Best known as the birth place of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, this small Umbrian town is located in Central Italy, just about 12 miles from the east of Perugia. Assisi lies at an elevation of 1300 feet.
It is believed that this ancient town of Assisi was called Assisium, and came into existence around a holy spring that was later venerated by the Etruscans and followed by the Romans. Yet another legend holds that the town began by Dardanus some 865 years before the founding of Rome in 753 BC.
It was also believed that in the 1st century BC, a temple was consecrated to the Roman goddess of art, handicraft and profession, Minerva at the sacred spring. Whereas, the Christian era destroyed the sanctuary of Minerva and instead a series of churches were erected at the site and the sacred spring stopped flowing.
The town of Assisi became an independent commune in the Middle Ages, and later was passed on to Papal states after a series of battles. It became a part of the Italian kingdom in 1860.
Churches of Assisi
Assisi boasts of one of the most popular Catholic churches - the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco, which also contains the sacred relics of Saint Francis and the beautiful frescoes depicting his life.
There are seven other churches in Assisi which are all worth visiting for their history, beauty other than the religious sentiments due to their connection with Francis or his friend Clare.
A traveler to the town of Assisi would be impressed by the Roman ruins, the winding medieval streets so characteristic of this little town, the sacred shrines which have made this place a major Catholic pilgrimage destination for centuries together.
And Assisi typically has only about 3,000 inhabitants but an astounding 4-5 million visitors who throng this place each year. There are still sites outside the city walls of Assisi which remain quiet and frequented mainly by pilgrims.
The Basilica di San Francesco is Assisi's crowning glory. This is a church of pilgrimage for Francis and devotees and art lovers throng here with much delight and reverence alike.
The Basilica di Santa Chiara is the final resting place of St Clare, the beloved friend of Francis, who founded the abbess of the Order of the Poor Clares.
The Duomo di San Rufino is a Cathedral dedicated to San Rufino, the bishop who first brought Christianity to the city. St Francis and St Clare were baptized here.
Eremo delle Carceri is yet another peacefully located church and monastery. Located outside Assisi's wooded slopes, this was the first home of Francis and his followers.
San Damiano Convent houses a church and a convent outside the city walls and it is here that the crucifix spoke to Francis prompting him to start repairing his ministry.
Santa Maria degli Angeli is yet another Baroque basilica which has the small Porziuncola, a chapel restored by Francis and the place where St Clare took her vows. It also has the humble cell in which Francis died.
St. Francis of Assisi
St Francis, who made this little town most famous, was born in 1182 to a well-to-do cloth merchant. Francis abandoned his worldly ambitions when he was just 19 years of age, while a prisoner of war in Perugia.
As a mystic, Francis experienced visions of Christ and Mary, and composed the first poems in the Italian language about the beauties of nature. It was in 1210 that he founded the famous order or mendicant friars known as the Franciscans.
The humble unassuming character of Francis endeared him to an enormous following throughout Europe. He became the first Christian to receive the stigmata, the spontaneously appearing wounds in his hands, feet and side of the body corresponding to the torments of Christ on the cross.
Although the injuries caused great pain to Francis, he bore them with such serenity and kept this matter as a secret so as not to draw attention to himself and away from the Lord.
The churches and basilicas of San Francesco, the famous monument of Italy were built between 1228 and 1253 AD. The great love that the people had for Francis can be seen in the completion of this rare church in such a short period of time.
Till today, Assisi is thronged by thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world. Probably the discerning traveler visits this town for its atmosphere of peacefulness, a distinct feeling or energy of peace. The town also awakens and stimulates the same characteristic in the human heart.
Assisi can be reached by bus or train and a shuttle bus runs between the train station and the bus station on Plazza Matteotti every half an hour. Assisi is on the Foligno-Terontola like with regular services to Perugia.