Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Earthquake hits medieval Italian city of L'Aquila

At least 200 people have people have killed and more than 1500 injured in the Abruzzo region of Italy after an earthquake struck near the city of L'Aquila. The earthquake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, and has left nearly all medieval monuments in L'Aquila damaged. The bell tower of the Basilica of San Bernardino has collapsed and its apse was seriously damaged. The church of Anime Sante in Piazza Duomo no longer has a dome. The Cathedral of L'Aquila was not damaged. There are also reports on damage to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Collemaggio.

In L’Aquila, the regional capital, the earthquake caused “significant damage to monuments,” said Giuseppe Proietti, secretary general of the Italian Culture Ministry. The rear part of the apse of the Romanesque basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, much of which was restored in the 20th century, collapsed and cupolas in at least two churches in the historic center had cracked open. The Basilica, with its famed pink-and-white jewel-box fa├žade, was the site of the coronation of Pope Celestine V in 1294 and thousands of pilgrims still flock there each year.

The third floor of the 16th-century castle that houses the National Museum of Abruzzo was also affected by the quake, though officials have not been able to verify the damage to the art collection there.

Created in 1950, the Museum unified the collections of the civic and diocesan museums as well as a private collection of paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries and includes a beautifully preserved fossilised skeleton of a prehistoric elephant found near the town in the 1950s.

The castle suffered a collapse on its third floor and is too dangerous to enter, according to Proietti. "The store rooms where damaged works are kept safe are also in areas that have collapsed or unstable," said Proietti, who added that he was gathering a team of heritage experts from other regions to help salvage the works.

The Porta Napoli, the oldest and most beautiful gate to the city built in 1548 in honour of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was destroyed in the quake.

“The situation is very serious,” but findings are at a preliminary stage, Mr. Proietti said. He added that only after firefighters and civil protection teams had concluded their rescue efforts and search for survivors would the state’s art officials be allowed to enter into the rubble-strewn cities to calculate the material losses to Abruzzo’s cultural heritage.

“Right now, getting around is impossible,” he said in a telephone interview.

Monday’s earthquake was not the first to strike the central Italian city. In 1703, a quake destroyed much of the medieval historic center, which was then rebuilt in the Baroque style, according to Alessandro Clementi, who has written several books on the history of L’Aquila, which was founded in the 13th century and had its moment of greatest socioeconomic importance in the Renaissance.

Throughout the region of Abruzzo there are reports of severe damage in several towns and cities, including:

Santo Stefano di Sessanio: the quake brought down the medieval stone Medicean tower, the symbol of the fortified hillside village.

Celano: The main altar of the Baroque Sant'Angelo Church collapsed in this town, the seat of feudal lords who ruled the Abruzzo and Molise regions in the Middle Ages.

Teramo: The quake badly damaged the facade of the church of Sant'Agostino, shifted a bell tower at the convent of San Domenico and brought down the ceiling of the church of Poggio Cono.

Paganica: The baroque church of Santa Maria Assunta in this suburb of L'Aquila was badly damaged, with chunks missing from the pale yellow structure and cracks running through it.

Loreta Apruntino: The quake brought down the bell tower on the church of St. Francis.

Goriano Sicoli: The tremblor badly damaged the facade of the Saint Gemma church, and also destroyed an elementary school.