L’Aquila is the capital city of the Abruzzo region, in Central Italy. The city is conveniently located 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Rome and is inhabited by nearly 70.000 people plus 30.000 more university students, for a total of nearly 100.000 people on the territory every day.
Surrounded by the Apennine Mountains, L’Aquila lies on the slopes of the highest Apennine peak: the Gran Sasso d’Italia, 2912 m (9553 ft).
Although the Adriatic Sea is only 50 km (31 mi) away, as the crow flies, the Apennines create a natural barrier against the warm and humid air streams coming from the shore. This, together with the city elevation of 721 m (2365 ft) above the see level and the immediate proximity of two Natural National Parks, provides L’Aquila with fresh, dry, and clean air and with a local climate quite cooler than the rest of Central Italy. In September, L’Aquila offers average temperatures ranging between 12◦C (53◦F) and 24◦C (75◦F) and mostly sunny days.
L’Aquila is a medieval city founded in the XIII century A.C. as the result of an anti-feudal movement. Between the years 1254 and 1266 the inhabitants of the castles located in the valley of L’Aquila turn against the vassalage and, in a cumulative effort, found a city independent from the feudal lords. The representatives of each castle—99 according to the legend—sponsored the construction of one square, one church, and one fountain.
Today, L’Aquila features the eighth largest historic city center in Italy and an almost intact historic city wall running all around it, with an length of more than 5.5 km. Unfortunately, a violent earthquake (magnitude 6.3 Richter scale) struck the city in 2009, damaging or destroying big part of the historic center and of the whole city. Reconstruction works are in progress and a few sites of the historic center are now just refurbished and ready to be admired again.
Below we give a few suggestions for sightseeing opportunities and attractions in L’Aquila and surroundings.
Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio
S. Maria di Collemaggio is a large medieval church in L’Aquila, central Italy. It was the site of the original Papal Jubilee, a penitential observation devised by Pope Celestine V, who is buried there. The church, which therefore ranks as a basilica because of its importance in religious history, sits in isolation at the end of a long rectangular sward of grass at the southwest edge of the town. The church is a masterpiece of Abruzzese Romanesque and Gothic architecture and one of the chief sights of L’Aquila. The striking jewel-box effect of the exterior is due to a pattern of blocks of alternating pink and white stone; the interior, on the other hand, is massive and austere. Outbuildings include a colonnaded cloister, with the central fountain typical of many other similar Italian cloisters, and the former monastic refectory.
Basilica di San Bernardino
The Basilica of San Bernardino is located in L’Aquila, Italy. The church was built, with the adjacent cloister, between 1454 and 1472 in honor of St Bernardino of Siena. The corpse of the saint is guarded inside the church in a mausoleum. it was declared a Basilica Minor in May 1946 by Pope Pius XII.
The earthquake in April 2009 seriously ruined the apse and the campanile.
In May 2015, the basilica was reopened to the community.
Basilica di San Giuseppe Artigiano
The basilica of San Giuseppe Artigiano, previously known as San Biagio d’Amiterno and in ancient times as San Vittorino, is a religious building of L’Aquila, situated in the quarter of San Pietro (one of the historical quarters of L’Aquila together with Santa Maria, San Giorgio, and San Giovanni). The basilica was built by the castellans of Amiterno (previously the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum) as a contribution for the foundation of L’Aquila in XIII century. The church, seriously damaged by the 2009 earthquake, has been restored in 2011 and was reopened to the public in 2012. On May 20, 2013 was assigned the rank of minor basilica – the third of the city after Santa Maria di Collemaggio and San Bernardino.
Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio
Santa Maria del Suffragio, commonly called the church of Anime Sante (Blessed Souls), is an 18th-century church in L’Aquila, central Italy. It was begun on October 10, 1713, ten years after the 1703 L’Aquila earthquake damaged the Confraternita del Suffragio’s former seat. The Roman architect Carlo Buratti was charged with the work. In 1770 Gianfrancesco Leomporri added a Baroque façade, and years later, in 1805, the church was completed with a neoclassical dome by Giuseppe Valadier.
Cattedrale di San Massimo
L’Aquila Cathedral (Italian: Duomo dell’Aquila; Cattedrale metropolitana dei Santi Massimo e Giorgio) is a Roman Catholic cathedral in L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy, dedicated to Saint Maximus of Aveia and Saint George. It is the episcopal seat of the Archdiocese of L’Aquila.
The cathedral was originally built in the 13th century and destroyed in the earthquake of 1703. It was restored in the 19th century and further restored in the 20th. It was seriously damaged in the earthquake of 2009, and is presently unusable.
Fontana delle 99 Cannelle
The fountain of 99 cannelle (small canes), also known as fountain of Rivera, is an historical monument of L’Aquila. Located in the Rivera area – one of the most ancient areas of the historic center, just before the Aterno river – the fountain consists of ninety-three mascarons sculptured in stone and six single small canes. Waters run out of the overall 99 canes into a two-layer tub running along three of the four edges of the stone-paved square housing the fountain. According to the tradition, the canes represent the ninety-nine castles that, in XIII century took place in the foundation of L’Aquila.
The Forte Spagnolo (Italian for Spanish fortress; locally called il Castello) is a Renaissance castle in L’Aquila, central Italy.
In the 15th century, L’Aquila had become the second most powerful city in the Kingdom of Naples after Naples itself: there were half a million sheep, wool and saffron were exported throughout Europe; all this was lost when the Aquilans, during the war between the French and the Spaniards for the throne of Naples, sided with the French. In 1504 Aquila was occupied by the Spanish conquerors, though in 1527 the French recovered the city with the support of the citizens and the surrounding town. One year later Viceroy Philibert of Orange, ruling for King Charles V of Spain, finally defeated the Aquilan rebels and ordered the city to build a fortress in the highest spot North of the city, exactly where in 1401 King Ladislaus had built a garrison to control the unruly and rebellious Aquilans.
Historic City Wall
The city wall is the ancient circle of fortified wall surrounding the historic city center of L’Aquila. Its construction started in XIII century, it is still largely conserved today and, despite the numerous modifications due to collapses and urban adjustments, it preserves approximately its original shape. The wall runs for over 5,5 km, embracing an area of approximately 157 hectares that was doomed to host tens of thousands of inhabitants.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a comune and hill town in the province of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region of southern Italy. Located in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, in the highest region of the Apennines, this medieval hill town sits adjacent to the high plain of Campo Imperatore.
The tiny medieval village of Santo Stefano lay largely abandoned with many of its ancient buildings in ruins and only 70 inhabitants until recent years. Now, many of the village’s buildings have been restored. Some comprise the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, or extended hotel. Other structures have been restored as vacation homes. The village’s population as of 1 January 2016 was 111.
Rocca Calascio is a mountaintop fortress or rocca in the Province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo, Italy. At an elevation of 1,460 metres (4,790 ft), Rocca Calascio is the highest fortress in the Apennines. Built of stone and masonry exclusively for military purposes and intended only to accommodate troops and never as residence for nobles, the fortress overlooks the Plain of Navelli at one of the highest points in the ancient Barony of Carapelle.
Construction of the fortress started in the tenth century as a single watchtower. A walled courtyard with four cylindrical towers at the corners around a taller inner tower was added in the thirteenth century. The lower half of the fortress is built with distinctively larger stones than its upper half. It is believed that this feature was to make its base impenetrable to invaders. The fortress was never tested in battle.
Grotte di Stiffe
Stiffe Caves are a complex of karst caves located nearby Stiffe, in the territory of the comune of San Demetrio ne’ Vestini, in Abruzzo region. They extend within the Sirente-Velino natural park. The caves have been made accessible to the public on 1991. Today they are one of the main naturalistic sites in the surroundings of L’Aquila with more than 40.000 visitors a year.
Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park is a natural park located mostly in Abruzzo, Italy. Established in 1991, it has an area of 2,014 square kilometres (778 sq mi), and it is mainly spread out across the province of Teramo, L’Aquila, Pescara, with small areas in the province of Rieti and Ascoli Piceno. The terrain is predominantly mountainous with a alpine plains.
It is managed by Ente Parco Nazionale Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, with headquarters in Assergi, L’Aquila.
The Grand Highway of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park runs through the park between the Gran Sasso mountain peak and the chain known as Monti della Laga.
Hiking on Gran Sasso
The Gran Sasso is located in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Running through this nature preserve is a portion of the Italian State Highway 80 (SS80), known as the Grand Highway of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park (“Strada maestra del Parco”). While frequented by skiers in winter, and mountain climbers and hikers in other seasons, the Gran Sasso is remarkably free of tourists despite its proximity to Rome and the events of the Gran Sasso raid that took place there in 1943. This is especially true in summer with most Italians preferring beach vacations and foreign visitors more likely to visit the mountains of northern Italy.
Perdonanza Celestiniana (August 23-29)
The Perdonanza Celestiniana is a religious event, a historical commemoration, and mundane festival taking place every year in L’Aquila since 1294.
The jubilee draws its name from the Bolla del Perdono (the Seal of Forgiveness), an act issued by Pope Celestino V in 1294. With this act the Pope granted full indulgence from sins to each and every man that, confessed and taken the holy communion, would enter the Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio between the sunset of August 28 and that of August 29. The event celebrates its 723rd edition in 2017 and is a precursor of the Jubilee established by Pope Bonifacio VIII in 1300.
Born as a pure religious celebration, over the centuries the Perdonanza has been enriched by historical and mundane events. Today, it is the most important city festival with folkloristic, cultural, and entertainment events taking place between August 23 and August 29. Over the whole week the city features concerts, art exhibitions, plays, food and wine tourism, and more. On August 28 takes place a medieval parade in which member the four quarters of the city escort the Bolla del Perdono from the city hall to the Basilica di Collemaggio. The parade also features flag throwers, jesters, fire breathers, saltimbanco, and other folkloristic artists from all over Italy.
In 2011 the Perdonanza Celestiniana has been acknowledged Patrimonio d’Italia per la tradizione (Italian Heritage for traditions) and got a nominee to become a Unesco Oral and Immaterial Heritage.
Jazz Marathon for L'Aquila (September 1-3 [unofficial])
Jazz for L’Aquila (also known as Jazz Marathon) is an event established in 2015 with the aim of revitalizing the city center of L’Aquila after the 2009 earthquake. The event lasts three days and features a dense program of free concerts taking place in parallel in all renewed and secured squares and courtyards of the city center. It hosts hundreds of jazz artists from all over Italy and the world. Due to the earthquake that struck the city of Amatrice in August 2016, the goal of the event has been modified to support both the city, L’Aquila and Amatrice. In 2017, indeed, the event will be split between the two cities. The jazz festival will start in Amatrice on September 2 and will move to L’Aquila on September 3.