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Itineraries: L'Aquila

In the heart of Abruzzo, 62 miles (100 km) northeast of Rome, in a valley surrounded by mountains and scattered with ancient Roman towns as Amiternum, Peltuinum, Aveja, Forcona, a landscape of myriad villages perched on mountaintops, you will find L'Aquila, the regional capital, with its wealth of artistic, cultural, historical and natural resources.

Situated in a valley on the left bank of the Aterno River, at an altitude of 2,150 feet (721 m a.s.l.), it is dominated by the highest mountains of the Appennines, the Gran Sasso to the east and the Velino-Sirente to the west, and on clear days looking south east also the white profile of the Majella can be seen.

(The itinerary was written before the 2009 earthquake, so some of the places mentioned cannot be visited)

MAP Forte Spagnolo or Castello San Bernardino San Silvestro Piazza Palazzo Piazza Duomo Portici San Pietro di Coppito Fontana delle 99 Cannelle Santa Maria di Collemaggio

The city rose by 1254 thanks to the common work of some hundreds families coming - according to the legend - from 99 castles of the area: in memory of this there are (but not exactly!) 99 churches, squares and fountains. Soon after the foundation hermit Peter from Morrone was crowned Pope in 1294 under the name of Celestine V, leaving to the city the Perdonanza, a general pardon to be granted to whoever came on a pilgrimage to Santa Maria di Collemaggio on the 28-29 of August. The city is still surrounded by the remains of the massive six-foot wide, four-mile long city walls, with doors leading into the urban centre.

There are several churches and monuments of historic and artistic value, the heritage of its rich medieval past, and we might have a look at the most significant of them walking through the many picturesque alleys. A good place to start is the Fountain of the Ninety-Nine Spouts, almost a symbol of the city; then let's follow the road upwards and reach San Pietro di Coppito, and a little distance also San Silvestro, which had a beautiful painting donated by Raffaello Sanzio, now in Madrid.

It might be a good idea to stop for lunch at a "trattoria", and then move on to the majestic Spanish Fortress (familiarly called "Castello") surrounded by a wide green park of tall trees and pebbled lanes; the castle hosts the Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo.

A couple of hundred metres and here's the Basilica of San Bernardino, the greatest Renaissance church in Abruzzo, with its imposing dome, and, walking along the Portici di San Bernardino, we find ourselves in Piazza Palazzo, with the Townhall, a Clock Tower and the statue of Roman historian Sallustius who was born at nearby Amiternum.

There are probably hundreds of people around, since the Portici is where old and young meet at certain hours. At the far end of the Portici we can find Piazza Duomo, where every weekday a market is held. And now let's follow the indications to the Church of Santa Maria in Collemaggio, the most outstanding example of Abruzzi romanesque architecture, at the end of a long boulevard just outside the city.