In spite of the permanent sense of cold that seems to permeate L’Aquila, the regional capital of Abruzzo has many places worth a visit. One of the best of these must be the National Museum of Abruzzo, housed in the magnificently imposing Forte or Castello Spagnolo, a 16th century fortress which dominates the historic centre of L’Aquila, a vast walled bastion surrounded by pines interweaved by joggers and dog walkers.
The National Museum of Abruzzo was established in the fortress shortly after restoration on the building was carried out, in the 1950s, and has continued to develope ever since. Spread over three floors open to the public, it contains an eclectic but fascinating collection of things, chief of which has to be (for us anyway) the “Archidiskon meridionalis”, a monumental skeletal recreation born from the excellently restored remains of a prehistoric elephant (not quite woolly mammoth but close!) found in 1954 at Scoppito, near L’Aquila. Standing at 4.5 meters high, and nearly 7 meters long, with fearsome swooping tusks, the near-mammoth looms over you and you can almost feel the awe & terror that must have thrilled our ancestors of over 10,000 years ago…the flailing tusks, trumpeted screams and huge stamping feet!
Running breathless & spearless next door, you are thankfully faced with a far more tranquilising atmosphere. This room holds a selection of works by Sicilian sculptor Emilio Greco (1913-1995), displaying examples of his busts & life-size studies in bronze,for which he was chiefly renowned, elegant forms, with a possible satirical nod to sculptures of the classical period. However, the exhibition also includes examples of Emilio Greco’s drawings, where he uses subtle hatching to express form, with little or no contour. There are two rooms, and it is well worth taking time to slowly examine all the delicate works on display.
The following room on this floor contains the museum’s 19th century art section, another couple of rooms, with some splendid examples of astute aquisitions, chief of which for us were I morticelli (1880) by Francesco Paolo Michetti and La lavandaia (1888) by Pasquale Celommi. The former is a wide study of a funeral procession for two young children, with blue sea & sky in the background, finely detailed and powerful in mood; the latter depicts a young, smiling woman seemingly and implausibly enjoying washing clothes in a bucket, lovely colours again.
The National Museum of Abruzzo also contains an impressive selection on numismatics, from the 4th century BC through to the dawn of the Risorgimento, and a fine collection of archaeological finds such as weapons, ornaments, domestic objects as well as ancient religious & funerary reliefs.
Upstairs is an amazing silk-painted standard featuring L’Aquila held up by the city’s four patron saints (I think), with the Imperial eagle above. This leads onto a long chamber with a huge number of religiously inspired works of art from Abruzzo or Abruzzese artists, including magnificent triptychs heightened in gilt, remarkable wooden sculptures and a wide array of sacred art with all the classic Christian scenes visited. Subsequent side-rooms lead to sections displaying textiles, reliquaries, religious costume and props, including remarkable examples of silver-work & gold-work. Somewhat overwhelming, and not to everyone’s taste perhaps, but a remarkable collection overall.
The fortress itself is remarkable, and tours are available. It is surrounded by huge grassy ditches, never apparently moats but certainly capable of conversion. These are traversed by a single stone bridge which leads to the entrance of the museum.
Open Tuesday-Sunday 08.30-19.30 (closed New Year’s Day, Labor Day [May 1] & Christmas Day)
Entrance Cost: Adult – 4 euros
Under 26 – 2 euros
Under 19 – Free
Address: Museo Nazionale D’Abruzzo, Via Benedetto Croce 1, I-67100 L’Aquila
Tel: 0862 633400