L’Aquila Must Soar again

April 4, 2014 / Local Interest
L'Aquila, Abruzzo

L’Aquila (“the eagle”) must once again take flight: now, its wings are fractured. Graced with medieval churches and elegant Renaissance and Baroque palace, Abruzzo’s provincial capital is a ghost town now. A walk in the midst of the scaffolded buildings – devastated five years ago on April 6th by an earthquake – is lacerating. 308 died, over a thousand were injured and 73 000 aquilani were left homeless. Survivors were transferred to tent cities and then to anonymous modern structures in the outlying periferia. “Deaths among the elderly rose to 40% within two years after the earthquake,” a local man told us. The devastation to their family homes – where many had been born – and re-settlement in sterile pre-fab housing, far from their neighborhoods and friends, annulled their will to live. He added, “Depression is diffuse: aquilani are convinced they’ll never see the conclusion to restoration.”


Plastic canvases covering scaffolded buildings – faithful reproductions of the cloaked façade and veritable artworks – proclaim, “L’Aquila Rinasce.” Will L’Aquila be reborn? When?

L'Aquila rinasce is the promise
L'Aquila rinasce thanks to workers like this one
Canvas with hospital image...as it was and will be, hopefully

The city’s only sounds now are the rumble of bulldozers, grinding of cement mixers, the thwack of masons’ mallets, whir of cranes, and the strident whine of the diamond-bladed power saws. 

Warning signs all over
Workers in alleyway
Workers head home, through scaffold maze
Rubble wherever you look
Pino and a worker discuss progress
Empty street
Bulldozer at work

Absent sounds? The bubbling of water in the town fountain, merchants calling out in the outdoor market, motorbikes buzzing, city buses rumbling, cars beeping, the banging of truck doors opening and shutting as goods are unloaded for stores, shop doors slamming and locals greeting each other on the streets. Church bells are silent in this wounded “citta’ delle 99 chiese” (lit., city of 99 churches), all the belltowers are scaffolded.

Chiurch - crippled

The silence is shattering. L’Aquila’s social fabric has disintegrated.

At lunch in the only surviving restaurant, our young waitress, Laura, student at l’Universita dell’Aquila (once enrolling 30,000, now about 19,000), told us, “I wanted to come here – to contribute to giving life back to this city. We must. I love L’Aquila, even as it is now. But don’t repeat that to the aquilani!”

Schiacciata served with a smile
turkey and red wine

After lunch, we crossed paths with a couple of pensive locals (taking a walk to see their unrestored homes) and clutches of stonemasons, heading back to work. At a café’, stonemasons sipped espresso and two elderly aquilani chatted with us about the main local conversation topic: the tardiness of restoration. At a table nearby, another signore read a newspaper. Behind him on the wall, a maiolica tile depicted a soaring aquila.

Older Aquilani discuss the situation at the bar
Bar with eagle and main reading -about the only one open

The phoenix rises out of the ashes. This Abruzzo “eagle” must rise, too: out of the rubble.

Pino checks out the damage

Concert photo.in S Maria di Collemaggio

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

53 Responses to “L’Aquila Must Soar again”

  1. Rosemary

    My dear Ann! What a beautiful tribute to this wounded city! I got goose bumps reading about this tragic situation. Thank you for updating us. Our hearts go out to the Aquiliani. But what a sign of hope – your young waitress and I’m sure many other young people like her.

  2. ValerieRaccuglia

    Thank you Anne for writing this article. We all heard about this tragic event but to see that the city is still very much in need of help and repair is heartbreaking. Hopefully in time the city will be bustling with people and everyday life. Xoxo

  3. Kevin Crocker

    Love this story Anne. A shame that recovery has been so slow, and seems to not be a priority. Looking forward to my return.

  4. Joanne De Cecchis

    Thank you Anne for the update. Camarda is only a few miles from L’Aquila and a little frazione where my husband was born. We have visited L’Aquila several times and especially enjoyed its colorful market. The last picture of the church being restored, is that Colemaggio? Joanne De Cecchis

  5. So sad to see that not much has happened since I visited this beautiful, torn city three years ago. I hope the funds and work will escalate and that she will rise soon . . .

  6. Anne, Thank you for writing this article. It is excellent in content and in heart.

  7. Thank you, Ann, for keeping us up to date on what is going on in l”Aquila. You are our “eyes on the ground”. I always enjoy your posts.

  8. Thanks, Anne. I found myself wondering about the fate of Aquila….we’ve heard nothing about it since the terrible news of the earthquake. Your posts always keep us well informed! Fred

  9. Anne, loved the contrast between the ongoing construction sounds and the sounds that used to be. May L’Aquila get the funds it needs to finish its restoration.

  10. Matthew Cappiello

    What a great article….a very good description of the conditions after the earthquake and what you have to go through to recover……

  11. Paulette Carnicelli Pidcock

    Anne – I am encouraged with the real possibility that the people of L’Aquila and Abruzzo will regain some of their souls by the reconstruction work that is happening in this beautiful region!! Visiting my relatives there last year – their aguish over the loss of their social fabric….was palpable. With God’s help…..let the Eagle soar!!

  12. Carol Reed

    Thanks Anne for this wonderful article. You made the city come alive for us. Carol

  13. Denise Gentile

    Anne, thanks for writing this beautiful article. My Dad was born in Pietracamella, Abruzzi. The earthquake damaged his house which has been in the family forever. His birthday is April 6th, as you know, the earthquake happened on his birthday. He has been unable to travel there in the summers to visit his family with his brother. We are so heart broken! I pray that there will be more awareness and fundraisers to assist all of the towns that were devastated.
    Denise DiFeliciantonio-Gentile

  14. JJ Jacobs

    So very sad.
    I cannot even imagine the disruption to so many lives.

  15. Thanks for updating and bringing this situation to the minds of readers. We had the pleasure of visiting L’Aquila in 2004 when my husband was working in nearby Avvezzano. This is a beautiful area of Italy and I desperately hope they are able to get the funds needed for restoration. I hope this area does not get left in ruins as did my family’s ancestral home in Poggioreale, Sicily (Belice Valley).

  16. Hazel Rotondo Potvin

    Despite the earthquake damage, my husband and I and my cousins visited the region in 2012 to see our grandparents’ villages, Calascio and Santo Stefano. I am glad we did to realize what was lost and yet how dear the places are to us. We have been so fortunate to walk the paths of our grandparents and meet people who are still there.
    My husband and I stayed longer than the others and we stayed in L’Aquila at the hotel on the square near the damaged fort. The fountain did flow; people were in the park; we walked the streets and ate in the restaurants in the area. L’Aquila is definitely a good place to visit and enjoy. I hope that much will be restored.

    • Patricia Jordan

      Thank you so much for the information on L’Aquila during your recent visit there. My siblings and I are planning a trip there next year. We will use it as our base while we explore Calascio and Carrapelle, the villages where our maternal grandparents were born. It is so good to hear that L’Aquila is making a comeback.

    • Ben Tatone

      Hazel- I took my family to Santo Stefano di Sessanio where my father was born and also to L’Aquila where my mother was from. Both have yet to still be restored after all these years. I believe the best future for L’Aquila would be to tear down that which has no realistic hope of being restored due to the massive and irreparable damage and move forward lest it remain forever a ghost town.

  17. Jack Litewka

    An inspired commentary…and another place for me to visit on my next trip to Italy.

  18. Donovan McNiff

    Thanks so much for sharing this powerful narrative, Anne!

  19. oldcitygirl

    Very sad. Thanks for highlighting what has not yet happened.

  20. Mary Ellen Gadski

    Many thanks, Anne, for reminding everyone about the social consequences of severe earthquakes, long after they fade from the headlines. In 2003 my husband and I took my mom to Caramanico Terme, the town where her mom was born. For a day trip, we traveled to L’Aquila and celebrated our wedding anniversary at a wonderful restaurant in the heart of town. Its interior looked quite a bit like the one with the young waitress you featured. Can you share its name?
    Everyone must remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Rebuilding takes even longer!

  21. Cindy Tanner

    Beautifully descriptive and compelling article, Anne. I always love you photos, too.

  22. Thanks for the update. I hope they find the funds to completely restore L’Aquila soon before everyone gives up on the town. It would be interesting to compare how these restoration efforts compare to other parts of Italy that have had recent earthquakes.

  23. Suzanne and Jack

    Dear Annie,

    Another piquant article giving us glimpses into the soul of Italian towns and cities.
    Thank you for sharing your story and photos.

  24. I thought L’Aquila was the city of 99 fountains and not 99 churches. It was a beautiful city before the earthquake and I hope it is restored soon and residents can move back home.

  25. Anne Robichaud

    Susan, L’Aquila tied to the number 99 – with 99 churches, 99 castles in the area, and the fountain with 99 spigots..AND the Cathedral’s bell tolls 99 rings!

  26. Tom & Cissy Wilson

    Annie — Thanks for sharing this tribute to the town and its hardy citizens. The photos really complement your entry.

  27. Wonderful article about great loss. While the sadness pervades the people and the situation, there is hope in the photos. The restoration appears to be replicating the original buildings as much as possible. While the work is slow, hopefully, residents will be comforted by the fact that their children or grandchildren may come to know the city as it was. The silence of the bells might be solved if only one bell, centrally located, could be stabilized enough to ring hope through the day.

  28. Anthony Capaldi

    Since Madonna, Michael Buble’ and Francesca Capaldi (from Disney’s Dog with a Blog) are all from L’Aquila, I hope someday soon they will perform a charity benefit and invite all of their famous Hollywood friends!

  29. Anne, Lovely story and when I think about how long it’s taken to restore the World Trade Center I think Italy can be proud of how far it’s gotten in its reconstruction–a much more difficult job recreating what once was. Pino looks great, exactly as I remember him. When will we see the book, long awaited?

  30. Rosemary Johnson

    Thank you Anne for the awesome article on L’Aquila. I cannot imagine going through something like that at any age, and to read about those lost and left homeless was chilling. Perhaps now, 5 years later, things are looking up–at least it appears so in the pictures.

  31. Mary Jo Barbato

    Thanks for sharing Anne. We are looking forward to seeing you in September.

  32. Katie Larsh

    Thank you, Anne for another wonderful article.. this time on the resurrection of a city destroyed. We rarely get to see the work behind the rebuilding. You have given us a special insight. How heartwarming to see youth contributing to the future!

  33. I feel so sorry for the Aquilani. My home town of Christchurch, New Zealand, also suffered a devastating earthquake about 10 months after Aquila. All of the things happening in Aquila – depression, early Death, broken heart syndrome – are happening to us too. Best wishes for all in Aquila.

  34. Thanks Anne for this beautiful anniversary reminder. Many assume that life has returned to normal but it is far from it and for some will never be the same. I revisited L’Aquila briefly a year ago and the exercise of getting from the bus station to the town centre was hampered by roadworks and closures. To have to live with that day in and day out for 5 years must be very depressing. I know my abruzzese family are strong and I hope the aquilani rise again. Mary Louise

  35. Bill K

    While it’s sad a city with such history should be knocked down so, it’s also encouraging that the people, and particularly the young, are picking up the pieces. May it be all the stronger for it. If there’s one thing I’ve seen in the people of Italy, it’s resilience. I hope my family and I will see this place in it’s restored state one day.

  36. Grazie mille per condividere queste info. Annie. Very appreciated of your writing for the Italian Notebook. I will pass the article on to our student. Un abbraccio, Juztino

  37. Stephanie Webb

    Thank you for sharing your experience of this beautiful town. Your narratives, as
    always, make me feel as if I am right there in the middle of it all. So heartbreaking to read about the impact this had on the Aquiliani citizens, especially the older generation. The people and their beloved town are inseparable spiritually as well as physically. I really appreciated the way you contrasted life before and after the quake. So heartbreaking. It makes me hopeful to see that restoration, tho’ slow, is taking place. Life will return, you can’t keep the Italian spirit down!

  38. Anne, your descriptions of the silenced sounds that usually fill the air are as poignant as your photographs. This is yet another touching and compelling look into the lives of Italians and their deep connection to their past and to keeping it alive. Italy has a timeless as well as eternal quality that transcends the beauty of its artistic treasures. Thank you so much for painting such a vivid picture of what that is.

  39. David Fleming

    Anne, Very insightful, colorful account of the rebuilding. I’m sure Pino will work his magic and the city will return in glory.

  40. Joseph DeRuyter

    Thank you for sharing the story and pictures of this once (and to be again) beautiful place. A sad story, but one that I am certain will eventually have a happy ending. I hope that I will be able to visit and observe the progress first-hand on my next trip.

  41. Angela Finch

    Thank you for this note – excellent description. I wonder if the press is stirring enough feathers.

  42. Jan Johnson

    Thanks for highlighting such a distressing situation. And how encouraging to read that young people are prepared to stay and contribute to the hard work which must be done to restore the region. Anne – as always – an inspiring story.

  43. Louise Montalbano

    Anne- what a heartfelt article. We appreciate the update on the progress and lack of progress since the earthquake. It is so sad that the wheels if construction and politics cannot work in away to give the citizens their lives back in such away that preserves the old and introduces the new in a more expedient way. It breaks our hearts to know of the sadness and despair of the older generation. We all hope to hear the sounds of this once beautiful city come a live again sooner rather than later.

  44. This city and its surroundings are too beautiful to leave behind… I hope this brings about a new, flourishing era for the people and their town! Great article… glad to have learned about the recent conditions.

  45. Lina Falcone

    Grazie per questo articolo, spero che lo ricostuiscono presto, io vengo da un paese vicino L’Aquila. Ciao Lina

  46. dear Anne; Thank you for the article. One set of my grandparents came fro ortona dei marsi and I am wondering if the earthquake hit that city,and,if not what the condition of that village is now. thank you.


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