The Basilica of San Francesco of Assisi is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Italy. San Francesco was born and died in Assisi and the basilica was started in 1228. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. The basilica and surrounding friary is visible and awe inspiring as you approach Assisi.
The church has an upper and lower basilica and a crypt where the body of San Francesco lies in an ancient stone coffin. The architecture is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The inside of the Upper basilica is Italian gothic and one of the most important examples in Italy. No photos are allowed in any part of the church, where the frescoes are sometimes in poor condition, but the décor is elegant and lovely. The frescoes are by some of the most important medieval painters such as Cimabue and Giotto. The Basilica is opened for visits from 9-12 and 2-5 Monday-Saturday and on Sunday.
Assisi is the birthplace of Saint Francis and a prettier or more spiritual place would be hard to find! I was inspired by a recent visit to Santa Croce and the frescoes of Giotto in the Bardi Chapel to take a weekend trip to Assisi. The last time I visited was 2007 and I don’t know why I stayed away so long! The November day was crisp and cloudy when we arrived, and the streets of Assisi were almost bare. I few tourists strolled along with the monks and priests who outnumbered us.
Assisi is filled with lovely small streets and everywhere you turn there is a picture waiting to be taken. It is breathtaking. The views from atop the hill town are stunning and the churches, palazzos and piazzas really lovely.
We arrived in Assisi by train, a 2 ½ hour ride from Florence. At the train station, we bought tickets for the bus which stops just outside and takes you directly to the top of the hill. There is a stop just at the gate outside of the Basilica of Saint Francis, and other stops take you further up the hill. We stayed at the opposite end of town near Santa Chiara. The Hotel Roma was an excellent find for only 50 euro for the one night, right in the picturesque piazza located there.
During our brief 30 hour stay in Assisi, we were busy! We saw the Basilica of San Francesco, Santa Chiara, climbed the hill to Rocca Maggiore, and sampled the local wine and cuisine while soaking up the atmosphere of Assisi.
If you have time for a day trip while you are visiting Italy, consider Assisi! It was fantastic to walk in the footsteps of San Francesco and soak up the sacred atmosphere here. In the summer, it can be quite crowded but November is a fabulous time to visit!
The Basilica of Santa Croce shouldn’t be missed when you visit Florence. It’s my absolute favorite! I fell in love with it in 2007 when I lived nearby. I would sit for hours in the piazza staring at the façade and thinking of all the important and famous people buried inside. I love the statue of Dante staring across the piazza with such an intense and solemn gaze.
Inside there is a treasure trove of things. It is a museum by itself and it is wonderful to see the art work hanging inside. The frescoes of the life of Saint Frances by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel touched me in a very personal way when I visited with my art history class recently. So much so that I woke up a few days later and had to go to Assisi! (Stay tuned for those posts!) The paintings have such feeling portrayed in them, and it was a talent of Giotto’s that was not seen until almost 100 years later.
Additionally in the church there are carvings by Donatello (a relief sculpture of the Annunciation) and his wooden crucifix, the Cimabue crucifix, Andrea della Robbia ceramics, Agnolo and Taddeo Gaddi frescoes and more.
The tombs held here are Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini to name a few. The courtyard and Pazzi Chapel, along with the refectory and Vasari’s Last Supper are additional highlights. The Basilica was built in 1294 and is the largest Franciscan church in the world. The church is opened for visits 9:30-5:30 Monday-Saturday and on Sunday from 2:30-5:30. Tickets are 6 euro.