Assisi is a hill town and belongs to Umbria region of Italy. St. Francis is the patron saint of this town. The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi was completed during 1253, but it was badly damaged due to earthquake during 1997. Most of the surrounding village and the basilica was restored to original charm and is visited by thousands of religious Catholics and is one of the historical marvels.
St. Francis was born in village of Assisi in late 1181 and is one of the most revered saints in Catholic world. He had luxurious life in his early days, but then he got his vision of God to repair the Christian Church and to live a life of poverty. In 1228 he was canonized as Saint.
How old is the medieval town of Assisi?
We were quite excited about the feel of getting into the town which can possibly take us back 700 years back in time and give some glimpses of life in those days. The resort helped us in booking a cab to take us to Assisi village for a day's excursion.
The cab dropped us at Piazza Matteotti after passing the citadel and we had our first impression of the peculiar medieval architecture. We walked straight to the Piazza San Rufino and it seemed as if we had traveled across time to experience the past when people loved staying in closely knit communities and their houses shouldered along each other, sometimes even sharing the front yard. The houses, piazzas and narrow alleys give you a taste of life during those days.
We met a group of cyclist here and they had mastered this art of biking around in those narrow alleyways. The market was opening up and most of these cute houses were converted into shops and rented rooms for people to experience the life in a typical medieval settings.
There are multiple options to stay in Assisi. We stayed in a resort called Carpediem Assisi booked through RCI. But it would be more interesting to stay in one of the houses in this Medieval village. There are number of Agro Tourismo's as well giving you an opportunity to connect with the local and try local dishes.
It’s recommended to carry a map of village to avoid getting lost as it does get confusing and you might end up coming back to same place where you started. All these alleys finally lead to the main attraction of this village, the St Francis Basilica. It symbolizes the influence of Catholicism and the grand contribution of St Francis to the world.
The basilica has a large front yard with statue of a horse rider bowing his head in salutation or probably salvation. The crowd at the gate showed the significance of this place. Although a medium sized basilica, it has intricate paintings, a tiny museum and magnificent view of the surrounding villages from the back side of the basilica. A chorus song made us feel spiritual and connect to the place as those melodious tones resonated inside the prayer room.
We had our fun time exploring the market and looking at local farm produce. Cheese, pasta, lentils, preserved and marinated meat were prominent items. The tiny statues of Basilica, Saint Francesco and village architecture, were quite attractive and a great souvenirs. We had our first shopping at Assisi with pasta, sauce and local spices.
The bus tickets here are supposed to be bought in tobacco shops and punched in using the machine in the bus. The bus ticket from Piazza Mattioti to Assisi station was 1 Euro, but then we had to depend on the shuttle service provided by Carpedium to reach Piazza Mattioti as it seemed there was no public transportation there.
Santa Maria Degli Angeli
As the name of the railway station suggests this place has a basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Degli Angeli (Church of St. Mary of the Angels) and the dome of the Basilica is distinctly visible from the much elevated medieval Assisi town. A bus ride from Piazza Mattioti dropped us at the station, after short walk from there to the other side of the station and we were at this grand basilica.
This place is much venerated as the place of St. Francis' death. Inside the grand baroque basilica you would see numerous artifacts related to St. Francis’s life. The frescoes and other artwork in this basilica are intricate and dedicated to St. Francis and his order of friars called as Franciscans. The peaceful quite atmosphere inside basilica is quite meditative and helps you calm down and be in that moment taking you back in time for a while and experience the simple, uncomplicated life.
Colors used for the stein-glass windows of basilica have got bright over the years and they seem to prove that, few things are timeless, immortal. After spending good amount of time admiring the basilica and reading through the colorfully illustrated story of St Claire, we had our lunch and headed to stroll around the old town. The neighborhood of Santa Maria Degli Angeli Basilica is quite cute.The houses were really beautiful and people quite relaxed as in any of the small towns.
A local dish called Porcchetta Panini was suggested by the information desk person at Assisi station.As recommended we were at this small little shop at the bus parking terminal, near the post office, few minutes away from the basilica, which serves this unique dish. A whole baby pig roasted well and is displayed in front portion of the shop. The owner slices the bread and puts few slices of this pork in it with a tiny bit of salt.
We never knew, there can be such a plain but savory dish, without any spices and sauces.We were now in the old medieval town of Assisi to complete our exploration of this centuries old town. As we needed a break and an evening snack we were sitting at the piazza del commune in the town and as we savor this unfamiliar dish, every bite took us closer to the taste and I thanked the guy at the information center for this valuable info. Piazza del Commune has a very beautiful fountain, nice cafes, a clock tower and a museum.
As we explored the town, I liked it more for its simplicity and coziness, where the boundaries of the houses were blurred and people shared front yards and verandas. Although this medieval town is nearly 800 years old, it is still quite well preserved and really cute. Except The St Francesco Basilica, all basilicas in Assisi were quite simple and did not have any paintings on its dome. The paintings were quite simple and some of the places they faded over a period of time.
Spending time in this time immortal town which remained intact even in earthquake is a bliss, where time stands still and the rush of the cities is far-far away. The town is a huge tangle of stairs, alleyways, piazzas, churches, basilicas and old medieval houses, many of those now converted to shops and hotels. A very touristy thing to do in this town is to buy the local food stuff like home make pasta, spaghetti, sauces and spices.
After going through the multiple alleyways and piazza we were soon at the top portion of this hill town near Rocca Maggiore, which served as a fort and watch tower during olden days. The view from here is extremely panoramic and gives bird’s eye view of the beautiful town below as well as surrounding mountains, farmlands and villages. The St. Francisco Basilica in the town below and the distant dome of Santa Maria Degli Angeli Basilica is quite distinctly visible from here.
We sat there watching the sunset looking at the mountainous green terrain of this distant corner of the world. After all the chaos and few surprises, I had fallen in love with this country and its people. After all nobody is perfect and then every country has these hidden gems, which are tucked away in some distant corner and one has to travel a bit to reach there to enjoy the serenity and peace.