Visiting Assisi, Italy
History of Assisi
The commune of Assisi is another ancient hilltop town found within the Umbrian region. Settlements of this type started to pop up around 1000 B.C., finding themselves under the shadow of first the Etruscans, then the Romans after the battle of Sentinum in 295 B.C. which gave them sole control of central Italy. Assisi is most famous as the birthplace of St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscan order, and St. Clare, founder of the Poor Sisters; both of which were and still are a powerful force within the Catholic ranks. Indeed Assisi was unique in the fact that conversion of the city took place in 238 A.D, well before the Christianization of the empire under Constance in the early 4th century. The town prospered until its destruction by the Ostrogoths in 545 A.D. The city then went the way of so many small Italian communes, she was locked in between power throws between papal authority and ambitions despots looking to make a name for themselves. Neighboring Perugia was often involved in the struggle over the supremacy of the commune. The city developed more or less peacefully during the Renaissance and great works of art began to appear, such as the basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels.
Getting to Assisi
Assisi is only 15 miles from the much larger city of Perguia. You can either take a train direct from Perugia to Assisi or drive the motorway, which will take you about 30 minutes. As you can easily see all the sights and stroll around the hilltop town in just a few hours, I would recommend staying in Perugia, rather than trying to find accommodation in Assisi. If you have the time and money staying a couple nights in Assisi would be a quiet getaway from the normal bustle of the bigger cities, but accommodation is pricey and often hard to come by.
Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi- Gleaming at pilgrims far before approaching the city, the basilica serves as the mother church of the Catholic Franciscan order. The church was begun in 1228 initially as two separate structures built into the hillside. The church is decorated with gorgeous medieval frescoes and is an important example of early Gothic style in Italian architecture.
Cathedral of San Rufino- The present cathedral sits on a site which has held the remains of Saint Rufino since the 3rd century A.D Begun in 1140 A.D. and built in the Italian Romanesque style, the cathedral has played an important role in the development of the Franciscan order and other orders of the Catholic church. It was here that both St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized, who both went on to found important followings of the church that remain to this day.
Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi- Also built in the Italian Romanesque style, the basilica of St. Clare provides another important piece of Italian and church history. The church was begun in the 12th century, and in 1260 the remains of St. Clare were transferred to the basilica for burial, although scholars remained uncertain as to the exact whereabouts of the remains for centuries. In 1860 the tomb of St. Clare was finally found after much searching and her remains were excavated and rededicated by Pope Leo XIII for final resting. The remains of St. Clare are on display and can still be seen by the public today.
Chiesa Nuova- If by now you're wondering why there are so many churches in such a small city, the answer is this is Italy. There are actually a handful more that I failed to mention for the sake of avoiding repetition. Assisi is very much reminiscent of the medieval days when church was first last and everything in an Italian town.
Rocca Maggiore Castle-This massive 14th century fortress is one of two that were built by the church in order to intimidate the town's inhabitants. The imposing castle looms large over the town and its presence is keenly felt by an traveler. Partly in ruins the castle is a great place to explore, wander and imagine medieval life in central Italy.