L'Aquila - Abruzzo
Abruzzo's capital, L'Aquila, is a bustling mountain town with both medieval and modern style. The town sits on the left bank of the Aterno River in a valley surrounded by the Appennines, the Gran Sasso and the Velino-Sirente Mountains. It is the main historical and artistic center of the region with a university, musical conservatory, arts academy, theater, concert society and library.
The city was planned by the emperor of Sicily, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, in the mid-13th century. In 1259, after Frederick's death, the residents of the city sided against his son, Manifredi, who was in opposition to the pope. Therefore, Manifredi destroyed the city. The area was abandoned for seven years until Manifredi was killed in battle, and then the city was rebuilt with high walls surrounding it. Legend has it that the residents of 99 castles built 99 churches, squares and fountains inside the city walls so the area would thrive. Later, the city participated in the movements for a unified Italy in the 1800's and became the capital of Abruzzo in 1860 with the Italian unification.
Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo is Abruzzo's most popular museum that has exhibits ranging from a stuffed mammal to artistic masterpieces. Magnificent architecture can be seen at the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, a church built in the 13th century with an arched portal and a pink and white marble façade. A popular place for tourists and locals alike is the Church of San Bernadino, which holds the tomb of San Bernadino of Siena. The Sienese visit the tomb each year on the saint's feast day. Another sight is the Spanish castle, which is the largest fortress in the region and is a prime example of military architecture. Don't miss the fountain with 99 spouts in the shapes of human and animal heads, which was built in 1272 next to the city wall. The 99 spouts were supposed to represent the 99 castles of the old city.
But sometimes the best places to visit are the hidden ones, so take time to walk down the narrow streets and through the secluded courtyards to find the beauty in a simple fountain or garden.
You can arrive by bus or train, or drive on the A24 from Rome.