The town of L'Aquila, or The Eagle, located about 60 miles or 100 kilometers northeast of Rome, is a city and comune in central Italy. It is the capital of the Abruzzo Region and the Province of L'Aquila, with a population of about 68,000. It is situated in a wide valley of the Aterno river at an altitude of about 2,200 feet, surrounded by the stunning Apennine mountain range within sight of the Gran Sasso d'Italia, located just northeast of the town. It consists of a series of narrow streets, most of which feature Baroque and even Renaissance buildings and churches. It is also home to the University of L'Aquila, a theater, a symphony orchestra, an arts academy and a film institute.
Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II was largely responsible for its construction, as he consolidated 99 existing villages (celebrated by the famous "Fountain of the 99 Spouts") as a check on the power of the papacy. Construction continued under his son Conrad IV of Germany until 1254, and it was largely destroyed by his brother Manfred in 1259, to be rebuilt by Charles I of Anjou; the walls were completed in 1316. The town's name has also changed over the centuries as well: it was known as Aquila degli Abruzzi in 1861 and L'Aquila in 1939. The town became fantastically wealthy due to sheep farming, playing a vital role in the wool trade, and a number of privileges protecting this vital industry. Many wealthy Tuscan merchants purchased properties here, and in 1355 trade builds w government; the city became so important that the king granted the city its own mint in 1344.
The town has experienced many challenges over the years, however, some seemingly insurmountable, yet it has survived. It was struck by plague epidemics, including the Black Death of 1348 and another outbreak in 1363, and numerous earthquakes, including a devastating one in 2009 which killed 307 people and rendered much of the historic center of the town uninhabitable. Earlier (known) quakes included a December, 1315 event which damaged the San Francesco Church; another in 1349, which killed about 800 people; then more to follow, in 1452, 1461, 1501, 1645, 1703 (a major event which killed more than 3,000 people and destroyed almost all the churches and even the Rocca Calascio, the then-highest fortress in Europe) and again in 1706. Perhaps the worst in its recorded history occurred on July 31, 1786 when more than 6,000 were killed. Earthquakes continue into modern times, with a 5.0 occurring in 1958, and the most recent, a 6.3 in April, 2009, which measured 6.3. The latest event rendered 65,000 people homeless, many of whom still have not been able to return to their homes as restoration efforts have been very slow, hampered by widespread corruption and mismanagement of funds. Reconstruction efforts have always been undertaken, however, and they continue currently (and probably will for years), albeit slowly and somewhat painfully.
Major cultural points of interest include several important churches, including the church of St. Bernardino of Siena (1472), Santa Maria di Collemaggio (1270-1280), which contains the mausoleum of Pope Celestine V (1517), the 13th-century Cathedral of San Massimo (Duomo), reconstructed after a 1703 earthquake and heavily damaged again in the most recent one, the Fontana Luminosa, a sculpture of two water-bearers, built in the 1930s, and many museums, film festivals and other events have occurred here. Many feature films have been shot in the area, known the world over for its astounding natural beauty.