Windswept L’Aquila is a tourist-free haven, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Apennine mountains. The small city was formed in 1254, its citizens drawn from the area’s 99 villages. Each village was required to build their own piazza, church and fountain in the new city. Unfortunately most of these structures were destroyed in a catastrophic earthquake in 1701, but remnants of this unusual history remain. The number 99, for example, remains highly significant for L’Aquilans, and crops up in unusual places.

As one of Italy’s highest towns, L’Aquila isn’t the easiest of places to get to, but those who make the effort will be rewarded with some impressive architecture within the city walls, and wild nature just outside.


The sturdy, 16th century castle (known locally as the Forte Spagnolo) is a good place to begin your explorations. Here you can admire the tremendous views across the town with the Alpennines making a dramatic backdrop. You can also delve below ground and wander the underground passages that lace the castle’s foundations. The castle itself houses the [http://www.muprea.it/ Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo], a bizarre mix of ecclesiastical art and the skeleton of an enormous mammoth. Estimated to be a million years old, it was unearthed just outside the city in 1954.

Also not to be missed is the [http://h1.ath.cx/muvi/signorinicorsi/ Casa Museo Signorini Corsi], a beautiful palazzo housing the aristocratic Corsi family’s religious art and period furniture.

The city’s duomo (cathedral) is a fairly uninspiring neoclassical affair; head instead for the Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio. You can’t miss its distinctive pink and white chequered façade and rose windows. The sparse, gothic interior makes for a surprising contrast. This church was built by a hermit, Peter of Morrone, in the 13th century. Through a strange twist of fate, this quiet man was thrust into the limelight when suddenly elected Pope in 1294. So attached was he to his church in L’Aquila, he risked ruffling feathers by insisting on being crowned here rather than in Rome. Reluctant from the start, he passed a decree allowing Popes to abdicate, and then did so, just 5 months after taking office. His successor imprisoned him and he died soon after. His body was taken back to L’Aquila and is buried in the Basilica.

One of Peter’s actions during his short tenure as Pope was to offer “indulgence” (the removal of all sins which you’re due to pay for in Purgatory) to every citizen of L’Aquila. This custom continues to this day, and is quite a sight if you happen to be in town on August 28. The papal document legitimising the act is carried from its resting place in the Piazza del Palazzo to the Basilica by a beautiful young woman. The document is read out, the church doors are opened and hoardes of L’Aquilans surge inside to wipe clean their copy-book for another year.

The Fontana delle 99 Canelle has survived since the city’s inception, and its 99 water-spitting gargoyle heads, which line three sides of a square, represent the original 99 villages that came together to build L’Aquila.

Those wanting to explore the region’s great wildernesses will find L’Aquila a perfect base. A short drive from the town are three spectacular national parks: the [http://www.parcomajella.it/default.htm Majella National Park]; the [http://www.gransassolagapark.it/ Gran Sasso National Park] and the [http://www.parcoabruzzo.it/ Abruzzo National Park].


L’Aquila’s shops aren’t particularly special, but it does have an excellent produce market, which takes place every morning (except Sundays) in the Piazza del Duomo. Here you can haggle for fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, clothes, garden products and traditional copper handicrafts.

During the second week of each month, an antiques market also comes to town, setting up in the Piazza Santa Maria della Paganica. Although billed as such, old artefacts and furniture jostle for room amongst second-hand (but definitely not antique) clothes, umbrellas, socks, toys and other knick-knacks.

Nightlife and Eating Out

The unusual local cuisine is one of the highlights of this remote mountainous region. The local diavolicchio chilli peppers crop up in many specialities, including agnello diavolo – lamb chops cooked with the chillis and tempered with orange peel, rosemary, and fennel. Maccheroni alla chitarra is more recognisably Italian – chunky home made egg pasta with a meaty tomato sauce. If you head to centre of L’Aquila, particularly around the Duomo, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and homely trattorie offering these and other dishes.

As for entertainment, nightclubs are thin on the ground but there’s an active theatre, the [http://www.teatrostabile.abruzzo.it/ Teatro Stabile Abruzzese], as well as a youth drama company which puts on comic productions in the [http://www.teatrouovo.it/teatrosanfilippo.htm Teatro San Filippo]. In summer, open air concerts, ballets and dances take place in venues across town, including the castle and Basilica. The tourist office will be able to tell you what’s on during your stay.

Tourist Information

Tourist Office, Piazza Santa Maria Paganica 5Telephone: +39 0862410808Email (regional tourist office): turismo@profesnet.itWebsite (regional tourist office): [http://www.regione.abruzzo.it/turismo/en/ www.regione.abruzzo.it/turismo/en]


The closest airports are Rome’s pair. If you want to fly on a budget, Ryanair, Easyjet and Flyglobespan will take you to [http://www.adr.it/content.asp?L=3&idmen=200 Rome Ciampino] from almost anywhere in the UK. Mainstream airlines (including British Airways and Alitalia) will take you to [http://www.adr.it/content.asp?L=3&idmen=199 Rome Fiumicino]. L'Aquila is about two hours (by car) west of Rome on the A24. An intercity bus also runs between the two cities, although you will have to find your way to Rome’s main train station to catch it.

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