L’Aquila is the capital of Italy’s Abruzzo region, 100km from Rome. It’s a beautiful town, set high up in the mountains, and it dates from the twelfth century.
On the 6th April, 2009, an earthquake struck L’Aquila in the middle of the night, killing 308 people, damaging around 11,000 buildings, and rendering 65,000 people homeless.
The city has not recovered.
Words, I find, struggle to do justice to what remains of the city. Huge sections of it are fenced off, with buildings supported by scaffolding, and vegetation starting to take over. Military police patrol, to ensure no-one endangers themselves by entering the red zone. Graffiti appears on some of the walls, but it’s not particularly enthusiastic, as if even the artists don’t see the point.
There’s a sense of sadness, of a city falling into ruin around it’s inhabitants, tens of thousands of whom have left, unlikely ever to return.
Somehow though, there’s also a sense of optimism, coming through from those who refuse to leave, who believe that this city has survived through a total of 11 earthquakes, the latest just being another statistic to deal with, and what’s one more?
In fact, over the last 800 years, over 10,000 people have died in earthquakes in Aquila. This latest one, in the overall scale, wasn’t hugely significant.
What is significant though, is the worrying lack of help that seems to be coming L’Aquila’s way. There don’t appear to be major plans to restore the damaged town, even four years on. Political will, we were told, was the main culprit. That, and money, the two being inextricably linked. Italy has struggled as much as any other country with the recessions of the last years, and rebuilding a city that is likely to be hit by another quake does not appear to be a priority.
So should you still visit L’Aquila? Absolutely. In fact, the people here, it was made clear to us, would love you to. There are still businesses to support and places to spend your money that can really make a difference. The surrounding scenery is breath-taking, with four of the mountains around the city topping 2,000m in height.
Sure, the majority of the ancient part of the city is fenced off and unstable. But there’s still a market in the town square. And the surrounding villages and area are undeniably beautiful.
It’s just the centre of town that looks like a series of bombs went off.
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My trip around L’Aquila and surrounding area was arranged by the nice people at TBD Italy, the tradeshow I was thrilled to speak at.