Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio, L'Aquila

The Cultural Heritage of L’Aquila

Culture News Travel in Italy

The Abruzzo town of L’Aquila has been named the Italian Capital of Culture for 2026. We take a look at the cultural heritage of L’Aquila.

Situated amid the rugged beauty of the Abruzzo region in Italy lies the enchanting city of L’Aquila. The city lies within medieval walls overlooking the Aterno river valley. Surrounded by the Apennine Mountains, with the Gran Sosso d’Italia to the north-east, it is a place where time seems to stand still.

L’Aquila wears its history like a proud badge of honour, with each layer adding to its allure. Founded in the 13th century by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, the city boasts a fascinating blend of architectural styles, from medieval masterpieces to Renaissance gems. Wander through the labyrinthine streets of the historic centre, where ancient churches, noble palaces, and quaint piazzas create an atmosphere of timeless charm.

Earthquake of 2009

The earthquake of 6th April 2009, devastated the city. Registering 6.3 on the Richter scale, the damage was immense with 309 people losing their lives and 1,500 injured. Tens of thousands of people were displaced as their homes were either demolished or were unsafe.

Numerous medieval structures in L’Aquila suffered extensive damage. The apse of the Basilica of Saint Bernardino of Siena, the city’s largest Renaissance church, sustained severe damage, leading to the collapse of its campanile.

Likewise, significant portions of the 18th-century church of Anime Sante in Piazza Duomo crumbled, including almost the entire dome. The Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio, dating back to the 13th century, suffered a catastrophic collapse from the transept to the rear of the church.

Additionally, Porta Napoli, the city’s oldest gateway, met its demise. The third floor of Forte Spagnolo, a 16th-century fortress housing the National Museum of Abruzzo, collapsed. Also damaged was the cupola of the 18th-century Baroque church of St. Augustine, causing damage to L’Aquila’s state archives. Notably, this church had undergone reconstruction following its destruction in the earthquake of 1703.

The Cathedral of L’Aquila, dedicated to Saints Maximus and George, also endured substantial damage, including part of its transept. Work only began on reconstruction of the cathedral in February 2023.

Cultural Treasures of L’Aquila

Duomo of L'Aquila
Pizza del Duomo, L’Aquila

For culture enthusiasts, L’Aquila offers a number of museums, galleries, and cultural institutions to explore. Step into the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo, housed within the imposing 16th-century fortress of Castello Cinquecentesco, and delve into the region’s storied past through its impressive collection of artifacts and artworks. From prehistoric relics to Renaissance paintings, the museum offers a captivating journey through Abruzzo’s cultural heritage.

Art enthusiasts will find themselves enchanted by L’Aquila’s artistic riches, from majestic frescoes adorning ancient churches to contemporary masterpieces displayed in modern galleries.

Explore the Basilica di San Bernardino, renowned for its stunning Renaissance facade and interior adorned with exquisite frescoes by the renowned artist Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio.

Facade and monumental steps of the Basilica of Saint Bernadino, L'Aquila, Italy CC BY-SA 4.0 File: Facade of the basilica of San Bernardino.jpg Uploaded: April 10, 2018
Facade and monumental steps of the Basilica of Saint Bernadino, L’Aquila

Architecture aficionados will be awe-struck by L’Aquila’s architectural marvels, each a testament to the city’s illustrious past.

Marvel at the exquisite Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio. A masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, it is adorned with intricate rose windows and ornate portals. Pay homage to the city’s patron saint, Celestine V, whose tomb lies within the basilica.

Culinary Delights

Confetti di Sulmona
Image created by SCB79 and shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

No visit to L’Aquila would be complete without indulging in the region’s culinary delights. Sample traditional Abruzzese cuisine at one of the city’s trattorias, where hearty dishes bursting with flavour await.

Savour local specialties such as arrosticini (grilled lamb skewers), maccheroni alla chitarra (pasta served with a rich meat sauce), and confetti di Sulmona (sugared almonds), a sweet often shaped into flowers, beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Music and Performing Arts

L’Aquila has a vibrant cultural scene year-round. Attend a classical concert at the Teatro Comunale, a 19th century neoclassical jewel. Experience the magic of opera, ballet, and theatre performances, or immerse yourself in the sounds of traditional folk music at local festivals and events.

Festivals and Celebrations

Perdonanza Celestiniana

Throughout the year, L’Aquila comes alive with vibrant festivals and celebrations. For example, join in the revelry of the Festa di San Giuseppe, a centuries-old tradition honouring the patron saint of carpenters and artisans, with colourful processions, street performances, and culinary delights.

And why not experience the excitement of the Perdonanza Celestiniana, a religious festival dating back to the 13th century? It commemorates the granting of a plenary indulgence by Pope Celestine V and features solemn rituals, historical re-enactments, and lively festivities.

As L’Aquila continues to rebuild 15 years after the destructive earthquake of 2009, the award of Italian Capital of Culture 2026 will enable the renaissance to continue apace.

Visit the Abruzzo tourism website for more information on L’Aquila.

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