A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Assisi is a magical and unique historical town. Birthplace to St. Francis and St. Chiara, Assisi is not only home to sites of great religious importance, but also to a great artistic, architectural and historical patrimony that are a must see at least once in a lifetime.

he poet, writer and critic, as well as the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1906, Giosuè Carducci, wrote:

I was in Assisi. What a wonderful place. What a wonderful town and sanctuary for those who see nature and art in harmony with history, with creativity, with what man is most fond of. I dare say I might compose two or three poems on Assisi and St. Francis.

Worth a visit

Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

We suggest you start your visit with the famous Basilica of St. Francis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and burial place of St. Francis since 1230.

According to tradition, Francis himself chose his burial place.

Shortly after his death, his successor, Friar Elia, was donated the so-called Collis Inferni (The Hill of Hell), the very piece of land where the Basilica stands today and former burial place to criminals and convicts. Donated by Simone di Pucciarello, this hill was renamed Collis Paradisi (The Hill of Heaven), and it was on this hill that the new Basilica, made up of two pre-existing churches from two different periods, would be built.

The lower Basilica was already completed in 1230 when the remains of St. Francis were finally moved there, but Pope Innocent IV only consecrated it on May 25th 1253.

According to tradition, the remains had to be hidden in this period to protect them from thieves.

In 1232, the decision was made to construct two churches, one on top of the other, of enormous scale to glorify the Saint and founder of the Franciscans. The Lower Basilica is in the Umbrian Romanesque style, while the Upper Basilica is in the Gothic style with a French influence. Both churches boast the most divine decor, medieval glass windows and frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and many others from Italy and Europe.

Temple of Minerva – Church of Saint Mary above Minerva and the Torre del Popolo

The Temple of Minerva, an ancient temple probably dedicated to Hercules, is in Piazza del Comune. Constructed in 30 BC by will of Pope Paul III, it was transformed into the Church of Saint Mary above Minerva in 1539 and includes the Torre del Popolo.

The six stunning external columns and facade are entirely intact and preserved. The internal decor dates back to the 17th and 18th Centuries. The church was raised and elongated; its ceiling frescoes and its two alters restored. During more recent restoration work, remains of the ancient Roman floor of the former Roman temple, as well as a sturdy support wall were found.

The Temple of Minerva would appear to be one of the best preserved ancient Roman temples.

Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, Priory palace and the Fountain of the Three Lions

Upon leaving the Temple of Minerva in Piazza del Comune, you’ll find the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, the Priory Palace and the Fountain of the Three Lions. This is Assis’s main square and one of the most representative medieval and Umbrian urban developments.

In 1275, Town Hall bought some of the houses beside the Torre del Popolo to build the new headquarters for the Captain’s Judiciary. In 1282 when everything had been completed, Captain Guido de’ Rossi of Florence had his family coat of arms engraved between two shields holding the cross, symbol of the town.

In 1337 the Priory bought a house on the square where they constructed the vault that rests on the Palazzo del Popolo. The building was reconstructed during the reign of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). It is comprised of a vast underground area that dates back to Roman times, an exterior gallery on the ground floor that hosted the Mount of Piety, founded in 1468, and then the first floor of the building where the Priory themselves lived. In 1860, when Italy was unified, the historical Priory Palace was converted into the new administrative office of Town Hall.

With the square at your back, you’ll find the 16th Century Fountain of the Three Lions. The lower basin is divided in 9 parts and is decorated with three evocative lions that recall the three main urban districts. In the centre of the fountain, you can admire a baluster with a pinecone.

Assisi Cathedral dedicated to Saint Rufino

Continuing on with our itinerary, we come to Assisi’s Cathedral dedicated to St. Rufino. It was first constructed in the 8th Century and later reconstructed in the year 1000.

It’s believed to have been built on the ancient Roman Forum of Asisium and the same area where the Temple of the Bona Mater (or Ceres) once stood.

The Cathedral is in the Umbrian Romanesque style with three rose windows and three gates. During the renaissance period, the interior was heavily redecorated. One of the few original elements is the baptismal font, said to be the same font used to baptise St. Francis and St. Clare. The bell tower is also part of the original structure.

The Cathedral is an important place of pilgrimage thanks to the life stories of both St. Francis and St. Clare.

The Fountain of the Six Lions or the Fountain of St. Rufino

Beside the Cathedral, in Piazza San Rufino, you can find the Fountain of the Six Lions, also called the Fountain of St. Rufino. Constructed in 1532 by means of Papal Governor, Virgilio de Bernardi, visitors can admire water gushing from each of the six lions’ mouths.

The Rocca Maggiore Fortress

If you have time to spare, it’s worth taking a walk up to the Rocca Maggiore Fortress from the Cathedral of San Rufino. We didn’t include it in the visit as it was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The structure itself is medieval and was constructed in 1365 by Cardinal Egidio Albornoz. It has been expanded several times with the addition of bastions. However, it was later destroyed after the unification of Italy (1859). Inside the beautiful rooms of the Fortress are several reconstructions of what medieval life would have looked like.

The Basilica of St. Clare

The Basilica of Saint Clare was constructed between 1257 and 1265 in the Gothic style and following the Franciscan model.

The crucifix that is said to have spoken to St. Francis is preserved here.

In the crypt, one can find the monumental sarcophagus containing the bones of St. Clare, who at the age of 18, dazzled by the teaching of St. Francis, fled her rich family to join the very first members of the Order at the small church f St. Mary of the Angels in Porziuncola.

The monumental cloistered convent of St. Clare is beside the Basilica (not open to visitors due to seclusion).

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The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Porziuncola

Outside the ancient town walls and 4km from the town centre, is the majestic and breath-taking Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. Constructed between 1565 and 1685, it is the seventh largest Christian church in the world.

Inside one can still find the small Porziuncola church (built upon a small piece of land donated to Francis and his followers by the Benedictines) and the Cappella del Transito (or Chapel of Transition) where St. Francis died on October 4th 1226.

Outside, you can visit the Rose Garden Without Thorns and the Chapel of the Rose Garden. The Basilica Museum is in the convent, where visitors can see important works such as a wooden crucifix by Giunta Pisano (1236-40) and the St. Francis Panel by the so-called Master of St. Francis (Maestro di San Francesco) in the second half of the 13th Century.

Routes to visit Assisi on foot

Upon arrival to Assisi, there is the very convenient ‘Saba Giovanni Paolo II’ car park on Viale Guglielmo Marconi, Piazza Giovanni II (06081 Assisi PG). From here, you can set off on foot towards the town.

Assisi la città conosciuta nel mondo come simbolo della Pace Italia tragitto a piedi in giro in giro blog
Route on foot to visit Assisi – click here to open Google Maps
Assisi la città conosciuta nel mondo come simbolo della Pace Italia tragitto in macchina in giro in giro blog
Route by car from the car park to the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi
Assisi la città conosciuta nel mondo come simbolo della Pace Italia tragitto a piedi esterno in giro in giro blog
Route on foot from the car park to the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi

What to eat

Make sure to try:

  • St Francis’ bread and St. Clare’s cake, both typical to the area, prepared according to the tradition and easy to find;
  • if you are in Assisi around Christmas time, we suggest you try the Artisanal spelt Panettone with dried peaches and raisins. Spelt is very typical in this area, so you are sure to find it;
  • Umbricelli, a typical pasta similar to spaghetti, but bigger. This pasta is typically served with tomato sauce, bacon and grated pecorino cheese;
  • truffle Stringozzi, an irregular type of pasta, not unlike the shape of your shoelaces that is often served with the very select and precious black truffle.

You can be sure that during your visit to Assisi, the words of St. Francis will help you to re-energise your soul:

“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Should you have another day to spare, don’t miss the nearby cities of Gubbio, the town of “fools”, holding the record for the largest Christmas tree in the world and Best things to do in the town of Baci Perugina®, another two unforgettable gems in Umbria.

Ciao da Cris e Marco del blog in giro in giro

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