Spanish Fortress: the castle of L’Aquila
The Spanish Fortress of L’Aquila know as “il Castello” by the Aquilans, is one of the most impressive Renaissance castle in Central/Southern Italy and was built in the 16th century, when the city had become the second most powerful city in the Kingdom after Naples. In 1528, to punish the citizens for their rebellion, Viceroy Filiberto of Orange ordered to build a fortress in the highest spot North of the city, according to the project of a renowded Spanish architect, Don Pirro Aloisio Escriva, also a great expert of firearms. The Fortress cost an enormous sum for the times, and L’Aquila was obliged to sell also the thick silver case containing the body of St. Bernardine from Siena. Escriva planned a giant fortress very state-of-the-art, made of four bastions connected through mighty walls, with walls surmounted by massive merlons, with openings for the archers and the long-distance cannons. All around the fortress was a ditch (never filled with water) 23 meters wide and 14 meters deep, aimed at defending the foundations from the enemy’s artillery. The fortress was built with a slanted walls would reject enemy fire to the sides, and each bastion consisted of two separate and completely self-sufficient environments called “case matte”, almost independent. Also the aqueduct to the city was deviated so as to supply the fortress first of all.
Moreover, the architect planned a special anti-mine corridor, an empty space between the outer and inner walls which could be walked only by one man at a time, aiming at defending the castle in case of explosion if enemy soldiers excavated tunnels to put mines at the foundations. For the construction, a whole hill was leveled down to supply the white stone necessary for the fortress, while the city’s bells were melted to make the cannons. The Fortress had been built not to defend the city, but to control it (in fact the major part of the cannons were pointed to the city) and was never used in a battles. Its cannons, always ready to fire, were silent throughout the centuries. Between 1949 and 1951 the castle was restored, and still today is the seat of the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo.
But of course, now also some curious fact about this site. True or false, i don’t know. For centuries, these mighty and imperturbable walls have been the graves of soldiers of the garrison, their families, but also robbers, enemies, children. The fortress witnessed the brutality desired by the time and ignorance, and swallowed in its basements, as usual, the bodies that no longer served, or people that were to be hidden. It seems that it hid them until the last century, when a soldier, probably in search of treasure, stumbled in one of the most terrifying discoveries of his life. It was 1902, and he found dozens of mummified bodies, preserved in excellent condition thanks to ventilation and climatic conditions , stacked in the most disturbing positions, lying down, standing, some even seated, probably moved not yet in rigor mortis.
It’s said that the spirits of people dying of violent death remain imprisoned on earth, and for four centuries the walls of the fortress of L’Aquila have guarded the dismay, the fear, the suffering, the victims of the plague, and the mass extermination evidences. It’s probably that a woman accused of witchcraft could still wandering through the same corridors behind which they have walled her alive, in the middle of the Renaissance, or a soldier could still seeks justice or simply the truth!
Until the end the fortress has refused the attempts to know the past of the people it has hidden, and even if the parish register of the church of Santa Barbara, inside the Fortress, has documented most of the dead, no one will ever know their stories, their misfortunes, their past. All the bodies found are kept in an Ossuary, but their steps still echo in the Castle, now more than ever silent because it was closed since 2009, the year of terrible earthquake which struck the city.