Nevertheless, short and safe escorted visits to some sites in L'Aquila are nowadays possible: we believe this is the best way to honor the places so dear to our heritage. In Italian "L'Aquila" means "The Eagle". Well, as many are saying these months, "L'Aquila will be flying again". "L'Aquila tornerā a volare!"
The beautiful city, about 67,000 inhabitants and capital town of Abruzzi, is situated on the left bank of the Aterno River, at an elevation of 2,150 feet (655 meters), in a valley surrounded by the highest mountains of the Appennines, the Gran Sasso and the Velino-Sirente, 58 miles (93 km) northeast of Rome. L'Aquila is the main historical and artistic centre of Abruzzo. There are several churches and monuments of historic and artistic value, the heritage of its rich medieval past, such as the Fountain of the Ninety-Nine Spouts, almost a symbol of the city, the massive 16th-century Spanish castle, which crowns the city's highest point, the Basilica of St. Bernardine, (whose dome is visible above the castle's massive body in the view on the left) the greatest Renaissance church in Abruzzi, and the Church of Saint Mary in Collemaggio, the most outstanding example of Abruzzi romanesque architecture, where Peter from Morrone was crowned Pope in 1294, leaving to the city the unvaluable gift of the Perdonanza.
The fountain of the Rivera quarter was begun in 1272 according to a project by Tancredi from Pentima and went on well into the XVI century. The 99 spouts were intended to celebrate the 99 (actually only about 80) castles of the Aquilan Valley which contributed to the foundation of the town, each building a square with a church and a fountain and the houses for the inhabitants of the original castle who were willing to move to the newly-founded city. "Wonderful scenery where the basilica seems to have been built by man's hand to express, in a magnificent synthesis of art and prayer, what the contemplation of your mountains arouses in the heart: the feeling of the infinite, God's splendor mirrored in its creation..." said John Paul II, on 30 August 1980, on His visit to L'Aquila for the VI Centennial of St. Bernardine from Siena's birth. According to the tradition, in 1274 hermit Peter from Morrone, who later became a Pope under the name of Celestine V, while coming back from Lyons, where he had asked the Pope for recognition of his new order, stopped in L'Aquila and decided to spend the night on a nearby hill, called Colle di Maggio.
There he dreamt of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels at the top of a golden stairway, who asked him to build a church in Her honour on that very place. In a few years the hermit had fulfilled the task: in 1287 his monks bought the land and a year later the construction had begun. After one more year the church was consecrated and on 29 August 1294, when Peter was crowned Pope there, it had been probably completed along with the attached monastery.
Unmistakable against the city skyline stands out the dome of St Bernardine's, the largest Renaissance church in Abruzzi. The Spanish Castle At the centre of the large Parco del Castello on the highest spot of the city of L'Aquila, against the majestic background of the Gran Sasso d'Italia rises the Spanish Fortress commonly called "Castello" by the Aquilans. The fortress follows a square plan, with sides 130 m long and protruding bastions at the four corners; the walls are 10 m thick at the bottom, 5 m thick at the top. The entrance is through a stone bridge, which leads into the locals and the peaceful inner courtyard. In 1534 prince Filibert of Orange ordered to build a massive fortress on the highest point of the city, to control the revolutionary inhabitants of L'Aquila ("ad reprimendam aquilanorum audaciam"). Works started under the most famous Spanish architect of the time, Pirro Luigi Escribā, and were financed by heavy taxes levied on the citizens of L'Aquila, who also had to sell the silver case were St. Bernardine's body was kept. On the first and second floors there is the Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo which houses splendid specimens of Abruzzo art, including Roman and early Christian remains, wooden madonnas of the XII and XIII centuries, the celebrated Belli triptych and fine Renaissance paintings. In one of the bastions there is a Paleontologic section where an almost complete skeleton (only one tooth was missing) of a one-million-year-old Elephas - commonly, but improperly, called mammooth) is kept.