Assisi and the Basilica of Saint Francis

Church, Cities, culture, Points of Interest, Umbria, UNESCO world heritage

Assisi has all the characteristics of an Umbrian town: perched on top of a hill overlooking the valley. A magical and unique place in the world, linked to the history of Saint Francis, who lived and worked here, Assisi is a small medieval town that has remained intact for centuries. Even today it is surrounded by a massive wall and is dominated by the bulk of the Rocca Maggiore and the large Cathedral.

The symbol of the town is the imposing Cathedral of Saint Francis, made up of two superimposed churches: the lower and upper Basilica and a crypt with the tomb of the Saint. In the Basilica there are countless works of art: artists such as Cimabue, Giotto, Lorenzetti, Simone Martini have worked here. Among the many works of art to admire we remember the cycle of the Stories of San Martino painted by Simone Martini; the Chapel of the Magdalene by Giotto; in the transept there is a fresco by Cimabue and eight Childhood Stories of Christ painted by Giotto. In the upper church, there are the very famous frescoes by Giotto which illustrate, in 28 paintings, the life of Saint Francis and other works by Cimabue. In the lower part there is the Crypt with the remains of San Francesco. A simple tomb carved into the wall. Above the tomb a lamp burns with the oil offered each year by a different Italian region.

Only 4 km from the center of Assisi is the second church linked to Saint Francis: the Cathedral of Santa Maria degli Angeli, built to incorporate and therefore protect the small church of the “Porziuncola” restored by the Saint and in which he composed the Canticle of the Creatures and where he died on 3 October 1226.

Another important church in Assisi is the Basilica of Saint Clare. The relationship of the Saint of Assisi with St. Francis was decisive: fascinated by the preaching of St. Francis, at the age of 18 she fled from her rich family to join Francis and the first friars at the little church of the Porziuncola. Later she founded the Order of the Poor Clares. The church is in the Umbrian-Gothic style, with an interior with three naves: behind the altar there is the Oratory with the Crucifix that spoke to St. Francis in the Hermitage of San Damiano and was the basis of his choice of life. Behind a grate there are some important relics of the Saint and of St. Francis. From the stairs, located in the middle of the Basilica, you can also access the Crypt with the body of the Saint Clare.

The Cathedral of San Rufino is the oldest church in Assisi and stands in the space where there was the ancient Roman temple dedicated to the “Bona Mater”. Built in the 12th century it was dedicated to Saint Rufino. The Cathedral is an important place of Franciscan worship because it is believed that St. Francis and Saint Clare were baptized here. In this church, moreover, St. Francis made his first preaching. The facade is considered the most beautiful example of Umbrian Gothic, with three rose windows and three portals.

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The Temple of Minerva stands in the central square “Piazza del Comune”, once the seat of the Roman Forum. Built in the 1st century BC, the Roman temple has been used over the centuries as a prison, housing, shop, seat of the city council. In the Middle Ages the temple was transformed into a church with the name of “Santa Maria sopra Minerva”. In 1634 it was adapted in Baroque style and dedicated to Saint Filippo Neri. The classical facade with six columns is perfectly preserved.

Also in the central Piazza del Comune, the main square of Assisi, is embellished by the “del Popolo” Tower and the “dei Priori” Palace. The Tower was built starting from 1276 and housed the family of the Commander of the Town Militias (known as “Capitano del Popolo”). Opposite the Fountain of the Three Lions there is the Palazzo dei Priori, now the Town Hall. Under the current square you can visit the ancient Roman Forum, where you can admire the bases of the temple, the seats of the magistrates and a small temple dedicated to Castor and Pollux.

If you still have a little more time to spend in Assisi, it is also a good idea to visit the Rocca Maggiore of Assisi, the castle that dominates the town of Saint Francis and the surrounding countryside. The first construction dates back to 1183, but it was enlarged and modified many times over the centuries. Today it offers a suggestive walk among centuries-old walls and a magnificent view of Assisi and its surroundings.

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