I have to be honest with you straight away and say that Assisi is very touristy. It is often crowded with coach tours that include the sort of loud vacationers and tacky souvenir shops that I usually avoid like the plague.
However, I did find Assisi beautiful and I have always found the figure of St Francis of Assisi very appealing so it was a joy to visit this place where he is so loved and celebrated.
I only stopped there for part of a day, to see the sights, and then escape to a peaceful Umbrian agritourismo. I think the trick would be to stay a night or two so you could enjoy the atmosphere and true beauty of the place in the soft Italian evening once the crowds have departed.
Because he was loved. During his lifetime and after, when he became one of the most important Christian figures in Europe. Ten of his friends asked to be buried surrounding his tomb so they could be near him in death as in life.
The man who valued simplicity, humility and compassion; who was called to “preach to all creatures” was so beloved he was made a saint within two years of his death.
So what is there to see in Assisi? First of all the cream-coloured town is in a lovely location – stretched across the flank of Mt Subasio in Umbria.
This Unesco World Heritage Site and has more churches and basilicas than you will have time to visit.
St Francis founded his order of monks here in 1208 and first and foremost is the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, which has a lower and upper part as well as the monastery. Downstairs are stunning late-medieval frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto. Upstairs there are frescoes of scenes from the life of St Francis.
I also visited the Eremo delle Carceri, which is a tiny chapel and monastery on the hill above the town. This is where St Francis is said to have preached to the birds.
Other historic churches include the Basilica of Santa Chiara (for St Clare who worked alongside St Francis) and Santo Stefano, which is one of the oldest in Assisi.
There are also two medieval castles that now form part of the town. The massive Rocca Maggiore was built in the 1300s and the ruins of the smaller castle dates back to Roman times. Other Roman remains include an amphitheatre (visible as part of the medieval street plan) and a temple to Minerva.
The Piazza del Comune is very grand, with its mid-13th-century palazzo and the Torre del Popolo. The fountain with the three lions is 16th century and great for photo opportunities…
But just when I felt I couldn’t stand the crowds any more I emerged out on to the terrace beside the Basilica and was able to enjoy the view across the Umbrian countryside in peace.
Then there came the sound of music and drumming and a group of performers clad in medieval costumes emerged onto the streets. I was captivated by the beauty of the moment. My day in Assisi turned out to be perfect after all.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Assisi? What were your impressions?
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