Visiting Assisi

Assisi, a quintissential medieval hilltown in the Italian region of Umbria, makes an ideal day trip from Rome or Florence. My travel tip would be to use Assisi as a base for exploring the multitude  of nearby sights in Umbria and neighbouring Tuscany.

Like many hilltowns in Umbria, Assisi has a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere and picturesque streets perfect for leisurely wandering. There are charming piazze where you can stop and relax over an espresso or a gelato and numerous restaurants to tempt visitors during their stay.

Assisi is most famous as the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francesco), 1181-1226, and it is the town’s stunning Basilica di San Francesco , a UNESCO Heritage site which alone makes Assisi a must-see destination.

Photo courtesy Basilica di San Francesco website

Work on the Basilica di San Francesco began in 1228, just two years after the death of Saint Francis. Work on the Upper and Lower churches continued over the next century and work on the breathtaking frescoes was carried out by the best artists of the time, including Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and Giotto. These masterpieces provide us with a spectacular display of artistic innovations in the 13th and 14th centuries. The fresco cycle of the life of Saint Francis by Giotto is a national treasure – one that was nearly lost forever.

In September 1997, two devastating earthquakes struck Assisi and caused tremendous damage to the Basilica and its frescoes. Restoration work was slow and painstaking, often piecing together tiny fragments of the shattered frescoes, but just two years after the tragedy, the Basilica had already opened its doors to the public. Once again, visitors can admire the splendours of 13th and 14th century Italian art.

Interior photos courtesy Basilica di San Francesco web site

Although the Basilica is the biggest draw for tourists to Assisi, the whole town merits exploration. The Basilica di Santa Chiara and the Duomo (San Rufino) are also of interest, as is the 14th century castle, the Rocca maggiore. The view over the town and valley is beautiful from this vantage point. A castle visit provides opportunities for scenic panoramas and exploration of the tunnels and passageways.

More Things to Do in Italy

We’ve plenty more tips for things to do in Italy on Europe a la Carte.