e-rph 20, jun. 17 | ISSN 1988-7213 | revista semestral
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e-rph nº 20, junio 2017
Intervención | Experiencias
Terremotos y reconstrucción. Proyectos y experiencias de Italia | Lucia Serafini


2.- The main earthquake of L’Aquila

The main earthquake in 2009 had major repercussions for the entire region and not only its epicentre, located near Onna (a village located in the middle of the Aterno Valley, some ten kilometres from L’Aquila). Of the four provinces of Abruzzo, only Chieti escaped the seismic crater: 42 urban centres were hit by the earthquake in the province of L’Aquila, eight in Teramo, and seven in Pescara, for a total of 57, including the regional capital.

As already mentioned, these are towns and villages that have lost their identity over the ages due to the emigration process during the Post-WWII period which led to the neglect and deterioration of historic buildings.

L’Aquila was also affected by emigration. But while, with its wealth of history and monuments, it was able to make up for its lost inhabitants by adopting an institutional and university role, other towns and villages have been cut off from the rest of the region and from all of Italy over the past half century and almost totally forgotten. The number of residents has declined to just a few hundred or even a few dozen, especially in the ancient villages. The resulting desertification proffered a vulnerable platter of ancient buildings already made fragile by neglect, a lack of upkeep and previous wounds that were never healed or were hastily patched over. There are many cases of houses collapsing because the reinforced concrete pillars and beams installed to strengthen them and/or increase space for new purposes, actually punctured and tore the ancient walls apart.

Most of the areas struck by the earthquake were densely populated, clinging to the mountain sides on which they were built and to Abruzzo’s unique geomorphological makeup, which is mainly mountainous except for a narrow coastal strip extending from the border with Marche in the north to the Molise in the south. They are often true “fortified villages” surrounded by walls.

Ilustración 01. Figura 1. Castel di Ieri (L’Aquila), 2011 (L. Serafini).

The villages’ compact nature is due to their construction on mountain slopes. Homes—each generally measuring only about 20-30 square metres—nestle against each other to form continuous lines, with openings only on their street side. The result is a dense hive where individual elements are lost in an overall organism with unified strength: a sort of latticework with a checkerboard of cells that work together to minimise efforts.

Ilustración 02. Figura 2. Ofena (L’Aquila) 2011 (Google Earth).

Centuries of experience with earthquakes, and the need to tackle them using increasingly refined contrivances, have produced architectures in these areas that are marked strongly by a mishmash of construction types that still constitute one of their unique characteristics, despite all the transformations they have undergone. They include walls that are scarped sometimes all the way to the roof, especially in homes on the edges of the historic centres, so-called “case muraglia” (“wall houses”) or “a muro di fortezza” (“with fortress walls”), some buildings four or five storeys tall and often with wooden “reinforcements” in the walls.

Ilustración 03. Figura 3. Wooden “reinforcements” (L. Serafini).

Ilustración 04. Figura 4. Wooden “reinforcements” (L. Serafini).

Above all, there are the “street arches”: veritable technical features designed to withstand earthquakes, punctual structures connecting facing buildings, or, more often and more effectively, forming veritable tunnels over the streets to provide mutual resistance for the rows of buildings. It is certainly these adaptations that guaranteed a primarily box-like behaviour in the structures during the earthquakes, with collapses almost never due to tumbling walls, but almost always to cutting actions. These were sometimes accompanied with collapsing attics and roofs, especially when they had been weakened by the insertion of chimneys that imploded inside buildings that still appeared whole from the outside.

Ilustración 05. Figura 5. “Street arches” (L. Serafini).

The phenomenon of neglect and the priority given after WWII (or after earthquakes) to less impervious sites and more comfortable houses—including because of the traditional Abruzzo attitude that ancient town centres are slums to escape from—resulted in many urban and construction layouts in many areas remaining virtually unchanged until relatively recent times (Galadini 2016, pp. 69-114).

While ancient centres were bordered by the circle of wall houses, 19th and 20th century expansions moved further and further downhill, and obviously have completely different layouts and identities, also due to morphological circumstances that allowed a less compact and enclosed layout. The separation of the ancient centres from the “modern neighbourhoods” and the basic preservation of their layout mean that they must also be considered monuments in their own right. Their main value lies in their clustered nature, since the “tight weave” of the houses and streets reduces the separation between the parts to the extreme. In with this cluster-like layout are valuable structures that always contrast with the fabric of buildings. They also lack any significant stylistic and formal expression but are nevertheless dignified and worthy of protection and attention. One need only think of our rich heritage of churches and palaces present in every town and city, that despite the damage they have suffered, and often precisely because of it, clearly display evidence of the many reconstruction programmes.

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Universidad de Granada
Departamento de Historia del Arte
Observatorio del Patrimonio Histórico Español
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