The third powerful earthquake to hit Italy in two months has spared human life but struck at the nation's identity, destroying a Benedictine cathedral, a medieval tower and other beloved landmarks that had survived the earlier jolts across a mountainous region of small historic towns.
Lost or severely damaged were ancient Roman walls, Gothic and Baroque churches and centuries-old paintings crushed beneath tonnes of brick, sandstone and marble.
Nuns walk next a partially collapsed wall following the earthquake in Norcia (Reuters)
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said the nation's "soul is disturbed" by the series of quakes, starting with the deadly August 24 shaking that killed nearly 300 people, two back-to-back temblors on October 26, and the biggest of them all, a 6.6-magnitude quake that shook people out of bed on Sunday morning. It was the strongest quake to hit Italy in 36 years.
There were no reports of fatalities - a fact that experts attributed to the evacuation of sensitive areas and fragile city centres.
Mr Renzi vowed to rebuild houses, churches and business, saying: "a piece of Italian identity is at stake at this moment."
"Feeling the earth collapse beneath your feet is not a metaphorical expression but is what happened this morning, and half of Italy felt this," Mr Renzi said.
The quake struck another painful blow to Italy's rich artistic heritage in the communities that dot the Apennine Mountains.
Rubble being cleaned up following the earthquake in the main square of Norcia (Reuters)
The worst damage was reported in Norcia, a town in Umbria closest to the epicentre. Two churches were destroyed - the 14th century Basilica of St Benedict and the Cathedral of St Mary Argentea, known for its 15th century frescoes.
Amatrice, the town that bore the brunt of destruction on August 24, sustained blows to treasures that had withstood the quakes of the past weeks.
The community's medieval bell tower stood tall amid the rubble after the August quake, becoming a symbol of hope and resilience for the stricken population. But the latest shaking partially collapsed it. The 15th century Church of Sant'Agostino also collapsed.
The quake was felt as far north as Salzburg, Austria, and all the way down the Italian peninsula to the Puglia region, the heel of the boot. In Rome, some 150 kilometres away, people rushed into the streets in their pyjamas.
Seismologists said the shaking came from a series of faults in the Apennines, and they could not rule out more, possibly stronger quakes in the near future.