Do you remember when I wrote about this? It was the 6th of april 2009 and it was really a shock for my country. On italian television over the years there were lots of documentaries, reports and movies about that, but we wanted to see with our own eyes what the things looked really like. The road leading there was beautiful and the weather for once really good. A sort of entanched trip that didn’t prepare us for what we were gonna see….
First impact, a city renovating itself, like an everyday building site…..but if you look closer at the houses, you can see the damages like after a hurricane or a bombing…..
and then, absolutely by chance, we crossed what remains of the students’ house, where lots of university students lived and were asleep that night, loosing their lives…..
Nobody (but aid tranports) can drive through what once was the “red zone”, the old city center most devasted, you can just walk………and after 5 years since that night that’s what a beautiful and ancient city looks like….Too much damage, too much ruins to remove, too much history to preserve, too big the city to restore……..and first of all, a new village to build outside the city for the people to live in….
The city’s construction was begun by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, out of several already existing villages (ninety-nine, according to local tradition), as a bulwark against the power of the papacy. Construction was completed in 1254 under Frederick’s son, Conrad IV of Germany. After the death of Conrad, the city was destroyed by his brother Manfred in 1259, but soon rebuilt by Charles I of Anjou, its successor as king of Sicily. The walls were completed in 1316. 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 the People’s Knight, but he was 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, became 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 lord of Perugia. In the end, however, the Aquilans 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. 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 Charles 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 Roman Curia to the English court. On December 23, 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. On August 29, 1294, the hermit Pietro del Morrone was consecrated as pope Celestine V in the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, in commemoration of which the new pope decreed the annual religious rite of the Pardon (Perdonanza Celestiniana), still observed today in the city on August 28 and 29: it is the immediate ancestor of the Jubilee Year.The pontificate of Celestine V 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. In the middle of the 14th century the city was struck by plague epidemics (1348, 1363) and earthquakes (1349). Reconstruction began soon, however. In the 14th–15th century Jewish families came to live in the city, while the generals of the Franciscan Order chose the city as the seat of the Order’s general chapters (1376, 1408, 1411, 1450, 1452, 1495). 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 Friar Giovanni da Capistrano and Friar Giacomo della Marca, Lombard masters undertook, in the relatively underdeveloped north-east of the city, an imposing series of buildings centring on the hospital of Saint Salvatore (1446) and the convent and the basilica of Saint 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 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 hired condottiero Braccio da Montone. In exchange for his services, Braccio obtained the lordship of Teramo, as well as the fiefdoms of Capua and Foggia: 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. In the battle fough on June 2, 1424 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 honoured 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 revoked. L’Aquila was again destroyed 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 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. The project was entrusted to a Spanish architect, Pedro Luis Escrivà, an expert of firearms, who had begun to build Castel Sant’Elmo in Naples. The discovery of gunpowder obliged to new methods of defensive construction. Escrivà was in charge of the project for 2 years, leaving the task to Gian Girolamo Escribà. In the following 30 years the heavy taxes necessary to build the fortress impoverished the city, which in 1567 begged the Spaniards to stop the construction; the Royal Court granted the request, and works were interrupted, so parts of the castle were never completed. The fortress had cost an enormous sum for the times, and Aquila was obliged also to sell the thick silver case containing the body of St. Bernardino of Siena. The fortress, which had been built not to defend the city, but to control it (its cannons pointed to the city) and to be a completely self-sufficient structure, was never used in a battle Escrivà planned a giant fortress, made of four bastions connected through 60 meters long walls, with a thickness of 30 metres at the bottom and 5 meters at top. The walls were surmounted by massive merlons, with openings for the archers and the long-distance cannons. All around the fortress was a ditch (never filled with water) 23 meters wide and 14 meters deep, aimed at defending the foundations from the enemy’s artillery. The slanted walls would reject enemy fire to the sides; each bastion consisted of two separate and completely self-sufficient environments – called “case matte” – almost independent garrisons on their own. Also the aqueduct to the city was deviated so as to supply the fortress first of all, and in case of rebellion block the water supply. Moreover, Escrivà planned a special anti-mine corridor, a kind of empty space between the outer and inner walls which could be walked only by one man at a time (and which can be visited today), aiming at defending the castle in case of explosion in case enemy soldiers excavated tunnels to leave mines at the foundations. A whole hill was leveled down to supply the white stone necessary for the fortress, while the city’s bells were melted to make the cannons. In 1798 the citizens fought against the French who had invaded Italy, attacking, in vain, the fortress. From then on, the building was used as a prison. After 1860 it became a military headquarters, and in the Second World War was occupied and damaged by the Germans. Between 1949 and 1951 the castle was restored, and chosen as the seat of the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo.
Earthquakes mark the history of L’Aquila, as the city is situated partially on an ancient lake-bed that amplifies seismic activity.On December 3, 1315, the city was struck by an earthquake which seriously damaged the San Francesco Church. Another earthquake struck on January 22, 1349, killing about 800 people. Other earthquakes struck in 1452, then on November 26, 1461, and again in 1501 and 1646. On February 3, 1703 a major earthquake struck the town. More than 3.000 people died and almost all the churches collapsed; Rocca Calascio, the highest fortress in Europe was also ruined by this event, yet the town survived. L’Aquila was then repopulated by decision of Pope Clement XI. The town was rocked by earthquake again in 1706. The most serious earthquake in the history of the town struck on July 31, 1786, when more than 6.000 people died. On June 26, 1958 an earthquake of 5.0 magnitude struck the town. On April 6, 2009, at 01:32 GMT (03:32 CEST) an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude struck central Italy with its epicentre near L’Aquila
Initial reports said the earthquake caused damage to between 3,000 and 10,000 buildings in L’Aquila.Several buildings also collapsed. 308 people were killed by the earthquake, and approximately 1,500 people were injured. Twenty of the victims were children.Around 65,000 people were made homeless.There were many students trapped in a partially collapsed dormitory. The April 6 earthquake was felt throughout Abruzzo; as far away as Rome, other parts of Lazio, Marche, Molise, Umbria, and Campania.
It was so painful to see a city so deeply wounded, and to think not only to whom lost their lives, but also to all the people forced to rebuild a life destroyed in a few seconds…..but you know, L’Aquila means “the eagle” and an eagle always flies free high in the sky, this eagle will fly again soon…..its people is too strong to be rooted on the ground.