A Getaway Back in Time

By Daniel Cook (Syracuse University)

Assisi, Umbria – The birthplace of St. Francis, known for founding the Franciscan order and for being one of the most quickly appointed saints, Assisi is a beautiful stone town set on the steep face of Monte Subasio (Mount Subasio, in the Apennine mountain range). Its history reaches as far back to circa 1000 B.C. and has a violent history of invasion by the Etruscans, Romans, Ostrogoths and others. The town was unfortunately struck by two violent earthquakes recently in 1997, but the recovery project has been fruitful and ongoing. And although Assisi was a thriving, bustling location in the 11th century, it now serves mainly as a beautiful tourist attraction with multiple restaurants, shopping, guided tours and a spectacular view.

The streets of Assisi are steep and narrow, making access by car somewhat of a hassle. Nevertheless, it is not a difficult climb and you can enjoy all the hidden nooks and crannies of the town at your own leisurely pace. Although certainly a tourist attraction, you will not be forced to contend with mobs of people here like you do in parts of Florence, Rome, Venice and other main locations. Despite not being a household name, Assisi provides a unique feel and taste of history thanks to its delicious restaurants, religious significance and multiple ornate churches.

Besides the view of the Umbrian countryside, the main reason for visiting Assisi is to tour any, or all, of its beautiful churches. There are several of these holy structures, both large and small, that are waiting to be explored in this town of the past. The most famous include the Basilica Papale di San Francesco (Papal Basilica of Saint Francis) where you can touch St. Francis’s tomb, Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary the Greater) which is the oldest church in Assisi and where St. Francis was baptized and Cattedrale di Assisi (Assisi Cathedral) which contains the remains of the martyred bishop Rufinus of Assisi. All of these locations boast free admission, though it may be challenging to find a guided tour and photography is generally forbidden. The gigantic frescos found in some of these churches were painstakingly created and have survived to see the years tick by. Stepping into these colossal, quiet buildings fills you with the same awe that the citizens must have felt so many centuries ago.

But even if ancient churches are not your forte, you can still enjoy the quaint design of Assisi. Each door is a story, each bend in the road an adventure with an unknown end. Take your time here, for Assisi has a long and fascinating tale to tell to all who come to visit.

 

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