On 11th October 1458 and again on 9th May 1464, the city of L'Aquila petitioned King Ferdinand of Aragon to open a Studium equivalent to those in Bologna, Siena and Perugia. Shortly before, the town had withdrawn support for the last of the Angevin and surrendered to the Spanish sovereign. The King granted this request, but there is no documentary evidence to suggest that the city authorities opened the Studium. On the other hand records do show that both before and after the date of the petition, citizens of L'Aquila (Fra' Giovanni da Capestrano, for example, and Berardino di Ludovico, nephew to the chronicler Francesco d'Angeluccio di Bazzano, who took a degree in 1474) went to study civil and canon law at the Studium in Perugia.
During the last years of the late 16th century, from 1596 on, the Jesuits were providing higher instruction at their college in L'Aquila. When, by a decree of 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the Kingdom, the Aquilanum Collegium became the Collegio Reale. To the chairs of theology, philosophy and history, mathematics, literature and Greek were added, in 1785, those of sciences such as chemistry, anatomy and the theory and practice of medicine, and in 1792 surgery and midwifery. But when, by the decree of 30th May 1807, Joseph Napoleon reorganized all the Royal Colleges, he suppressed the one in L'Aquila and opened one at the monastery of the Holy Spirit of Morrone, near Sulmona.
Seven years later, on 21st August 1814, a school of higher instruction for the whole Abruzzi area, with university level teaching in medicine, was inaugurated in L'Aquila by Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law. Immediately after the Restoration, by a decree on 14th January 1817, King Ferdinand settled that in L'Aquila, as in Bari, Salerno and Catanzaro, a Reale Liceo be opened, teaching law, anatomy and physiology, surgery and midwifery, chemistry and pharmaceutical studies as well as forensic medicine and various scientific subjects. By a decree of 3rd December 1874 the students of the L'Aquila Reale Liceo were recognised as qualified to practise pharmacy, surgery and land-surveying, but degrees were conferred by the University of Naples, upon which the Licei were dependant. As a result of this decree, the number of students attending the school in L'Aquila, which in 1861 had become the Scuola Universitaria di Farmacia, Notariato e Chirurgia minore, dropped considerably.
In 1923 the "University Schools" ceased to exist. It was not until the summer of 1949 that, due to the efforts of Vincenzo Rivera, professor of agricultural science, fellow of the Accademia Italiana, member of the Costituente and several-time member of Parliament, summer courses at university level were started in L'Aquila mainly for the benefit of Abruzzi students enrolled at the University of Rome. The success enjoyed by these courses formed the foundation for a free University of L'Aquila, and, thanks to support from local bodies, on 15th December 1952 teaching was inaugurated at the Istituto Universitario di Magistero. It was also thanks to Professor Rivera that an astronomical observatory was established at Campo Imperatore on the Gran Sasso, at 2200 above sea level, as well as the observatory and high altitude botanical gardens, the geo-dynamics observatory, the national magnetism observatory and the museum of paleontology. The creation of an institute of medicine is due to the efforts of Professor Paride Stefanini.
In the academic year 1982-83 the Faculties of Education, Medicine, Engineering and Sciences, which had until that time constituted the free University of L'Aquila (established by a decree of the President of the Republic of 18th August 1964), became state institutions. In 1991 the Faculty of Economics was added and in 1993 the Faculty of Education became the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy. The late 1990s saw the addition of two new faculties: Educational Sciences in 1996 and Sport Sciences in 1999. In 2005 the Faculty of Psychology and the Faculty of Biotechnologies were established.
Research activities were coordinated by 18 Departments (Architecture and urban planning, Basic and applied biology, Biomedical sciences and technologies, Chemistry, chemical engineering and materials, Comparative cultural studies, Computer science, Electrical and information engineering, Engineering for mechanics, energy and management, Environmental sciences, Experimental medicine, Health sciences, History and comparative methodologies, Internal medicine and public health, Physics, Pure and applied mathematics, Structural, water, and geotechnical engineering, Surgery, Systems and institutions for the economy).
Since Act n. 240 dated 30th December 2010 came into force and the new University Statute was drawn up, the University of L'Aquila has restructured it's teaching and research facilities, opening in 2012 seven new Departments which promote, coordinate, organize and carry out research and academic teaching: Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences, Department of Civil, Construction-Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Department of Human Studies, Department of Industrial and Information Engineering and Economics, Department of Information Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics, Department of Life, Health and Environmental Sciences, Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences.
The University of L'Aquila is responsible for running the Alpine Botanical Garden situated near the cableway on the Gran Sasso, which extends for 3000 sq metres and conserves plant life from the Gran Sasso, endemic central Apennine plant life, primitive alpine plants, plants originating from the Eastern Balkans and medicinal plants.
Research and teaching in Physics benefit from its associations with the underground nuclear physics Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS). There in the 1980s the National Institute for Nuclear Physics built beside the motorway tunnel through the Gran Sasso laboratories, where, protected by 1400 metres of rock, research in astrophysics, cosmology, nuclear physics and geophysics is carried out.
Professors and researchers of the University of L’Aquila have established links with the Gran Sasso Science Institute, an international PhD school and a center for advanced studies in physics, mathematics, computer science and social sciences located in L’Aquila.
The departments of the University of L'Aquila have also established links with research centres all over the world. Many are the research projects involving collaboration with high technology industries, such as for the world market Dompé Farmaceutici, a prominent company which has set up a firm and research centre in L’Aquila.
The devastating earthquake that hit L’Aquila on 6th April 2009 also brought death and destruction to the University of L’Aquila. In the aftermath of this tragic event our students, academic staff and technical-administrative immediately revealed their unyielding determination and pride in reclaiming the mission that they carry out with renowned capability and dedication.