cultivation of the saffron (the “red gold”) that grew on the Navelli Plateau and was sold throughout Europe.
In the 15th century, L’Aquila was the second most important city in the Kingdom of Naples. However, the city rebelled quite often and both in the 16th and 17th centuries it had to suppress a rebellion.
After the Spaniards took over power in 1528, L’Aquila lost some of its splendor. They imposed high taxes on the population, with which the castle was built. The Carmelite Order, the Oratorians and the Jesuits settled in the city at this time. Especially the latter were very influential and took up residence in the Palazzo Camponeschi and the Santa Margherita Church.
In 1703 the city was destroyed by an earthquake. After the reconstruction, the medieval city took on a Baroque appearance. The churches were rebuilt with characteristic rectangular facades. The mansions are characterized by beautiful courtyards and large portals and balconies that overlook the main squares and streets.
In 1860, after the unification of Italy, L’Aquila was made the capital of the region. The former seat of the Franciscans between Piazza Palazzo and Quattro Cantoni was razed to the ground.
Between the two world wars, the city was substantially changed. New institutions were built along the main street, a bypass was built and the Via Sallustia was completely broken up.
Nicola d’Antino was commissioned to place a number of sculptures at strategic points. The fountains in Piazza Battaglione Alpini and Piazza IX Martiri Aquilini, the Winged Victory in front of the Palazzo dell’Esposizione and the tubs and bronze statues in Piazza Duomo are among the results.
After World War II, the widening of the streets and the construction of the porticos were completed.
In 2009, an earthquake struck L’Aquila again, destroying much of the old center. More than a decade later, people are still living in barracks outside the city.
The antique clock of the town hall is one of the few monuments in L’Aquila that survived the earthquakes and still strikes 99 times every night.
The most important annual event is La Perdonanza (“The Pardon”), held each year on August 28, in honor of Celestine V’s coronation as pope in 1294. The new pope immediately gave an indulgence to every attendee who had confessed and taken communion. This is repeated every year, followed by a grand procession through the city and a week-long celebration.
Province of L’Aquila
The province of L’Aquila covers a mountainous territory. Unfortunatelys several of its cities were severely damaged, first by the 1915 earthquake, and then by Allied bombings during World War II. The second biggest municipality, after L’Aquila itself, is Avezzano.