Destruction from the devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck northern Abruzzo in 2009 was severe: 309 people died in the regional capital L'Aquila; the city centre, famed for its university, elegant squares and historic palazzi (mansions), was partially destroyed; and 65,000 residents were evacuated to camps on the edge of the city. In one of his all-time crass gaffes, then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi instructed residents to enjoy their 'camping weekend'.
Controversy continued in 2012 when six scientists and an official were convicted of multiple counts of manslaughter for failing to warn residents of the quake risk. And in 2013 three builders and a technician were also found guilty of manslaughter charges for neglecting to properly maintain a student residence in which eight people died.
Several years on from the quake, L'Aquila's centro storico (historic centre) resembles a giant construction site. Nearly two-thirds of the displaced residents have returned to their homes, and the rest are housed in temporary antiseismic residences on the edge of town. Efforts are focusing on restoring historic buildings, and an attempt to imbue the centre with new life by opening bars and restaurants. But, with Italy in deep recession, progress in L'Aquila is frustratingly slow for the inhabitants, and there is little to draw in casual visitors.
Abruzzo and neighbouring Molise are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes as they sit on a major fault line that follows the Apennines from Sicily up to Genoa.