In this small hill-town, peacefully spread out on the slopes of Mount Subasio, everything seems to speak about Saint Francis. The peace that here reigns, joined to the mystical memories of the Saint and to its artistic treasuries, make of Assisi one of the most impressive destinations in Italy and the goal of devout people pilgrimages from every part of the world.
Assisi had a prosperous life at the time of the Romans, then, in the Middle Ages, was an anti-Pope Commune agitated by fierce inner fights and always in war with Perugia. The communal age is the historical background of the exemplary life of Saint Francis, the Patron of Italy, and a man with an illustrious parentage who refused his father’s wealth to marry Sister Poverty and to better serve his Lord. Francis created a new order, authorized by the Pope, aiming to spread in the world a message of peace and fraternity; two years after his death, occurred in 1226, he was proclaimed Saint.
After the passing of Francis, the city of Assisi took the resolution to raise in his name a huge Basilica in whose ornament concurred the most popular artists of that age. The Basilica is visible from far away, supported by a gigantic arched structure built on the rims of mount Subasio; it is made of two overlapping churches having in common a high apse.
The inferior Church encloses in its crypt the grave of the Saint, a place of undeniable suggestion. The inside reveals wonderful frescoes painted by Giotto, Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, Simone Martini. The upper Church, luminous and slender, houses some frescoes by Cimabue and the world-wide known frescoes representing Saint Francis’ life painted by Giotto.
Assisi is an integer medieval city: the oldest nucleus is protected by a defensive apparatus made of high, circular walls with eight entry gates, all in a still optimal state of conservation, heading to two castles: the greater one, Rocca Maggiore, rebuilt in 1367, and the smaller Rocca Minore.
Other beauties not to be missed are Palazzo dei Priori, housing a gallery full of old Umbrian paintings, Minerva’s Temple, erected at the times of the Roman Empire and later transformed in a church, the splendid late-Romanesque church of S. Damiano, where Francis composed the Canticle of all Creatures, and the church of S. Chiara, with its imposing flying buttresses and, on the inside, the wooden Cross who spoke to Francis. Worth a visit is also the solemn cathedral of Saint Rufino, dedicated to the bishop of Assisi, built in the 12th century over the remains of an ancient religious temple.