Pax et bonum. That is Peace and Love. In this simple phrase is contained the philosophy of Assisi, an extraordinary, unique fascinating town located in the heart of Umbria.
Assisi is known throughout the world for being the birthplace of St. Francis, patron of Italy. But also for having seen the birth of St. Claire.
To visit Assisi means to take a trip back into the past and to be guided by the rhythms and feelings that seemed to have disappeared in our society. In this town perched on a hill from where is possible to enjoy a wonderful view on a wide valley, the time seems to have stopped in the Middle Ages, the time in which Francis lived. Here peace reigns supreme and not surprisingly if Assisi is also called the Town of Peace.
Getting lost in the narrow streets, admire the old stone houses and austere churches means to discover a corner of Italy still untouched, despite the large number of tourists that every year come here to visit a place that for its unspoiled beauty has become a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
You can easily get to Assisi by train (or by car) from Perugia. The train station is located in Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels), a modern hamlet located only a few kilometers from Assisi, in plain. From here you can easily reach the historic center by public bus.
Coming from Santa Maria degli Angeli hit the imposing building of the Basilica of San Francesco, with its high arches, which stands in front of us at the top of the hill, on the left side of the town like the prow of a ship stranded on a mountain.
If you visit Assisi in Summer, you can admire the many fields that surround the town covered with yellow sunflowers, very popular here. The show is guaranteed.
I suggest you start your day tour of Assisi from Porta Nuova, one of the main entrances of the medieval town, on the east side, along Via Borgo Aretino. The first monument you meet entering into the historic centre of Assisi is the Basilica of St. Clare (Santa Chiara in Italian language). Its façade, built in Ghotic style with white and pink local stones (characteristics of the architecture of Assisi), is simple and impressive at the same time. To be admired is definitely the rose window made of a double row of little columns.
In front of the basilica extends a beautiful square with a breathtaking view of the valley below: the ideal place to relax while enjoying the panorama. The interior of the basilica – in its simple Franciscan beauty – is worth a visit especially because here is kept on the altar the originalCrucifix of San Damiano, which spoke to St. Francis in the hermitage of San Damiano and finally, in the crypt below, you will find the tomb of St. Clare. In front of the tomb you can see also some interesting objects and clothes belonging to the two famous saints.
Back outside the basilica, we can resume the tour of the town along Corso Mazzini, a beautiful street full of nice souvenir shops and cafes which leads directly into the main square of Assisi. This amazing square is characterized by the imposing Roman colonnade which is the portico of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
Indeed Assisi was founded by the Romans and even today you can seethe ancient ruins of the old Asisium, including precisely the facade of the Temple of Minerva or like the Roman amphitheater. In front of the church you can admire the town hall (Palazzo dei Priori), it is also a medieval building, like the vast majority of buildings in the town. By the way, in the square there is also the tourist office of Assisi where you can find a lots of information about this unique town.
Before to arrive in the town square, which is the heart of Assisi, on the left side there is a small square overlooking the Chiesa Nuova (New Church); it was built in Baroque style on the site that tradition identifies as the house of the father of St. Francis.
Next to the church, into the building of the monastery, you can still see a few rooms of the ancient home of St. Francis, as his room, the basement, called “prison”, where he was locked up by her father to punish him for his decision to leave everything and to live as a poor man, andthe store’s stock of his father. Came out from the church, it is a must to take a picture next to the modern sculpture representing the parents of St. Francis.
If at this point of the tour it is time for lunch and you want to taste some typical dish or dessert of the Umbrian cuisine, there will be spoiled for choice among the dozens of restaurants and bars for all tastes and all budgets that overlook the narrow streets of Assisi.
If you continue to walk up the hill, you reach another beautiful square: here there is the church of San Rufino, in Romanic style,which is the cathedral of the town.
Following the visit, we walk along Via Portica, an other amazing medieval street, and later in Via San Francesco, a long pedestrian street that leads straight to the Basilica of the Saint.
This street is characterized not only by many beautiful old buildings,especially in medieval and Renaissance style, but also by several little shops which sell a lots of souvenirs and local craft items. So you can spend your free time browsing through colorful ceramics and religious items, wood toys and works of art, jewels and traditional tissues.
Without forgetting the many delicacies, especially cakes, of Umbrian tradition. One of the most important Franciscans symbolsis undoubtedly the Tau, the T cross-shaped so loved by St. Francis. And of course, you can buy – for you of for your friend – a nice necklace with the tau carved in wood in one of these many souvenir shops.
If you are a great lover of art, then you must visit the Municipal Gallery of Assisi on show in the main floor of Palazzo Vallemani- splendid Baroque residence with fresco vaults at the beginning of the seventeenth century by main painters of Umbria and Tuscany -which includes a large group of frescoes from medieval and Renaissance buildings and churches of Assisi and its surroundings, and some important paintings on wood and canvas of the XIV-XVII century. The ticket entrance to visit the Gallery is 3 € and it is located inVia San Francesco 12.
If so far you have followed the path recommended by me, then you will arrive suddenly in front of the majestic basilica of St. Francis, which will appear before you in all its beauty. The basilica is the place which since 1230 preserves the mortal remains of the saint and it is annually the destination for many pilgrims and visitors from all over the world.
The basilica is formed by two churches,linked to two different construction phases: the first one built in Romanesque style, the second one in Gothic. In the lower church there is a room housing the relics of St. Francis with a small but significant collection of objects that belonged to the Saint. The upper church has a simple facade and the top is decorated with a central rosette. Frescoes by Giotto (and other famous painters) cover the internal vaults and walls of the Basilica and tell the life of St. Francis. Of course, these frescoes are masterpieces of Italian medieval art.The entrance to the basilica costs 2 euros per person and includes the use of the audio guide. The ticket office is near to the entrance of the lower church.
If you want to return to the starting point of the tour, I recommend you to switch from another street: walking along Borgo San Pietro street and continuing along Sant’Apollinare street, not only will allow you to admire another – little known – beautiful church ofAssisi, which is the church of St. Peter, but to visit a place that – unlike the previous streets – is little known and with almost no shops. So you will have the opportunity to visit also the hidden side, less commercial and less touristy of Assisi. And perhaps for this reason also more authentic.
If you still have time available – and will – you should definitely visit the imposing fortress (Rocca Maggiore) located on top of the hill overlooking the town. The complex consists of a fortress of walls, built with the pink stone from Mount Subasio, with towers at each corner. You can reach the fortress on foot and, of course, also from here you can enjoy a spectacular view over the town of Assisi,the valley below and the near city of Perugia. Ticket entrance: 5 €
Your trip cannot be concluded without a visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, just 4 km from the center of Assisi. The basilica is an enormous cathedral built in the sixteenth century around the “Porziuncola”, a small church that welcomed the first community of Franciscans and where St. Francis accepted his vocation and renounced worldly possessions to live in poverty and purity. Very nice and the sumptuous white marble façade topped by the gilded statue of St. Mary. Entrance here is free of charge.
Reach Assisi by car
From the north (Milan, Florence), the best exit for Assisi on the A1 motorway is at Valdichiana, where the road SS75bis goes into Umbria bordering on Lake Trasimeno first, and then the city of Perugia. Arrived to Ponte San Giovanni, proceed towards Assisi and take the road towards Collestrada, on SS75, then exit at Santa Maria degli Angeli and follow the signs for Assisi.
Arriving from the south (Rome), always by the A1 motorway, the best exit for reaching Assisi is at Orte, which is connected to Perugia first follow the road SS204 (toward Terni), and then the E45 (or SS3bis) from Terni to Perugia. In this case before reaching Perugia, arrived in Ponte San Giovanni, follow the directions to Assisi, leaving the E45, and arriving to Collestrada, on SS75. Exit at Santa Maria degli Angeli and follow the signs for Assisi.
Coming from the North of Italy on the A14 motorway along the Adriatic coast, the best way to reach Assisi is to leave the motorway at Cesena, then, using the E45 reach before Citta di Castello, then, arrived at the junction with Collestrada, leave the E45 and take the SS75. Exit at Santa Maria degli Angeli and follow the signs for Assisi.
Reach Assisi by train
Coming from the north, the main line Florence-Rome has a stop at Terontola (on the line: Lake Trasimeno, Perugia, Assisi, Spello, Foligno), so coming from Florence take a train (there are about 12 trains a day) that stops at Terontola / Cortona (about 1 hour and a half to arrive in), then at Terontala railway station take one of the trains that connect Assisi / S. Maria degli Angeli (45 to 60 min.)
Coming from the south, the main line Rome-Ancona has a railway station at Foligno (on the line: Spello, Assisi, Perugia, Lake Trasimeno), so coming from Rome, take one of the nine daily trains of the Rome-Ancona line, stop at Foligno (1 hr. 40 min. to 2 hr. trip) and take a train on the line Terontola-Foligno, getting off at Assisi / Santa Maria degli Angeli (10 to 15 min.).
The railway station is located on the plain of Assisi at St. Mary of the Angels (famous for the beautiful Basilica), so it is enough far from the historic city center (about 3 km) but it is well connected by a bus running every 30 minutes (line C). Buses leave from outside the station and stop in Piazza Matteotti.
Reach Assisi by plane
Gli aeroporti dell'Italia centrale maggiormente vicini ad Assisi sono quelli di Roma, Pisa, e Firenze. Assisi, in effetti, non è molto lontana dalle tre città sopra nominate e può essere raggiunta da tali località in treno, autobus o in auto. Il principale aeroporto internazionale del centro Italia è senz'altro l'Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Roma, conosciuto anche come Aeroporto di Fiumicino (FCO) (30 km a sud ovest di Roma, Tel. 06/6595-3640).
The closest Airports to Assisi in central Italy are those in Rome, Pisa and Florence. Assisi, in fact, is not far from the three cities above named and can be reached from these places by train, bus or car.
The major international airport in central Italy is certainly the Leonardo da Vinci of Rome, also known as Fiumicino Airport (FCO) (30 km southwest of Rome, www.adr.it/web/aeroporti-di-roma-en-)