Assisi Tourist Attractions
Situation and importanceAssisi lies some 14km/9mi southeast of Perugia in the medieval region of Umbria. The town, the ancient Umbrian city of Asisium, is situated on artificial terraces on a westerly outlier of the Monte Subasio.HistoryThe town, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Italy, owes its fame to St Francis, born here in 1182, the son of a wealthy merchant, who after spending his early years in a life of dissipation devoted himself to the service of the poor and the sick, founded the Franciscan order and died in 1226 in poverty and abstinence. His life, around which are many legends, has inspired major works from famous artists (including Giotto). With its well-preserved medieval streets and houses and its treasures of art Assisi is one of Italy's great tourist sights.
Northwest of Assisi on the edge of the hill rises the Franciscan friary with its massive substructures. Building began soon after the saint's death. The courtyard and the external passage, from which there are magnificent views, were renewed by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84).
St Francis Basilica
Part of the Franciscan friary in Assisi is the impressive two-storyed church, the Basilica di San Francesco, built over St Francis's tomb. The dark lower church has squat Late Romanesque vaulting (1228-53) and a vestibule added in 1488, the upper church, completed in 1253, is Italy's earliest Gothic church.The basilica suffered extensive earthquake damage in 1997 and was re-opened in 1999.
Address: Piazza San Francesco, I-06081 Assisi, Italy
Opening hours: 6am-5pm
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: Opening hours apply to lower church only. Tourist visit during mass time on Sunday morning are considered inappropriate.
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
Both churches are decorated with beautiful frescoes (13th-14th century). In the first chapel of the lower church remarkable scenes from the life of St Francis by Giotto and Simone Martini can be seen. In the choir of the upper church and in the transepts there are frescoes by Cimabue, in the nave 28 scenes from the life of St Francis by Giotto and his pupils. In the crypt, added in 1818 and enlarged in 1925-32 can be seen a stone sarcophagus, containing the saint's remains. In the large cloister is the treasury.
South of the friary, beyond the Porta San Francesco, stands the church of San Pietro, with a fine doorway.
Piazza del Comune
Leaving the lower church we go uphill to the left into the Via San Francesco and its continuation which lead to the Piazza del Comune, the town's main square, built on the site of the Roman forum. Under the Piazza del Comune, accessible via the Museo Civico (entrance on Via Portica) lies the very interesting archeological site known as the Foro Romano, dating from Roman times.
Temple of Minerva
The portico of the Temple of Minerva in Assisi, perhaps dating from the Augustan period, was converted into the church of Santa Maria della Minerva. Near the temple stands the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (13th century) with a tower.
Palazzo Comunale (Pinacoteca)
At the end of the square in Assisi is the Palazzo Comunale or Palazzo dei Priori (Town Hall;14th century) with the municipal picture gallery (Pinacoteca).
Address: Piazza del Comune, I-06081 Assisi, Italy
Opening hours: Jul 1 to Aug 31: 10am-1pm, 2:30pm-7pm
Sep 1 to Jun 30: 10am-12pm, 1pm-5pm
Sep 1 to Jun 30: 10am-12pm, 1pm-5pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €2.20, Concession or reduced rate €1.50
Useful tips: Hours outside of summer months may vary.
A little way south of the Palazzo Comunale, on a lower level, is the Chiesa Nuova (1615), a small church on a centralized plan, erected, it is said, on the site of St Francis's birthplace.
Cathedral of San Rufino
From the Piazza del Comune in Assisi the Via di San Rufino leads east to the cathedral of San Rufino (12th-13th century), with a beautiful facade.
Saint Clares Church
South of the cathedral, in the Piazza Santa Chiara, stands the Gothic church of Santa Chiara (1265). Under the high altar is the open tomb of St Clare (d. 1253), the enthusiastic disciple of St Francis who founded the order of Clarissines or Poor Clares. In the Capella del Crocefisso on the left side of the nave hangs the "Speaking Cross" from the convent of San Damiano, in front of which St Francis is said to have received the message from God to "go forth and rebuild my house".
From the Piazza di San Rufino the old Via Santa Maria delle Rose ascends to the Rocca Maggiore, a castle high above the town, (re-built by Cardinal Albornoz in 1365) in which the Emperor Frederick II sometimes stayed during his youth. From here there are panoramic views.
The surroundings of Assisi include the little convent of San Damiano and the small village of Santa Maria degli Angeli with its impressive church of the same name.
Convento di San Damiano
Southeast of the town center of Assisi is the little convent of San Damiano (305m/1,007ft), founded by St Francis, of which St Clare was the first abbess. On the small terrace, gay with flowers, in front of the convent, St Francis is said to have composed his famous "Canticle of the Sun". In addition to the church, the cloister with frescoes by Eusebio di San Giorgio (1507), the convent and the convent gardens are open to visitors.
Santa Maria degli Angeli
South of Assisi on the S.S. 75, is the small village of Santa Maria degli Angeli (218m/719ft). The church of the same name, a massive domed structure in Renaissance style, built between 1569-1630 over St Francis' oratory (Porziuàncola) and the cell in which he died. The nave and choir were re-erected after the earthquake in 1832 and the church was provided with a new facade in 1925-28. To the east of the sacristy is a small garden, in which it is said the roses have been thornless since an act of penance by the saint. Adjacent is the Cappella delle Rose with fine frescoes by Tiberio d'Assisi (1518), depicting scenes from the saint's life.
East of Assisi, charmingly situated in a small wood of holm-oaks above a ravine between the bare rock faces of Monte Subasio, is the hermitage of Le Carceri (791m/2,610ft), to which St Francis retired for his devotional exercises. The monastery dates from the 14th century; visitors are also shown the saint's rock-bed.From the monastery it is an hour and a half's climb to the broad ridge of Monte Subasio (1,290m/4,257ft; panoramic views). The drive over Monte Subasio to Spoleto is also a fine experience.