|L'Aquila is a city and comune of central Italy. Laid out within medieval walls on a hill in the wide valley of the Aterno river, and surrounded by the Apennine Mountains, with the Gran Sasso d'Italia to the north-east, it is both the capital of the Abruzzo region and the seat of the province of L'Aquila. Described as "the most handsome city of the Abruzzo" by the Financial Times, L'Aquila sits upon hillside in the middle of a narrow valley, tall snow-capped mountains of the Gran Sasso massif flank the town. A maze of narrow streets lined with baroque or renaissance buildings and churches, opening onto elegant piazzas, home to the University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila is a lively college town and as such has many cultural institutions: a repertory theater, a symphony orchestra, a fine-arts academy, a state conservatory, and a film institute.
It quickly became the second city of the kingdom of Naples. It was an autonomous city, ruled by a diarchy composed of the City Council (which had varying names and composition over the centuries) and the King's Captain. It fell initially under the lordship of Niccolò dell'Isola, appointed by the people as People's Knight, then killed when he became a tyrant. Later, it fell under Pietro "Lalle" Camponeschi, Count of Montorio, who became the third side of a new triarchy, with the Council and the King's Captain. Camponeschi, who was also Great Chancellor of the kingdom of Naples, become too powerful, and was killed by order of Prince Louis of Taranto. His descendants fought with the Pretatti family for power for several generations, but never again attained the power of their ancestor. The last, and the one true "lord" of L'Aquila, was Ludovico Franchi, who challenged the power of the pope by giving refuge to Alfonso I d'Este, former duke of Ferrara, and the children of Giampaolo Baglioni, deposed signor of Perugia. In the end, however, the Aquilans, always fond of their freedom, had him deposed and imprisoned by the king of Naples.
The power of L'Aquila was based on the close connection between the city and its mother-villages, which had established the city as a federation, each of them building a borough and considering it as a part of the mother-village. That is also why number 99 is so important in the architecture of L'Aquila, and a very peculiar monument, the Fountain of the 99 Spouts (Fontana delle 99 Cannelle), was given its name to celebrate the ancient origin of the town. The City Council was originally composed of the Mayors of the villages, and the city had no legal existence until King Carlo II of Naples appointed a "Camerlengo", responsible for city tributes (previously paid separately by each of its mother-villages). Later, the Camerlengo also took political power, as President of the City Council.
From its beginnings the city constituted an important market for the surrounding countryside, which provided it with a regular supply of food: from the fertile valleys came the precious saffron; the surrounding mountain pastures provided summer grazing for numerous transhumant flocks of sheep, which in turn supplied abundant raw materials for export and, to a lesser extent, small local industries, which in time brought craftsmen and merchants from outside the area.
Within a few decades L'Aquila became a crossroads in communications between cities within and beyond the Kingdom, thanks to the so-called "via degli Abruzzi", which ran from Florence to Naples by way of Perugia, Rieti, L'Aquila, Sulmona, Isernia, Venafro, Teano and Capua.
Negotiations for the succession of Edmund, son of Henry III of England, to the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily involved L'Aquila in the web of interests linking the Papal Curia to the English court. On 23rd December 1256, Pope Alexander IV elevated the churches of Saints Massimo and Giorgio to the status of cathedrals as a reward to the citizens of L'Aquila for their opposition to King Manfred who, in July 1259, had the city razed to the ground in an attempt to destroy the negotiations. The denuus reformator was Charles I of Anjou, but the city really became known beyond the borders of the Kingdom as a result of the exceptionally important event that took place on August 29, 1294, when the hermit Pietro del Morrone was consecrated as pope Celestine V in the church of S. Maria di Collemaggio, in commemoration of which the new pope decreed the annual religious rite of the pardon, Perdonanza, still observed today on August 28 and 29: it is the immediate ancestor of the Jubilee Year.
The pontificate of Celestine gave a new impulse to building development, as can be seen from the city statutes. In 1311, moreover, King Robert of Anjou granted privileges which had a decisive influence on the development of trade. These privileges protected all activities related to sheep-farming, exempting them from customs duties on imports and exports. This was the period in which merchants from Tuscany (Scale, Bonaccorsi) and Rieti purchased houses in the city. Hence the conditions for radical political renewal: in 1355 the trade guilds of leather-workers, metal-workers, merchants and learned men were brought into the government of the city, and these together with the Camerario and the Cinque constituted the new Camera Aquilana. Eleven years earlier, in 1344, the King had granted the city its own mint.
The middle of the 14th century was a period of great crisis for L'Aquila, as for the whole of Europe. The city was struck so frequently by plague epidemics (1348, 1363) and earthquakes (1349) that it gave the appearance of having been abandoned. Reconstruction began soon, however. Many are the signs of the importance L'Aquila had reached by the turn of the 14th-15th century: Jewish families came to live in the city; the generals of the Franciscan Order chose the city as the seat of the Order's general chapters (1376, 1408, 1411, 1450, 1452, 1495); friar Bernardino of Siena, of the Franciscan order of the Observance, visited L'Aquila twice, the first time to preach in the presence of King René of Naples, and in 1444, on his second visit, he died in the city. In 1481 Adam of Rottweil, a pupil and collaborator of Johann Gutenberg, obtained permission to establish a printing press in L'Aquila.
The Osservanti branch of the Franciscan order had a decisive influence on L'Aquila. As a result of initiatives by Fra Giovanni da Capistrano and fra Giacomo della Marca, Lombard masters undertook, in the relatively undeveloped north-east of the city, an imposing series of buildings centring on the hospital of S. Salvatore (1446) and the convent and the basilica of S. Bernardino. The construction work was long and difficult, mainly because of the earthquake of 1461, which caused the buildings to collapse, and the translation of the body of S. Bernardino did not take place until May 14, 1472. The whole city suffered serious damage on the occasion of the earthquake, and two years went by before repairs on the churches and convents began.
In a strategy finalized to increasing their political and economic autonomy, the Aquilani took a series of political gambles, siding sometimes with the Roman Papacy, sometimes with the the Kingdom of Naples. When the Pope excommunicated Joanna II, Queen of Naples, appointing Louis III of Anjou as heir to the crown in her stead, L'Aquila sided with the Angevines. Joanna called to fight for her Braccio da Montone, lord of Perugia, Todi, Assisi, Spello and Jesi, one of the greatest Italian condottieri of the time. In exchange for his services, Braccio obtained the lordship of Teramo, as well as the fiefdoms of Capua and Foggia, and he started a 13-year-long siege of L'Aquila, that resisted bravely. Facing Braccio at the head of the Angevine army was Muzio Attendolo Sforza and his son Francesco. The final clash between the two contenders was just below the walls of Aquila, near the hamlet today called Bazzano. On 2 June 1424 the battle was fought between the most celebrated condottieri of the time; Braccio, mortally wounded in the neck, was made prisoner and transported to Aquila, where he died three days later, on June 5, 1424. The Pope had him buried in deconsecrated earth. The citizens of L'Aquila honored the bravery of their enemy Braccio by dedicating one of the main streets of the city to his name.
This period of freedom and prosperity ended in the 16th century, when Spanish viceroy Philibert van Oranje partially destroyed L'Aquila and established Spanish feudalism in its countryside. The city, separated from its roots, never developed again. Ancient privileges were revocated. L'Aquila was destroyed for the third time (the first was in 1258 by King Manfredi of Sicily), by an earthquake in 1703. Successive earthquakes have repeatedly damaged the city's large Duomo, and destroyed the original dome of the basilica of San Bernardino, designed along the lines of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
The city was also sacked two times by French troops in 1799.
In the highest part of the town is the massive fortress (Forte Spagnolo), erected by the Spanish viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo in 1534. It is currently home to the National Museum of Abruzzo.
The Cathedral (Duomo) was built in the 13th but crumbled down during the 1703 earthquake. The current façade is from the 19th century.
The church of San Bernardino di Siena (1472) has a fine Renaissance façade by Nicolò Filotesio (commonly called Cola dell'Amatrice), and contains the monumental tomb of the saint, decorated with beautiful sculptures, and executed by Silvestro Ariscola in 1480.
The church of S. Maria di Collemaggio, just outside the town, has a very fine Romanesque façade of simple design (1270-1280) in red and white marble, with three finely decorated portals and a rose-window above each. The two side doors are also fine. The interior contains the mausoleum of Pope Celestine V erected in 1517. Many smaller churches in the town have similar façades (S. Giusta, S. Silvestro and others).
The town also contains some fine palaces: the municipality has a museum, with a collection of Roman inscriptions and some illuminated service books. The Palazzi Dragonetti and Persichetti contain private collections of pictures. Outside the town is the Fontana delle novantanove cannelle, a fountain with ninety-nine jets distributed along three walls, constructed in 1272. The source of the fountain is still unknown.
A well-known city landmark is the Fontana Luminosa ("Luminous Fountain"), a sculpture of two women bearing large jars, built in the 1930s. The local cemetery includes the grave of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a 19th?century German gay rights pioneer, who lived and died at L'Aquila: every year, gay people from all over the world meet at the cemetery to honour his memory.
The surrounding area boasts Roman ruins (the important Roman city of Amiternum), ancient monasteries, and numerous castles. The best-known of these is Rocca Calascio (used in the 1980s as the location for the movie Ladyhawke), which is the highest castle in Italy and one of the highest in Europe. Also nearby are several ski resorts for Gran Sasso d'Italia, the highest of the Apennines.