L’Aquila Travel Guide
Nestled high in the mountains of Central Italy, L’Aquila is a pleasant city that used to be firmly on the tourist radar. That all changed in 2009, though, after a massive earthquake reduced many buildings to rubble.
In the decade that has followed, however, extensive rebuilding has taken place. While much work remains to be done, many major attractions are now open to the public. So, if you’re heading to Italy on holiday soon, give L’Aquila a much-needed boost by paying them a visit.
Begin your tour of L’Aquila by checking out Santa Maria di Collemaggio. This church, which suffered a collapsed wall during the 2009 earthquake, reopened to the public in 2017. While restoration work continues, there are many other attributes worth seeing.
For starters, Pope Celestine V has his burial tomb here. Outside, the facade is entirely tiled, offering a Romanesque design that is hard to find elsewhere. And you’ll find spectacular frescoes adorning the walls.
Next, make your way over to the Basilica of San Bernardino. As the name gives away, authorities built this church in honour of St. Bernardino in the 15th century. And appropriately, there is a mausoleum containing the body of this saint inside its walls.
Like most buildings in L’Aquila, the earthquake of 2009 seriously damaged the Basilica of San Bernadino. But thanks to a diligent recovery effort, renovations on this building wrapped up in 2015. In addition to the mausoleum, ceiling frescoes and a magnificent organ are also highlights.
After that, take a stroll over to Forte Spagnolo. Unlike the other attractions in this guide, this fortress remains closed to visitors, as earthquake-related refurbishments continue. But from the outside, it is still a tremendous sight to behold.
And that was 100% intentional as the Spanish, who had conquered the mountain city in the 16th century, struggled with insurgents. Thus, to finally quash the rebellious spirit of the populace, they built a fort meant to control the population.
Thanks to the earthquake, many sights are still unvisitable. But you can learn about them by visiting Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo. Over three floors, you’ll learn about everything from the prehistoric era to the Renaissance. There is also a fine selection of Renaissance and modern art as well.
If you have extra time, go on a day trip to the Anfiteatro Romano di Amiternum. These ruins are from a Roman amphitheatre, which entertained the local populace starting in the 1st century AD.
At peak capacity, these stands could hold up to 6,000 people. But today, these unique and fascinating ruins sit empty, against the beautiful backdrop of the Apennine Mountains. But let the hordes go to Rome – it just makes this place that special.
Back in L’Aquila, spend a few minutes checking out the Fontana delle 99 Cannelle. This attraction is a sunken square that boasts a grand water feature. True to its name, it features 99 faces that spout out water into a reflecting pool along the piazza’s edge.
Thankfully, this treasure survived the quake of 2009 with only minor damage. So within months, it was open again to delight its shell-shocked populace.
If you’re up for a walk and have an open mind, go for a stroll around the Centro Storico of L’Aquila. Unfortunately, this historic district lacks the energy and liveliness of other Italian cities. While more than a decade has passed, extensive refurbishment works continue throughout the city.
And so, the skyline is dotted with swinging cranes, all busily lifting building materials to aid workers. As you make your way through the streets, numerous buildings will be cloaked in scaffolding. All this is necessary to bring L’Aquila back to the way it once was.
End your walking tour with a stop in Piazza del Duomo. Like the rest of the city, construction continues at a feverish pace. But some restaurants have reopened, restoring a sense of normalcy. Sit and have a meal or drink, as it will help recovery efforts.
What To Eat/Drink
After a long day spent exploring L’Aquila, sit down to a grand meal. Start with some Bruschetta, a classic Italian appetizer. And what a classic it is – according to some historians, it dates back to Roman times.
Made by grilling bread, rubbing with olive oil and garlic, and topping it with fresh tomatoes, it’s a treat that’ll get you warmed up for the main event.
And in any city close to Naples, that means Neapolitan Pizza. This variant, considered by some to be pizza’s original form, features a thin crust that’s no more than three millimetres thick. Because of this, though, this ‘za cooks really quickly. Within 90 seconds of hitting the oven, your pie will be ready.
In Italy, many travellers opt to have Tiramisu for dessert. But if you’ve already had this treat, give it a rest and try some Nougat instead. Made from whipped egg whites, honey, sugar, and nuts, it’s a chewy delight that may grow on you.