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Assisi, in Saint Francis' footsteps

by Dario Morgante last modified 2008-06-20 15:10

Natural beauty, history and mysticism come together in this important centre of spiritual tourism.

Around the 5th and 6th centuries, the presence of natural caves in some remote parts of Umbria, , made them the ideal spiritual retreat for hermits who came from all over Italy in search of peace, safety and tranquillity. They dedicated their lives to prayer, undergoing great physical hardship and self-denial. Their sacrifices and faith inspired Saint Francis of Assisi.

assisiIn this season of Lent we have decided to visit his birthplace,Assisi, renowned both for its extraordinary beauty and its meditative, almost spiritual landscape.

Umbria - a journey through Renaissance art

Looking up at Assisi from the valley you can see its pink and white stone houses shimmering among the more familiar landmarks. Further down the road, the Roman town of Spello is a pleasure to visit. A quick stop in Foligno, affords, on a clear day, views of the charming hill town of Trevi where you can visit Roman ruins as well as Mediaeval and Renaissance monuments. For more information go to or , Umbria's tourism portal.

Assisi is one of Umbria's most important tourist destinations. A world-famous place of pilgrimage, Assisi boasts a remarkable collection of works of art. The Basilica, with its impressive arches, stands out as you approach the town. The entrance to the Upper Church is by far the most eye-catching. Set off by the green in front, the Basilica has a striking façade with magnificent doorways and a large rose window.

Inside you can view one of the most important sequences of frescoes in the world: 28 frescoes depicting the "Life of Saint Francis" which were painted, it is claimed, by Giotto. Above the sequence there is another cycle of frescoes depicting "Scenes from the Old and New Testament" attributed to Pietro Cavallini, from the Cimabue school of painters. In the ceiling vaults you can see Cimabue's frescoes of "The life of Saint Peter" and the "History of Saint Marco". The church also contains a wooden choir dating back to the 1500s, a crucifix by Cimabue and a stained-glass window from the 12th century.

Walking through history

roccaLeaving the Basilica, walk along Via San Francesco towards Piazza del Comune, stopping if you wish at Casa dei Maestri Comacini (the nearby Vicolo di Sant'Andrea leads to San Giacomo, an old mediaeval quarter), the Oratorio dei Pellegrini (featuring frescoes from the 1400s), Monte Frumentario (13th century) and Oliviera Fountain (16th century). In the square you can visit the Tempio di Minerva, a Roman temple from 1 BC which is now a church; Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (13th century) and the adjoining Torre del Popolo, which was completed in 1305; and Palazzo dei Priori (14th century),which is now the Town Hall. Don't miss the Basilica di Santa Chiara, built in the late 1200s in Italian-Gothic style. The Basilica features many important paintings from the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries as well as the famous crucifix which instructed Saint Francis to "rebuild God's church".

Following Saint Francis

It's worth leaving Assisi for a moment to visit the imposing Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Situated in the valley below Mount Subasio the Basilica played an important part in Franciscan history. It was built between the 16th and 17th centuries on the site where Saint Francis founded his order in 1208. Saint Clare came here one Palm Sunday to offer her life to Christ. And Saint Francis died here on 3rd October 1226 - "naked, on the naked earth". The Cappella del Transito and the famous Roseto (Rose Garden) where a rose tree without thorns grew on the spot where Saint Francis threw himself in order to avoid temptation. Round up your stay with a visit to the hill fortress of Rocca Maggiore, a typical example of mediaeval military architecture, which offers magnificent views over the valley.

Umbria's official web site - . (eng) Useful and detailed.
Tourist-oriented site - (eng) Tourist-oriented site packed with information on all the main towns and cities.
Umbria 2000 - (eng) Umbria's tourism portal. Features a vast amount of information as well as general/religious itineraries. In 4 languages, including English.
Saint Francis - (eng) Information on Saint Francis' life and works.
Basilica - (ita) The official web site of the Basilica di San Francesco.
Assisi - (ita) Assisi's official web site. In Italian only.

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