L’Aquila: Introduction for First Time Visitors
L’Aquila, whose name means Eagle in Italian, was made known internationally due to the dreadful earthquake and a following G-8 meeting in 2009. The city is quite small compared to Rome or Naples (less than 100,000 inhabitants) and it attracts considerably fewer foreign tourists. But among Italians L’Aquila is a popular vacation destination.
Hiking and Ski Region in the Apennines
L’Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region, is located in central Italy in the Apennine Mountains. The nearby peaks with height in excess of 2,000 meters make the whole region an attractive ski destination (e.g. Gran Sasso d’Italia resort) for people from southern parts of Italy, for whom it is much closer than the flagship Italian resorts in the Alps. Not far from L’Aquila is Corno Grande (Great Horn), with 2,912 meters the highest peak of the whole Apennine range, which spreads over the whole Apennine peninsula.
Medieval Town, Palaces, and Roman Ruins
While the valley of the Aterno River was quite populated in the time of Ancient Rome, the city of L’Aquila itself was founded in the 13th century. Though earthquakes and local wars have been frequent throughout its history, the city still maintains a medieval character and also hosts interesting pieces of renaissance architecture and art. Like most other Italian cities, L’Aquila and its surroundings can offer various palaces and ancient ruins, one of the most famous is the Ancient Roman city of Amiternum. Some of the palaces in the city host museums or private art collections (e.g. Palazzi Dragonetti and Persichetti). One of the landmarks overlooking the city is Forte Spagnolo (Spanish Fort), built in the 16th century. Today it hosts the National Museum of the Abruzzo region.
Cathedral and Churches
The Cathedral of San Massimo (or Duomo) reflects the fate of the whole city. Since it was built in the 13th century, it was damaged by earthquakes several times and always rebuilt or repaired. Besides the earthquake in 2009 that damaged the building significantly, there was another earthquake in 1703 that led to complete destruction of L’Aquila cathedral.
There are other churches worth seeing in L’Aquila, namely the renaissance church or Saint Bernardino of Siena (from the 15th century) or the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio (built in 13th century) with the mausoleum of Pope Celestine V (erected in 1517).
There are (at least) two interesting fountains in L’Aquila. Fontana Luminosa (Luminous Fountain) on Piazza Battaglione degli Alpini in the city centre was made in 1934 by the famous sculptor Nicola D’Antino. The fountain is a marble sculpture of two women holding a typical Abruzzi watering can, the bronze basin. Fontana delle novantanove cannelle is much older. It was built in the 13th century and it is in fact a wall (or more precisely three walls) with 99 jets, as its name suggests.
Not Far from Rome
If you have time on your visit to Rome or journey around the major Italian cities, a trip to L’Aquila is worth it. L’Aquila is just about 130km from Rome with good highway and train connections. Though the scars from the eartquake are still visible in many places, there are many things to see and do in L’Aquila and the city is far from just ruins.