The City

L’Aquila

(Aquila until 1863 and Aquila degli Abruzzi until 1939) is an Italian town of about 70,000 habitants, capital of the province of the same name and the region of Abruzzo.

L’Aquila rises in the homonymous basin on the banks of the Aterno river at an altitude of 721 m above sea level, which makes it the third highest of the Italian provincial capitals.

In Roman times there were two large urban centres in the area. The town of Amiternum, of Sabine origin to the north, and the town of Forcona, of Vestine origin to the south.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many small urban centres known as castles were created in the L’Aquila basin.

On the death of Emperor Federico II, the inhabitants of the castles, tired of the continuous feudal domination, obtained permission to found the city of L’Aquila as a free city.

The territory was divided into four quarters corresponding to four large areas where each castle had to build its houses, church and public fountain in the square in front of it. This gave rise to the various quarters and some jewels of L’Aquila’s Romanesque sacred architecture, such as the churches of S. Maria Paganica, S. Giusta, S. Pietro di Coppito and S. Silvestro.

In 1254 the city was granted a foundation charter by King Corrado IV.

The number of castles that contributed to the foundation of the town has not been ascertained. Tradition has it that there were 99, but it would seem that the actual number is around 70. In memory of this tradition, the bell of the Civic Tower (the Reatinella) strikes 99 times, and the city’s first great monument, the Fountain of the 99 Spouts, contributes to this tradition.

Another myth links L’Aquila to the Order of the Knights Templar. Indeed, the religious architecture of the L’Aquila area in the 12th and 13th centuries often features numerous iconographies and symbols referring to the Crusaders or the Order of the Templars. Traces of this past have been the subject of scientific research and speculation (e.g. on the symbolism of the Basilica of Collemaggio), partly in the light of the strong ties that Pietro del Morrone, later Pope Celestino V, had with the Templars.

In the Middle Ages it underwent the vicissitudes of the time, with wars, occupation, decadence and resurgence until, in the 15th century, it became the second most important city in the kingdom after Naples.

In 1527, the citizens of L’Aquila rebelled against the new Spanish ruler, provoking immediate reprisals. The viceroy Filiberto di Chalons devastated it and separated it from its countryside. He imposed a heavy fine, which exceeded all the possibilities of the people of L’Aquila, and with this money he contributed to the construction of the Spanish Fort, whose portal bears the inscription Ad reprimendam aquilanorum audaciam, or ‘for the repression of the audacity of the people of L’Aquila‘. Afterwards, the city tried hard to get back on its feet, but its recovery was slowed down again by the earthquakes of 1646 and 1672.

With the unification of Italy (1861), the city was assigned the role of capital of the geographical region of Abruzzi and Molise and on that occasion the name of the city was changed to Aquila degli Abruzzi.

In 1927, as part of the provincial reorganisation ordered by the Fascist regime, the provinces of Pescara and Rieti were established, with the transfer of the municipalities of Bussi sul Tirino and Popoli to the former and the entire Cittaducale district, with a total of about 70,000 inhabitants, to the latter.

In 1939 the city, following the amalgamation of eight small neighbouring municipalities, took the definitive name of L’Aquila.

In 1970, the Abruzzo Region was officially created. The decision to locate many councillors in Pescara provoked numerous reactions and controversies in the city. This was followed by real unrest and clashes in the streets, the so-called L’Aquila Riots. The final agreement recognises the city’s role as the capital of Abruzzo, sharing it with Pescara, which will host

Celestino V and the L’Aquila Jubilee

In 1288 the hermit Pietro da Morrone decided to build the basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, an authoritative example of Romanesque art and the city’s symbolic monument. The hermit was crowned pope with the name of Celestino V on 29th August 1294 in the basilica he had strongly desired.
 On that occasion, Pope Celestino V issued a bull granting a plenary and universal indulgence to all mankind. The Bull is still valid today and anticipated by six years the introduction of the Holy Year, which took place at the behest of Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 and can therefore be considered the first jubilee in history.

The bull set the following conditions for obtaining the pardon: entering the basilica in the evenings of 28 and 29 August each year and being ‘truly repentant and confessed’. Celestino V’s door on the north side of the basilica is therefore to all intents and purposes a Holy Door.

On 28 August each year (the 726th edition in 2020), the ‘Perdonanza Celestiniana’ is celebrated with an impressive historical-religious event in costume, much appreciated by the people of L’Aquila and attracting tourists from abroad.

Since 2011, the feast has been “Heritage of Italy for Tradition” and in 2019 it was included in the UNESCO “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

2009 Earthquake

The city’s history is unfortunately based on seismic events that have led to its periodic decline and subsequent recovery.

The city of L’Aquila is located in a highly seismic area, and since its foundation it has been afflicted by numerous destructive earthquakes. The first known earthquake dates back to 13 December 1315, the devastating one to 1703 and the latest in 2009.

n 6 April 2009, at 3:32 a.m., after several months of minor tremors localised and felt throughout the L’Aquila area, L’Aquila was hit by an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 Mw (5.9 Ml according to the Richter scale) and between the 8th and 9th degree on the Mercalli scale, with its epicentre located in the Roio district. The final toll was 309 dead and more than 1,500 injured, while the almost total evacuation of the city brought the number of displaced persons to 65,000.

Today (2020) the city is still being rebuilt, although many civil and religious buildings have been splendidly reconstructed: in particular the Basilica of Collemaggio.

Monuments and places of interest

  • Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio
  • Basilica of San Bernardino
  • Cathedral of San Massimo (L’Aquila Cathedral)
  • Church of San Domenico
  • Church of Santa Giusta
  • Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio (or Anime Sante)
  • Church of Santa Maria Paganica
  • Church of San Pietro a Coppito
  • Fontana 99 cannelle
  • Fontana luminosa
  • Spanish Castle
  • Hemicycle

L’Aquila’s cuisine

L’Aquila’s gastronomic tradition is very much linked to mountain cuisine and the culinary tradition of Abruzzo.

The first courses are distinguished by the use of pasta formats typical of Abruzzo, such as ‘maccheroni alla chitarra’ (egg pasta whose sheet is cut with a typical culinary tool made of wood and steel wires, reminiscent of a guitar), usually served with mutton sauce, ravioli, ‘fregnacce’ (badly cut puff pastry), accompanied by traditional sauces generally based on tomato sauce and lamb or with vegetable or chicken broths. A typical first course in the L’Aquila area is ‘anellini alla pecoraia’, a ring-shaped pasta served with a tomato sauce and various vegetables to which sheep’s ricotta cheese is added. Legume dishes such as ‘sagne’, served with chickpeas or beans, or lentils and potatoes, are a legacy of poor cuisine.

The meats used to cook sauces and main courses are linked to the pastoral tradition of Abruzzo: sheep meat is therefore widely used. A typical recipe from L’Aquila is “pecora alla cottora” (mutton stew cooked in a copper pot with herbs and wild herbs). There is, of course, no shortage of ‘arrosticini’ (skewers of grilled sheep or lamb), which are also common in the rest of the region. As for lamb, we would like to mention the leg prepared in a pan with white wine and then seasoned with beaten eggs, pecorino cheese and pepper.

The L’Aquila salami, with its typical irregular, flat shape, must be given a special mention, as must the sausages left to dry for a short time and then preserved in oil, but the special flavour of liver sausages must not be overlooked.

The Navelli area, on the edge of the L’Aquila basin, has also been famous since the Middle Ages for the production of an excellent quality of saffron, imported by the Spanish in the 16th century, which has recently obtained PDO certification.

It is also renowned for its production of nougat (typical is the soft chocolate nougat or the white chocolate nougat filled with almonds) and the typical ‘ferratelle’ (sweets made with metal moulds with a typical diamond pattern in relief).

Typical of the L’Aquila area, linked to the ancient pastoral tradition, are dairy products and the famous Pizzoli pecorino cheese.

A typical festive meal in the L’Aquila tradition was the “panarda”, a meal with more than thirty courses, the name of which derives from the woven wicker basket with which the women used to bring the food to the table. Today, the ritual of the ‘panarda’ has fallen into disuse.