From the Spanish Fortress to the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio
In 1529, the city lost its autonomy and the territory that over the centuries had allowed it to be a free town within the Kingdom of Naples. The enfeoffment of the surround fortified villages transferred to the Spanish represented a decisive event for the future destiny of L’Aquila. The inhabitants attempted to rebel so to repress the uprisings Spanish viceroy don Pedro of Toledo commissioned the building of an imposing fortress designed by Piero Luigi Scrivà, an engineer from Valencia, which for the people of L’Aquila became the tangible sign of their defeat. Today, we can still appreciate the magnificent fortress, immersed in a vast park. It housed the National Museum of Abruzzo. The castle is a square structure with four stronghold bastions at its corners, surrounded by a moat, it deserves an in-depth visit both for its architectural elements and for the works of art from various historical periods. It is also home to a splendid example of a skeleton of a mammoth, the Elephas Meriodionalis, found in the territory of the current town of Scoppito, few kilometres from L’Aquila. From the park we reach via Castello, then turning onto via and arco delle Terziarie we reach Piazza del Teatro. On the right of the alley, we appreciate ancient residences with their 15th-century windows. The Teatro Comunale boasts a monumental 19th-century façade with some Classical and Renaissance elements also found in the Palazzo del Convitto. The old San Salvatore Hospital that overlooks the square was built in the mid-1400s thanks to San Giovanni from Capestrano e to the takings deriving from the suppression of several medieval hospitals. It was restored in the 18th century and in the early 19th century when two windows were added. It is set around a charming porticoed courtyard The area is dominated by the majestic Basilica dedicated to St Bernardino da Siena where his remains are kept as the Saint died in L’Aquila in 1444. The Basilica of San Bernardino is one of the most precious monuments in the city. Characterized by the majestic dome built in the second half of 1400s, its building was commissioned by San Giovanni from Capestrano and became symbol of the power and prestige of the city’s oligarchy. As he felt death approaching, Friar Berardino da Siena wanted to reach L’Aquila where he died on 20 May 1444. After few years he was declared Saint and his remains were moved to the basilica that bears his name. The façade was built by Cola dell’Amatrice, it is composed of three orders, one over the other. It is decorated with statues and other sculptures in high relief like the Madonna with Child and the Saints by Silvestro from L’Aquila. The church was heavily damaged by the 1703 earthquake. However, by 1730 the new church had already been rebuilt featuring its stunning interior, the monumental organ on the entrance choir. The grand Latin-cross interior has a nave and two aisles with an elaborate wooden ceiling (built by Bernardo Mosca da Pescocostanzo), and large side chapels rich in works of art, such as the altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia, the mausoleum of St. Bernardino by Silvestro from L’Aquila. Then, we head towards the stunning staircase in via Fortebraccio . The street retraces the path from an older entrance point, today replace by Porta di Bazzano gate, to the city centre, probably one of the oldest routes to cross the hill on which L’Aquila stands. An imposing buiding overlooks Piazza Bariscianello. A 16th-century palazzo featuring a plain portal a 16th-century porticoed courtyard. During the walk we can appreciate Palazzo Romanelli and its inner courtyard characterized by Renaissance elements and 15th-century arcades. Besides there is the magnificent Palazzo Alfieri. The stunning courtyard recalls a cloister with gothic and round arches over columns decorated by Corinthian capitals. At the end of the street, on the right, overlooking Piazzetta di Bazzano, we appreciate one of the oldest medieval buildings in the city. Taking Costa Picenze and then via Tione, we turn onto via dei Giardini, we walk few meters to reach via Rendina and the Villa Comunale park dominated by Palazzo dell’Esposizione. Built in 1888, it has a neoclassical porticoed exedra and today it houses the regional council. Strolling across the park and along viale Collemaggio we reach the striking basilica that we can admire from afar thanks to the stunning colours of the façade. The basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio rises on a hill in a strategic position to control the surrounding area. The church is strictly linked to Celestine V who, in 1294, donated to the city the Bull that granted plenary indulgence to all those who, confessed and repented, would visit the basilica between the evening of 28 and 29 August. The festivity has been reviving every year with religious rituals and cultural festivals. The basilica has undergone several restorations over the centuries. In particular, during the 1969-1972 restoration works, the Baroque 17th- and 18th-century decorations were removed at the behest of architect Moretti. The interior shows a long nave, with two aisles and one transept. The stunning Gothic arches and the grandiosity of the inner 96metre-long space, of particular interest is the rich floor characterized by artistically arranged red and white stones rich in symbolic meanings. The church’s interior is decorated by exquisite works of art and, in the right aisle next to the door, there is a 16th-century mausoleum by Girolamo da Vicenza which contains the remains of Pope Celestine V. The façade of the basilica is an example of Abruzzo medieval architecture. It has a striking quadrangular façade, horizontal at the top, featuring red-and-white stone patterns reflecting the light. It houses portals and rose windows. The central doorway is rounded, the canopied niches were once enriched with statutes and figures of saints. The two lateral doorways, built in the 1200s, have two columns on each side. The three Gothic rose windows are particularly intricate. On the right-hand side of the façade, there is an imposing octagonal, what is left of an original bell tower demolished in 1880. On the left-hand side there is the Holy Door that is opened on occasion of the Celestinian Forgiveness rite. It is a stunning portal built in the 1300s characterized by refined decorations and a lunette fresco of Mary and Jesus between St. Celestine and St. John the Baptist. The adjoining Covent of The Celestines was built in the 1200s and restored several times following the numerous earthquakes that devastated the city. It houses a cloister with its ancient well, and a refectory which displays the splendid 16th-century fresco of the Crucifixion and Saints by Saturnino Gatti.