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L’Aquila REGIONAL CAPITAL CITY
Palazzi, churches, squares, elements of the urban fabric that, even if today they have been marred, they tell the history that has characterised L’Aquila. Each period, each character, has left an indelible mark in the heart of the city. This beating heart has been crossed by important arteries that have embraced the historic city centre from one side to the other. Everything recalls the ancient splendour of the city of L’Aquila founded by Conrad IV, son of the great Frederick II of Swabia, in 1254, when the village inhabitants which arose from the old dioceses of Amiternum and Forcona decided to merge, giving rise to a new urban community. In this way, a city was founded that was to play a leading strategic role from a political viewpoint. It was destroyed by Manfred five years later, it was re-built thanks to Charles of Anjou, the King of France’s brother.
The city, among other things, experiences the fervent cultural activities of artists and authors, the election to the position of Pontiff of Pietro del Morrone (1294), the establishment of the Mint (end of 1200), the opening of a university (1458) and the first town printing works (1482), as well as the works of three “cornerstone” organisations of the Franciscan order: St. Bernardino of Siena who still rests here today, St. John of Capistrano who built the Ospedale Maggiore, St. James who designed the Basilica of St. Bernardino. Then there was the Spanish domination. The Forte Spagnolo (Spanish Fortress), which today is the location of the National Museum of Abruzzo; it is the symbol of the repression of the conquerors who wanted to control the city. The short reign of Margaret of Austria (1572-1586) characterised the intense activity that took place in Palazzo Margherita with famous visitors. Then the plague (1656) and the terrible earthquake (1703) brought the city to its knees. Subsequently the Bourbons brought about a recovery to the city. Following the insurrectional events of the 19th century, in 1860 the city became the administrative seat of Abruzzo and by means of the Royal Decree of 1939, L’Aquila was called L’Aquila, city of culture that is vibrant, hospitable with authentic values.
The city has always had a close-knit relationship with the county that contributes towards enriching the appeal of offers for tourists, with its naturalist, environmental and cultural heritage.
There is a strong link with the mountain in which it is set, protected by the great peak of the Gran Sasso, the highest of the Apennines (2912 m.) with its Piana di Campo Imperatore, the ski slopes, the summer trekking paths, the high altitude lakes, the churches built into the rock side, such as St. Pietro della Jenca, which has become the Sanctuary dedicated to Pope Wojtyla. Many Medieval hamlets framed this location such as St. Stephen of Sessanio, Calascio with its Rocca (Fortress), Castel del Monte and other jewels representing a past which has been rich in significant experiences.
L’Aquila is situated in an enviable position, as it is situated between the Gran Sasso National Park and the Laga mountain range, which includes also the extremely beautiful artificial lake of Campotosto as well as the Sirente Velino Regional Park.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Collemaggio
The splendid Basilica of Our Lady of Collemaggio, a symbol of sacred architecture built in the L’Aquila area starting in 1275 commissioned by the Hermit St. Pietro del Morrone who subsequently became Pope Celestine V represents one of the symbolic monuments of the city of L’Aquila. The beautiful square-shaped façade which characterises it was built by the first half of the 15th century. The extraordinary geometric design of the white and red stone facing conveys originality to the building as a whole and it frames the rich portals, the precious rose windows and the mighty section of the bell tower situated on the right. The Porta Santa (Holy Door) opens to the left side of the Basilica; it was called in this way already in the 15th century in line with the holy Roman doors associated with the rites of the Holy Year. The church interior has three naves, divided by ogival arches resting on octagonal pillars; its beautiful Medieval characteristics came to light following an attentive restoration carried out in 1970. It hosts large works on canvas by Carlo Ruther (approx.1630-1703), which reproduce the stories relating to the life of the Hermit Saint. Today, the Basilica, following the severe damage caused by the earthquake in 2009, is the subject of an important recovery project promoted by ENI.
The Basilica of St. Bernardino
The Basilica di St. Bernardino was dedicated to the great Saint of Siena who died in L’Aquila on 20th May 1444 and here his mortal remains rest; Its construction began in 1454 and in 1525 the works commenced in order to create the majestic façade designed by Nicola Filotesio also known as Cola dell’Amatrice who survived the terrible earthquake in 1703 yet which destroyed the entire basilica. It was rebuilt in its present form between 1707 and 1740. Its splendid interior, with three naves that lead to the large octagonal space beneath the dome, which is, in reality an area which contains a wealth of important masterpieces.
The following are worthy of note: the ceiling of the central nave, the wooden organ carved and laminated in gold leaf during the years 1724-1726 by Ferdinando Mosca of Pescocostanzo, the terracotta Altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia, the beautiful terracotta statue of the Madonna and Child made by Silvestro dell’Aquila, the Mausoleum of St. Bernardino created by Silvestro dell’Aquila (1450-1504) and finished in 1505 by his students and which contains the mortal remains of the Saint as well as the Tomb of Maria Pereyra (1488-1490) yet another remarkable masterpiece by Silvestro dell’Aquila. Also this outstanding architectural heritage was severely damaged by the 2009 earthquake and soon the Basilica of St.Bernardino will be re-opened to the public following extraordinary restoration work.
CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES
The Church of Our Lady of Suffrage
The Church of Our Lady of Suffrage, situated in piazza Duomo, with its spectacular 18th century façade of an evident Borromini style yet built by the Gianfrancesco Leomporri between 1770 and 1775. The dome, a masterpiece by the architect Giuseppe Valadier designed in 1805, represents one of the symbols characterising the 2009 earthquake due to the complex intervention of advanced engineering carried out by the firemen. A masterpiece of safety measure implementation after which the real restoration work has to begin.
The Cathedral of San Massimo
The Cathedral of San Massimo with its two twin bell towers and its splendid façade was completed in 1928. Its construction had already started in 1257, when the diocese was transferred from Forcona to L’Aquila. It was destroyed by the 1703 earthquake and it underwent a long reconstruction that started in 1724 yet it was only opened for worship in 1931. Its interior hosts the sepulchral monument of Cardinal Amico Agnifili, created by Silvestro dell’Aquila between 1476 and 1480.
The 18th century conventual church of St. Augustine, situated in the nearby Piazza della Prefettura and adapted for use as a theatre before the 2009 earthquake.
The Church of St. Mark
The Church of St. Mark with its 14th century façade, the valuable portal on the left side as well as its interior reconstructed in the 18th century. The oldest church in the L’Aquila area is also situated in the historic city centre.
The Church of St. Justina
The Church of St. Justina was built around 1254 and it has a characteristic 14th century façade with a magnificent portal and remarkable rose window. It hosts valuable paintings on canvas on its altars and a sumptuous high alter dating back to 1611.
The Churches of St. Francis of Paola, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Marciano, St. Flavian, the Church of the Immaculate Conception and then the Church of St. Phillip (adapted for use as a theatre), the Church of the Great Martyr St. Catherine (deconsecrated), the Churches of Our Lady of Roio, of the Blessed Antonia, of Our Lady of Paganica, the Churches of St. Sylvester and St. Peter of Coppito as well as those of St. Domenic, St. Quinziano, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows and many others, have been relocated in various points of the city centre, while other beautiful churches, just like all the others, are waiting to be brought back to their ancient splendour after being humiliated by the damaged suffered during the most recent earthquake.
The Church of St. Blaise
The Church of St. Blaise of Amiternum, today known as “St. Joseph Artisan” is the first sacred building to have been totally restored and it was reopened to the public on 22nd July 2012. It represents an example of rebirth, laden with historic, civic and ecclesiastic significance. Its interior hosts works of art and the funeral monument in honour of Lalle Camponeschi dating back to 1432.
The Church of Christ the King
The Church of Christ the King was built between 1933 and 1935 by the architect Alberto Riccobono. Also the façade in which the traditional form of churches from the L’Aquila area was interpreted in a contemporary style was re-opened, following its restoration, while its interior is dominated by the imposing statue of Christ the King.
The Monastery of St. Amico of the Augustinian Nuns, where precious works of art are preserved in the small 17th century church; The Monastery of St. Basil is the oldest in the city hosting the last nuns of the order of Pope Celestine V.
The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour dating back to the 14th century with a precious tabernacle (approx. 1470) by Andrea dell’Aquila who was Donatello’s student in Florence.
The Fountain of the 99 Spouts
The Fountain of the 99 Spouts, also known as the Rivera Fountain, is one of the most famous and most important monuments in L’Aquila; it was one of the first to be restored after the 2009 earthquake. Situated in the Rivera area, one of the oldest districts of the historic city centre, close to the river Aterno. The fountain consists of 93 stone mascheron ornaments together with six single spouts from which an abundant quantity of water flows. According to the tradition, the spouts represent the 93 castles that, in the 13th century, took part in the foundation of the city. The fountain, considered to be one of the first civic monuments of L’Aquila and an exaltation of its autonomous origins, was erected according to the project drawings of the architect Tancredi of Pentima in 1272, only a few years after the second foundation of the city, as can be seen on the commemorative plaque on the wall in front of the entrance gate. In any case, Tancredi of Pentima’s intervention was probably limited to the sole creation of the wall situated in front of the entrance. On the other hand, some scholars believe that the present appearance of the fountain dates back entirely to the 15th century. What is certain is that the area that today is called “della Rivera”, corresponds to an ancient castle called Acquili, from which the name of the city derives and which, at the time of its foundation, represented a strategic area due to the abundance of water and the countless artisanal activities which had become established in this area.
Forte Spagnolo Castle (The Spanish Fortress)
This is one of the most representative examples of a 16th century castle in Italy. Its construction was commissioned by the Spanish government, represented in Naples by the Viceroy Don Pedro of Toledo, and entrusted to Don Pirro Luis Escribas of Valencia, a great master of military architecture of that time. The construction works started on 30th May 1534 and they were personally directed by the architect-designer for an entire year then afterwards he left this task to a succession of professionals ranging between Gian Gerolamo Escribas (1541) and Gian Giacomo dell’Acaia. Also the works were discontinuous. They were interrupted in 1554, following the insistence of the L’Aquila inhabitants due to the heavy taxes they had to incur, yet the works were resumed several times between 1606 and 1698. The Forte Spagnolo (Spanish Fortress) of L’Aquila has a square plan with a central courtyard and ramparts on the corners oriented towards the cardinal points. It has an imposing portal dating back to 1542 created by Pietro Di Stefano from L’Aquila with the emblem of Charles V who is overlooking onto the stone bridge that rests on high arches that rise up from the bottom of the moat. It is a location that is dedicated to art with the National Museum of Abruzzo which develops throughout the large castle building where the various sections illustrate the extremely high level of the Abruzzo artistic culture: from the Medieval icons and sculptures to the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. Elements of significant historical interest are kept in the archaeological section. The main part of the Museum was built in the 1950s in the reception rooms of the Castle where the artistic heritage of the former Civic Museum and Museum of Sacred Art of the city merged. The most prominent attractions include, close to the castle entrance, the fossilised skeleton of a giant elephant (Mammoth), which lived in the Early Pleistocene Era about a million years ago and it belonged to the Archidiskodon Meridionalis Vestinus species.
Before the 2009 earthquake, the Castle was also the venue for important international musical events to host the “B.Barattelli” Concert Society. To overcome this serious lack of space dedicated to music, in the Castle park, a new Auditorium has been built designed by the prestigious architect Renzo Piano.
Panoramic view of L'Aquila
The Fountain Light of L'Aquila
Sanctuary of St. Peter Jenca
L'Aquila and surrounding
Forte Spagnolo Castle
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