Assisi, the native town of St. Francis where art, religion, history meet and where the Middle Ages seem to come alive
Assisi, is a small Medieval town, a real pearl located in the province of Perugia, in Umbria, the region which is known as the heart of Italy. It was born as a Roman city with the name of Asisium and it became an independent municipality during the Middle Age. Later, it underwent different dominions until it became a papal city in the sixteenth century. Also, Assisi is the hometown of St. Francis, who founded the Franciscan religious order here, in 1208, and St. Clare, two very important characters of Christianity.
Assisi boasts beautiful churches, buildings, artworks and an original Medieval urban structure so it is one of those "must-see" destinations in Italy you definitely should not miss.
Let's start visiting first Basilica of St. Francis (pic n°1), the symbol of the city. Built in 1228 in order to preserve the saint's relics, today this Basilica is the destination of thousands of pilgrims every year. Art enthusiasts will love this church which is divided into two parts, the Lower and the Upper Basilica, each of them boasting some magnificent artistic treasures in their interiors. The early Gothic-style Upper Basilica preserves one of the most important cycles of 28 frescoes probably by Giotto, depicting the life of St. Francis, as well as other wonderful frescoes by Cimabue while in the Romanesque-Umbro-style Lower Basilica (pic n°2), built in the 13th century, you can visit some stunning frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue, Lorenzetti and Martini dating back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the crypt is preserved the relics of St. Francis that, despite the 1997 earthquake destroyed some of the paintings, is still intact.
Walking along Via San Francesco, you will reach the beautiful Piazza del Comune (pic n°6), which is home to some remarkable buildings: the Roman-age Temple of Minerva, which hosts a Baroque church, the thirteenth-century Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, with the adjacent Torre del Capitano, and Palazzo dei Priori, a fourteenth-century palace with battlements and some beautiful halls inside, such as Sala degli Stemmi. If you want to jump from the Middle-Ages atmosphere of the square to the Roman age, pay a visit to the Roman Forum and the Archeological Museum, which lie just beneath Piazza del Comune.
Once outdoor again, you can visit the Cathedral of San Rufino (pic n°3) (saint patron of the city), the Romanesque-style main church of Assisi. The beautiful artworks in its interiors date back to the sixteenth century. Inside, you can also find the ancient font where both St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized.
Basilica of St. Clare (pic n°4), another milestone of the city, is just located not far from here. It was built between 1257 and 1265, following the Gothic style and featuring a single nave and three arches on each side. This church, whose façade is decorated with stripes made of white and pink stone, preserves the relics of the saint who founded the "Order of Poor Ladies" (turned into Poor Clares after her death).
Also, we suggest visiting Church Nuova, built in the seventeenth century on the former St. Francis' home, or Parrocchia di Santa Maria Maggiore and Church of San Lorenzo.
But Assisi is not just about religion: another landmark of the city is Rocca Maggiore (pic n°5), located on the highest point of Assisi and built in the fourteenth century as a fortification to protect the historical city center.
Another attraction to visit is the Roman Amphitheater, nearby Porta Perlici, one of the city's gates. Finally, you can visit "Eremo delle Carceri", where St. Francis used to pray. Apart from the religious meaning, it is located 790 meters above sea level, therefore, it is a perfect place to enjoy a breathtaking view!
As we have already mentioned, Assisi has an amazing urban structure. The town is made of hundreds of narrow streets and alleys, staircases with flowers on the sides, picturesque corners, hidden treasures, small shops where to buy the local products. So, do not miss a random wander around the historic center of Assisi!
Some pictures of Assisi:
Basilica of St. Francis (pic n°1); Lower Basilica, Basilica of St. Francis, Interior (pic n°2); Cathedral of San Rufino (pic n°3); Basilica of St. Clare (pic n°4); Rocca Maggiore (pic n°5); Piazza del Comune (pic n°6);