L'AQUILA, Abruzzo's capital, is known for its appealing blend of ancient and modern, with a university, smart shops, bustling streets and a daily market. Sadly, in April 2009 a severe earthquake badly damaged the city, killing almost 300 people and forcing many to take refuge in camps. Many of the medieval buildings were left in ruins including the Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio and the Forte Spagnolo, home to the city museum. It will take several years to rebuild although L'Aquila has plenty of experience in this respect having bounced back from earthquakes for hundreds of years. Check the tourist office website for the latest on the reconstruction programme Web: www.abruzzoturismo.it .
The city was founded in 1242 when the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II drew together the populations from 99 Abruzzesi villages to form a new city. Each village built its own church, piazza and quarter: there's a medieval fountain with 99 spouts, and the town-hall clock still chimes 99 times every night. These days only two churches remain, albeit magnificent ones. The town is overlooked by the bulk of the Gran Sasso mountain range and is the main access point to the national park of the same name.