The prisons

The castle as a place of detention: il “calabozo”
Cancer non ad poenam sed ad custodiam inventus est  (1): the ancient formula of Roman rights, according to which a prison is not destined to punish, but exclusively to guard the guilty parties, is still completely existent in the Modern Era. In the 16th and 17th centuries the prison occupied an absolutely marginal position in the penal system, which was characterized above all by bodily punishments: death, amputations, floggings, la “servitù del remo” (the servitude of the remus oars) in the jails.
(2) Since imprisonment was intended above all as a preventive custody, needed to prevent the guilty party from evading the verdict by escaping, it was completely natural to use military buildings as detentions.
Isolation from the fabric of the city, the difficulty to approach it, the continuous presence of armed guards rendered the castles and fortresses places of reclusion particularly indicated for severe custody and complete segregation: for this reason they were generally reserved for those guilty of state crimes or however people who were suspects, also in the absence of significant probatory outline  of a seriously prejudicial activity of the order of the interrogation of the accused.
(3) Since its origins, the use as a prison in the Castello dell’Aquila was parallel to the military use, also due to the repressive and intimidating connotations which characterized the vissitudes of the building.
(4)  The prisioners’ lodgings were on the ground floor, near the east corner of the internal courtyard.
 Infact in an 1870 plan, now preserved at Istituto Storico e di Cultura dell’Arma del Genio, the first three rooms in the northeast part of the building bear the sign: “prigioni” (prisons).
(5) Several documents confirm the location of the prison, often indicated with the Spanish term “calabozo”, near the east corner of the courtyard.
(6) However an underground “calabozo” (dungeon) certainly existed since its origins, which is not mentioned in any documents in our possession: it is a secret, gloomy and dark prison, on the extrados of the vault which covers the access ramp to the inferior casemate of the east bastion.
(7) On the low barrel vault of the cell there are still well-visible inscriptions traced with carbon or graphite by the prisoners in the course of two centuries.
The vault, carried out with a casting technique, is covered by a layer of cement mortar which looks like plaster.
The marks of the boards of the formwork which divide it into numerous rectangular surfaces are recognizable. They were used as writing lines by the prisoners. In order to trace the inscriptions, carbon, candle smoke, several kinds of sharp objects, perhaps nails or wood chips, were used: infact the graffiti present differences in deepness and thickness.
Most of the inscriptions refer to the prisoner’s name and date. Any reference to judicial or human events are rare, as are the religiuos symbols and maxims.