Conservation Disasters News Italy

L’Aquila staggers towards recovery on fourth anniversary of quake

Some restoration projects are finally under way, but for residents it is too little too late

Rebuilding work has started on the Church of Santa Maria Paganica, which was badly damaged from the earthquake four years ago

As the fourth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated L’Aquila comes up on 6 April, the Italian town’s fate finally seems to be improving. Some restoration projects are already under way, although locals are still holding protests and art historians are up in arms over proposed plans to build a shopping mall and car park beneath the main square.

After the quake, the town and the surrounding areas were immediately placed under emergency rule by the Berlusconi-led government, and the usual regional and local authorities were overruled. Hardly any restoration work was carried out on L’Aquila’s ravaged centre for three years and it remained a ghost town, while 13 controversially expensive “new towns” were built on the outskirts for the 73,000 homeless residents. These were built without any kind of tendering process, sparking several allegations of government corruption.

The first round of overdue restoration projects, funded by the Italian government, is now under way, just months after power was handed back to the local authorities. The regional arm of the ministry of culture has said that, this year, €150m will be spent on 50 projects, a little less than half of which are already active, with the remaining ones expected to start soon. Notably, the government will spend an initial €14m to restore the 15th-century Spanish castle, which houses the Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo, and €10m will be spent on the 18th-century Duomo in L’Aquila’s main square.

Foreign governments have also pitched in to help: Russia donated €7.2m towards the restoration of the 18th-century Baroque Palazzo Ardinghelli and France gave €6.5m to the church of Santa Maria del Suffragio, while Germany is sponsoring the restoration of the church of San Pietro Apostolo, in the neighbouring town of Onna, with €3.5m.

This may seem like a good start, but it is too little too late for the town's residents, who organised an ironic “non-restoration” party at the end of March. Even the town's mayor, Massimo Cialente, was invited.

Cialente and Fabrizio Magani, the regional head of the ministry of culture, have refused to comment on the proposed plans to build a €36m, 4,200 sq. m shopping mall and 525-space car park right under the Piazza del Duomo—while the historic building itself is still in ruins. The proposal predictably sparked protests around the country, with Tom Campbell, the director of New York's Metropolitan Museum, and Henri Loyrette, the outgoing director of the Louvre, reportedly signing a petition that was eventually delivered to Cialente. For the moment, the plan development seems to have stalled.

Meanwhile, art historians have been invited to meet in L’Aquila on 5 May to discuss the state of the town and the country's heritage in general. Tomaso Montanari, a prominent art historian and a noted campaigner for Italy's heritage, says there is a “visible difference” now that the works have started, but that it is only the beginning. “You can't really gauge the level of damage through photographs,” he continues, but he has faith in the town's rebirth because of its university, which “will continue to attract young people”.

The amount of damage to the town's historic centre and the surrounding area is so vast that works are expected to carry on at least until 2021. Restoration will involve around 485 separate sites and will cost an estimated €525m.

The Russian government has donated €7.2m for the restoration of the Palazzo Ardinghelli
More from The Art Newspaper


7 Apr 14
15:28 CET


How much is it going to cost to replace everything?

14 Oct 13
15:45 CET


Nice that one "adores the charm" of these thousand-year-old buildings. People, for the most part, do not live in them, and it's possible to provide safe shelters within each. As for residences, these are to be rebuilt to code, which is far cheaper than providing new foundations and new buildings placed off the promontory on which Aquila stands, a comparatively stable base, which is why the ancients put it there. It would be like rebuilding New Orleans in the swamps around it rather than the higher ground the French explorers chose. Aquila had survived hundreds of earthquakes, but this was, indeed, the worst.

25 Jun 13
16:14 CET


while i admire the charm of these very old brick and stone buildings in L'Aquila one has to wonder about their suitability in such a seismically active area. perhaps building a new town to house the former residents is the responsible response? taking politics out of the equation and taking advice from engineers and scientists will help to prevent further loss of life.

8 Apr 13
1:40 CET


Can anyone tell me how many people are still homeless? Quanti personi resti in le tende? I did relief work with i scout shortly after the earthquake in the camps and it was completely heartbreaking. I want to know how many people are still living this way. Walking through the main city and viewing the keys attached to the railings is still one of the most poignant sights I have ever witnessed...

5 Apr 13
15:37 CET


I'm pretty sure that rebuilding work has not started on Santa Maria Paganica...

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this