Among the regional capitals of Italy, with its altitude at 721 meters above sea level, L'Aquila is one of the highest and laid on the leveling of the extreme offshoots of the S. Onofrio hills, is also one of the coldest.
Paradoxically the most characteristic visible aspect of the city, the fortress, was constructed in one of the most critical moments of its history, beginning in 1529, when Filippo d'Orange, to punish the city that had rebelled against him, subjected all of the lands of the countryside, assigning each its captain; the construction of the fortress took place in the area surrounding the demolition of many buildings and churches. Later, another important intervention modified the civic center of the city: the reconstruction and enlargemet of the old Palazzo del Capitano for housing Margherita d'Asburgo or d'Austria, perpetual governor of the city; today it is home of City Hall.
Different from many other Italian cities, L'Aquila does not have very ancient origins; in fact, only in the mid-13th century was the city structured, constructed from the union of many villages of the zone (99, according to local tradition but more probably around 70), each of which made up a zone which remained linked to the mother-village and was considered part of the same for around a century. Each zone had its piazza with church and public fountain opposite, from which today some beautiful churches remain, such as that of S. Maria Paganica, S. Giusta, S. Pietro di Coppito, S. Silvestro, Collemaggio Abbey, and the famous "Fontana delle 99 Cannelle" (Fountain of the 99 Spouts), symbolizing the union of the 99 villages.
The appearance of the city in that era must have been very interesting, but very unlike the modern-day appearance; in fact, in 1529, due to conflicts in the succession of the Kingdom of Sicily, Manfredi grazed it to the ground; it rose again gradually, it had a great impulse when Celestino V rose to the papal throne and continued to grow in importance and to be embellished with powerful buildings, both civil and religious, until around 1530, the year in which it began to decline under Spanish domination.
In 1657 the city was hit by the plague, which reduced its population in half; then a large portion of the medieval and Renaissance facets were destroyed by an earthquake on February 2, 1703: the houses, churches, buildings, and fortress were greatly damaged.
From the terrible earthquake the city rose again slowly, but the buildings and the urban areas underwent profound modifications. The clergy put into action the recovery and utilization of almost all of the churches of the city, which were enlarged and reconstructed in Baroque style; the nobles constructed numerous buildings, such as Palazzo Quinzi, Antonelli, and Centi. Restoration interventions in the 1960's and 1970's, some questionable, brought the buildings back to their primitive Romanesque appearance. The churches of S. Maria Paganica and S. Domenico conserved their 18th-century appearance, today allocated as an auditorium.
Even if later interventions up to today have definitively modified the original character of the city, it remains an interesting center worth visiting.