As I write the streets of L’Aquila and entire villages around it resemble shots from Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist film Germania anno zero (Germany Year Zero). The only difference is that the film showed images of a wrecked Berlin at the end of World War II and what is left of L’Aquila and the surrounding areas is the result of a natural disaster.
The earthquake that struck Abruzzo in the early morning hours of Monday can indeed be described with one word, apocalyptic.
There are craters where there were roads, piles of rubble where once there were buildings, churches and monuments.
L'Aquila has been described by many as a ghost town, since it has been entirely evacuated and its streets are now patrolled by police forces while rescue teams are keeping on removing rubble and debris.
Since my last post, aftershocks have been rocking L’Aquila and the Abruzzo region; the death toll has tragically risen to over 270 people (at the time of writing this post), while there are still a few people missing and thousands have lost their homes and are now living in tents provided by the civil protection teams. Interviewed by a German television channel Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said people who lost their homes and are now staying in tents should see it as a camping experience. Criticised by the (foreign) press, he highlighted he was just trying to reassure the locals. But, so far, rather than reassuring anybody, he has only managed to get some great photo ops while also proving he is slightly confused about the whole situation (Help from foreign countries? Well, first he refused them, as we are proud Italians and we can sort things out by ourselves; then he suggested foreign countries to adopt art and historical sites, then he appealed to the Italian population to stop sending food and clothes and send money instead).
Guess he’s not worse than all those journalists who convened upon the region to report about the disaster and possibly film death with extraordinary cynicism. An Italian reporter even complained yesterday morning about being removed from the crumbling student dormitory site as it was unsafe. I wonder if his dream was filming a rare rescue of a survivor or the finding of another body. I’d rather not think about it or about what will happen in a month or a year’s time when politicians will not need any more photo ops and journalists won’t be swarming around the earthquake-stricken areas looking for a scoop.
So I’m forcing myself to think about beautiful things, in particular art, history and traditions, and quietly mourn about their loss. The Abruzzo region preserves in its small villages scattered in the shadows of the local mountains - the Gran Sasso, Majella and Velino - very interesting examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture while Medieval monasteries and hermitages are hidden away in valleys or located on the top of inaccessible mountains.
Throughout the centuries, many villages and towns were entirely destroyed or badly damaged by earthquakes. The city of L’Aquila, founded in 1254, was repeatedly struck by earthquakes in 1315, 1461, 1703 and 1786. The Medieval buildings destroyed were therefore rebuilt in the Baroque style, this is why the city centre, currently closed to the public since it was almost entirely destroyed by Monday's earthquake, was a unique combination of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art.
A legend says that when the town rebelled to him, Manfredi, son of Frederick II and King of Sicily, destroyed it. The inhabitants started rebuilding the place and the legend says that 99 castles joined in to form the city, each of them had a square, a church and a fountain, this is why 99 became an important symbol for L’Aquila.
In 1294, the hermit Pietro da Morrone was elected Pope and crowned in the basilica of S.Maria di Collemaggio that combined in his façade Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements. The tomb of Celestine V is actually housed in the same church and, every year, thousands of pilgrim visit the basilica during the Perdonanza celebrations.
As I write the first art experts are assessing the damages to historically important buildings and monuments. It is now confirmed that, while the rear part of the apse of the basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio collapsed, its façade is safe since it was being restored and therefore supported by a scaffolding structure.
Giuseppe Valadier's neoclassic dome for the church of S. Maria del Suffragio in Piazza Duomo, also known as the church of the Anime Sante, was badly damaged and, in the last few hours, entirely collapsed. There are no news yet regarding its sumptuous altar and the works of art preserved in the church.
The bell tower of the 16th century Basilica of San Bernardino, characterised by an elegant and imposing façade from the Renaissance and a wooden ceiling built by Ferdinando Mosca in 1724, and preserving many paintings and sculptures by different artists, was entirely destroyed, while the transect of the cathedral of San Massimo partially collapsed and the dome of Sant’Agostino's Church, one of the main examples of Baroque architecture in L’Aquila, crashed onto a nearby building.
One floor of the castle that houses the National Museum was also badly damaged and at the moment the place is patrolled by the authorities.
These are only the damages assessed in L’Aquila, without counting the damages caused by the earthquake in nearby villages. Onna, which dates back to Medieval times, was entirely destroyed; the top corner of the façade of St Peter's Church in Coppito looks as if it had been chewed away; in the hillside town of Paganica a deep wound opened in the cream-coloured façade of the Church of the Holy Conception and, while the earthquake spared the façade of Santa Maria di Paganica, built in the second half of the 12th century and completed in 1308, its ceiling fell in.
While the damages are still being assessed, it can be confirmed that L’Aquila has lost over 70% of its cultural heritage. Experts warn that it will take 7 to 8 years to rebuild the place, yet by now some of Abruzzo’s most precious architectural gems and sites of great historical interest have been lost.
This is also Easter week and today starts the Triduum. Traditionally, all over Italy, on Good Friday there are processions commemorating the passion of Jesus. In L’Aquila there was usually the Procession of the Dead Christ, with costumed participants.
This year though there is no time to concentrate on processions, and tomorrow will be a national day of mourning with a mass state funeral for the victims.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos