Castel dell'Ovo in Naples, fortress & former royal residence

Visiting Assisi – Oh, when the Saints
Saint Francis is in Umbria's pride omnipresent

Assisi, Umbria/Italy (2018) – When lots of men in long brown robes walk in the heat of the day next to you, looking like monks but acting like tourists, strolling around on busy squares and walking the same alleys as you do with the same goal in mind to reach a very beautiful sight, then you know, you're close to a sacred destination. And if you see Saint Francis, the founder of the Franciscan orders of the Friars Minor in 1208 and co-patron saint of Italy, looking at you from souvenir stands, posters on walls, bottle labels, store windows and car stickers, you know you are definitely at a hot spot for Catholics, in Umbria's beautiful Assisi. If I would collect picture postcards, the ones showing the town of Assisi definitely would be some of my favorites and not because of its saints. The picturesque small town in central Italy in the province Perugia, with its Roman ruins, is breathtakingly gorgeous and not without reason one of the pride of UNESCO. Almost the entire city has been declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Of course, Assisi is highly regarded by Catholic pilgrimage for centuries, the Basilica of  San Francesco stands out as the tourist magnet of all the sacred places in Assisi. And there are more than enough. Assisi is the birthplace not only of the Latin poet Propertius (50 - 45 BC) but also of some very well known saints: Saint Francis (1181/82 - 1226), Co-patron saint of Italy and patron of the animals, merchants and ecology,  Saint Clare (1194 - 1253), Co-patron saint of Italy and Europe and St. Gabriel Francis of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838 - 1862), patron of the young, the students, clerics and miracles. Protected is Assisi by another Saint, by Rufinus of Assisi, the patron saint first was bishop of Assisi and according to the legend responsible for converting Assisi to Christianity. 

Francis of Assisi

Assisi is Saint Francis and Saint Francis is Assisi
Of course, Assisi is dominated by Saint Francis and everything which comes and goes with that. It starts when approaching the city by car. From the distance, one can already see Mount Subasio. On the slopes of this mountain, belonging to the Apennine mountain range, where you can spot Assisi, built onto the hill as only a very gifted painter could have created it on canvas, with its masterpiece, the "Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi", the Basilica of Saint Francis, literally crowning the town. Assisi is well prepared for visitors and how refreshing, also for the incoming traffic which is guided right away to a very modern parking facility on the foot of the city. Parking the car is the last relaxing thing visitors do when paying Assisi a visit. From there on it's walking, stepping up or down, not knowing where to look first and constantly "Wow", "Oh my God" or "Come, come, you need to see this!"

The sacred places in town are many and all are very much exciting for visitors: the Basilica of San Francesco, in which the Saint is buried and with the frescoes done by Giotto and Cimabue, the Cathedral of San Rufino, the patron of Assisi, the Basilica of Santa Chiara, in which the tomb of the co-patron of Italy and patron of Europe, Saint Clare, is to be found, the Convento della Chiesa Nuova, the Temple of Minerva, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Abbey of Saint Peter, the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Porziuncola, the Sanctuary of Rivotorto, the Eremo delle Carceri and the Church and Monastery of  San Damiano. I'm sure I forgot some others. But no doubt, the Basilica of Saint Francis is by far the greatest attraction. And this one comes with an unexpected positive surprise: no entree fee. It's unbelievable really, for so many churches in Italy one has to pay to visit but in one of the most beautiful of all, they welcome you in without having to pay a cent. I guess we have to thank Saint Francis for that, a man who stood up for the poorest all his life.

What an incredible sight the Basilica is, inside and out. "Unfortunately" I stick to rules and when I am told "NO photos inside the Basilica", then I don't even touch my camera. Therefore there are no photos in my gallery of the inside of this beautiful church. You will have to trust me, I was blown away by its beauty. The size, the colors, the frescos and the details everywhere, everything was so much more exciting than I could have assumed. You don't need to be a Catholic or even be religious to be amazed by what you see. It's worth every distance to go there and every effort it might take. No matter where you come from, who you are and what you do, it has the same effect on every visitor, it's just that special.

The Basilica consists of two churches and a crypt in which Saint Francis found his last rest. The "Lower Basilica", is full of incredibly beautiful frescoes of some of the most important painters from this time, Cimabue, Giotto, Lorenzetti and Simone Martini, the interior of the "Upper Basilica" is an important early example of the Gothic style in Italy. The Franciscan monastery as well as the lower and upper church – "Basilica Inferiore" and "Basilica Superiore" – of Saint Francis were begun immediately after the canonization of Francis of Assisi in the year 1228 and completed 25 years later, in 1253. The Basilica is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor Conventual. Francis of Assisi – his original name was Francesco (baptized as Giovanni) di Pietro di Bernardone – had founded the Franciscans within the Catholic Church in 1209.

As fascinating the inside of the Basilica is, the outside is not less breathtaking. No matter where you look, from which angle you observe, from higher up or from all the way down, the Basilica is one amazing sight. In the upper region, right in front of the Basilica, extends a large garden area in which the "TAU" symbol is incorporated in the form of trimmed bushes. The "TAU" is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and an emblem of faith, it is indicated in the Bible as a symbol of salvation. Saint Francis of Assisi used this symbol to sign his letters and blessings with. Also in the garden situated is the bronze sculpture "Saint Francis Cavalier"/"Pellegrino di pace" (Pilgrim of peace), showing the young warrior Francis on his war horse coming back from the war field and bowing down. 

By the way: The Franciscans are not monks and they do not live in monasteries. They are friars, a term coming from the Latin "frater" (brother). Saint Francis of Assisi, so the legend says, used to call his followers "little brothers".
Visiting Assisi is not only a walk back in the religious past
But besides the attraction of the great Franciscan man, Assisi is not only a trip back in the religious past. The town has to offer so much more, even though most of it is kind of influenced by Francis of Assisi. Check out the gallery on this site to see all the picturesque treasures I have found. Yes, the town is without a doubt dominated by churches but these old stone houses, the narrow cobblestone alleys, the old stone stairs, the lovely decorated storefronts and the many surprises Assisi offers on almost every corner will make you fall in love with this medieval town.  But be prepared, if you like to discover the hidden treasures of Assisi, it's like with every other city located on a hill or mountain, it's a lot of walking, mostly up or down. There are little restaurants everywhere if you are hungry and don't want fancy, there are plenty of coffee shops, inviting you to a quick break and of course, there are more souvenir stores than you would want to visit. In fact, they are all over Assisi. The stores are mostly dedicated, no surprise here, to Saint Francis. One of the souvenir "bestseller" is the TAU shaped cross in wood or metal on a necklace. 


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