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 A Brief Guide to Discovering the Secrets of the “City of Peace,” Home of Saint Francis

You’ve often heard about Assisi but have never been there? Before you embark on your journey, read this article and explore what to see in Assisi with us.

Assisi, a beautiful town in the heart of Umbria, just a few kilometers from Perugia and other splendid centers like Foligno and Spello, boasts a rich history. There’s a pre-Saint Francis era and a post-Saint Francis era, evident as you stroll through its streets. Founded by the Umbrians in the 8th century BC, it later became a significant Roman city from the 2nd century BC.

Following the decline of the Roman Empire, Assisi lost much of its significance, enduring numerous sieges and lootings under different dominions. With the advent of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, it became a crucial center of Christianity adorned with beautiful basilicas and churches. If you want to learn more, keep reading and discover the many wonders to see in Assisi.

What to see in Assisi: The Basilica of Saint Francis

Our tour of what to see in Assisi must begin with the monument that has symbolized the city for centuries: the Basilica of Saint Francis. Whether it’s the commanding position overlooking the Umbrian Valley or the luminosity of its stone construction, the Basilica is undoubtedly a place that, even if you’re not religious, evokes a moment of almost spiritual contemplation.

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Basilica of St Francis (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The monument consists of two basilicas, one atop the other. Lower Basilica is powerful, intimate, and reminiscent of a mausoleum, housing the saint’s remains and showcasing frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto. The upper one, on the other hand, hosts grand solemn ceremonies with vibrant lights and colors. The scene-stealers are the polychrome stained glass windows, the world’s oldest, and Giotto’s magnificent frescoes depicting the life of Saint Francis, revolutionary for their realistic portrayal of characters.

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Interior of the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

What to see in Assisi: Other Franciscan Sites

Assisi, a UNESCO-listed site, is home to other places associated with the saint. One such place is the basilica dedicated to another of Assisi’s saints: Saint Clare. Resembling the contemporary Basilica of Saint Francis, it differs in color (white and pink stripes) and massive flying buttresses supporting its side walls. Inside, you can admire relics of the saint and the crucifix that, according to legend, spoke to Saint Francis, leading to his conversion.

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Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi (Credit to Sebastiano Iervolino from Pixabay)

In the historic center, don’t miss the Cathedral of Saint Rufino, bishop, martyr, and patron saint of Assisi. The church’s 16th-century interior houses a Roman cistern, the baptismal font where Francis and Clare were baptized, and the beautiful crypt of the Ugonian Basilica (replaced by the existing one), dating back to the 12th century.

A few kilometers from the center, two humble places directly linked to the saint’s life are worth visiting: the Hermitage of the Carceri and the Porziuncola. The former, nestled in a forest at the foot of Mount Subasio, is where Francis and his followers retreated for meditation. The latter is a small chapel within the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where Saint Francis often prayed and founded the Franciscan order.

 Forest of Saint Francis

Another intriguing place to see in Assisi is the Forest of Saint Francis. This beautiful corner of the Umbrian landscape, located at the foot of the Basilica of Saint Francis, was recently restored by the Italian National Trust (FAI). Amidst olive trees, brooms, and maple trees, you can explore a former Benedictine nunnery, the Romanesque church of Santa Croce, an old mill, and even the land art piece “The Third Paradise” by Michelangelo Pistoletto.

What to see in Assisi: Piazza del Comune and Roman Houses

In Assisi, numerous buildings unrelated to the Franciscan events contribute to telling the city’s fascinating history. Continue reading and discover them with us!

Monuments of Piazza del Comune

To grasp Assisi’s importance through the centuries, visit Piazza del Comune, the heart of city life. Here, you’ll find the Palazzo dei Priori, a 16th-century town hall, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo from the late 13th century, and the Tower of the People, an interesting civic bell tower from 1305. At its base, you’ll marvel at the 14th-century measures made of bricks, tiles, and fabrics used in the town. Next to it, the Temple of Minerva, an authentic temple from the Augustan era, impresses with its towering Corinthian columns and pediment, offering a two-thousand-year journey back in time. Completing the square is the so-called Fountain of Piazza, an intriguing 16th-century fountain adorned with three lions

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Glimpse of Piazza del Comune in Assisi(Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Roman Assisi

However, Assisi has a hidden side that deserves exploration. Just a few meters below street level, rediscover the splendors of the ancient Roman city of Asisium. Beneath Piazza del Comune lie the remains of the ancient Roman Forum and an interesting archaeological collection. Other fascinating sites include the Domus of Sextus Propertius and the Domus of the Lararium. The former, said to be the residence of the poet Propertius, boasts beautiful nature-themed frescoes. The latter features stunning decorations in Pompeian red and truly magnificent mosaic

Outside the historic center, atop the hill overlooking the city, stands the Rocca Maggiore, offering a beautiful panorama of the city and the entire valley.

Assisi also hosts various events and offers excellent food and wine. Don’t believe it? Keep reading, and you’ll see I’m not lying!

Assisi and Its Events

Certainly, the most cherished event for the people of Assisi is the Calendimaggio, held every year on the Wednesday after May 1st. On this occasion, the two city factions, the Upper Part and the Lower Part, compete in processions, medieval life reenactments in the city’s alleys, and performances of medieval music. A jury, composed of internationally renowned experts—typically a historian, a musicologist, and a showbiz personality—decides the winning faction.

Similar in nature are the Palio di San Rufino in late June, featuring a famous crossbow competition among the ancient districts of the city, and the Cavalcata di Satriano in September, with riders in period costumes. The latter retraces the route taken by Saint Francis in the summer of 1226 when, gravely ill, he went to the spa town of Nocera Umbra for treatment. From there, he embarked on his final journey to Assisi escorted by knights from his hometown, a few weeks before his death.

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Historical procession during the Calendimaggio (Credit to

Assisi and Its Culinary Delights

Assisi, like all of Umbria, is renowned for its excellent culinary products. So, don’t forget to savor the local delights, such as ciauscolo, a spreadable salami perfect with local bread, and the delicious Umbricelli with black truffle, which pairs exceptionally well with another Assisi excellence, Assisi Doc wine, in all its variations. 

If you’re still not full, I recommend trying the Baci di Assisi, delectable pastries made of soft almond paste with a pistachio flavor, covered with thin slices of toasted almonds.

After this article, you’re ready to book your hotel (click here to discover the best accommodations at the best prices!) and witness the wonders of Assisi with your own eyes! Bon Voyage!

Article Name
What to see in Assisi
Curious about Assisi? Discover what to see in Assisi before your visit. Uncover hidden gems and historical wonders with our guide.
Publisher Name
La Scimmia Viaggiatrice