The origins of the city date back to the Neolithic period. Later it was influenced by Etruscans and Romans and, later, it was converted to Christianity under the influence of the Bishop and Martyr San Rufino.
Assisi became ghibelline at the period of the villages. Later it suffered internal strife and external attacks with Gubbio and Perugia which destroyed it almost completely. Only with the annexation to the papacy it found the peace and the desire of rebirth. Saint Francis today still dominates every corner, every street, we could say the very air of the city.
Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis was born in Assisi in 1182 and died in 1226. He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and, as a young man, he lived a carefree and social life. Known to all for his courage, he participated in 1202 in the battle between As-sisi and Perugia; during the battle he was captured and he was held as a pris-oner for more than a year.
In 1205 he returned to Assisi and he had the first premonitory dream from which understood that it would wait him a different fate from what he had ex-pected.
St. Francis began a long period of solitude, meditation and prayer and soon, he was dedicated to make works of charity among the lepers.
In 1206 he renounced to his father’s legacy and he began to engage in the re-construction of religious buildings in ruins, after having a vision of San Dami-ano who ordered him to restore the church dedicated to him.
He dedicated the following years of his life to preach and to the constant care of the poor and the lepers on the streets and in the woods of Mount Subasio.
Soon the first brothers arrive around him. They choose the Portiuncula of Santa Maria degli Angeli as their first home church.
In 1210 the order was recognized by Pope Innocent III.
Saint Francis (driven by a deep desire to be a witness of Christ) did not stop in Assisi but, in 1219, he went to Egypt, where he preached before the Sultan but he could not convert him.
Saint Francis once back in Assisi, during the night of Christmas 1223, at Grec-cio, he wanted to recall the birth of Jesus, making a living representation of that event. It is from this episode that the tradition of the crib originated.
In 1224 he received the stigmata, the marks of crucifixion, on Mount Verna.
Saint Francis was then brought back to Assisi, where he remained for years marked by physical suffering and an almost complete blindness but he contin-ued to have a big love for God and the creation that he expressed in the Chant of Brother Sun.
The Chant of Brother Sun or the Chant of the Creatures was probably com-posed in 1225 and it expressed deep intensity and the power of love of Saint Francis for nature and creation.
Saint Francis, who is the saint patron of Italy, was canonized in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.
On 25 May 1230 his remains were transferred from the church of San Giorgio and he is buried in the current Lower Basilica.
In the traditional iconography is often represented in the act of preaching to the animals or with the stigmata.
The Upper Basilica
The Upper Basilica of Assisi is the church placed above the Lower Basilica, with which it forms the whole of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
The basilica was started in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX and was completed in 1253 by Pope Innocent IV, with the best architects, decorators and painters of the period. The Upper Basilica, which was important in the spread of Gothic in Italy, became a place of pilgrimage and popular devotion.
The simple initial structure was changed almost immediately in more majestic lines and was inspired in part by Lombard Romanesque architecture, with new suggestions related to the gothic buildings built by the Cistercian order. The ex-ternal part, with Romanesque simplicity with some gothic elements, was differ-ent from the inside, where there is the prevailing vivid multicolour and the soar-ing Gothic style.
The Basilica has a single nave divided into four bays with transept and polygo-nal apses. The coverage is with vaulted ceilings.
In the left arm of the cross, on the side opposite to that of the apse there is the crucifixion scene, one of the most dramatic and powerful works by Cimabue, followed by five apocalyptic scenes.
In the apse there are frescoes by Cimabue and, below, the beautiful carved and inlaid wooden choir, in Gothic-Renaissance, by Domenico Indovini and Severi-no Marche.
In the right arm of the cross from to note the frescoes by Cimabue with the life of St. Peter.
In the nave there are four medallions with Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist and St. Francis, Jacopo Torriti; 34 frescoes on the walls with stories of the Old Testa-ment and the New, by Cimabue. Below the balcony the wonderful cycle of 28 frescoes with the “Life of St. Francis”.
The façade of the Upper Basilica has a twin portal with double pink and sym-bols of the evangelists in relief.
On the left side there is the benediction loggia (1607); the square bell tower is covered with frames and bows and over it in a vertical plane it is covered with thin pilasters with three open arches.
The Lower Basilica
The entrance of the Lower Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is located on the left side of the aisle. The entrance is through a Gothic portal thirteenth century, richly carved and ornate with a mosaic. The portal is preceded by a Renais-sance porch of 1497. The interior has a nave divided in five spans from the low round arches held up by squat pillars. On the left side it is the “Chapel of St. Sebastian”, followed by polygonal “Chapel of Saint Anthony”.
At the bottom, on the right, there is the Gothic polygonal chapel of St. Catherine built by Gattapone da Gubbio by order of Cardinal Albornoz, buried there in 1367.
On the walls there are scenes of the holy and portrait of the Cardinal. Beautiful stained glass windows with the 18 saints of mullioned. The nave has frescoes of the “Master of St. Francis.” The vaults with the stars are interrupted by paint-ings of the thirteenth century.
In the middle of the nave two ladders extend to the crypt where the body of St. Francis lies located in a simple stone urn with his comrades Leo, Rufino, Mas-seo and Angelo. Going back in the aisle you can visit the side chapels and in particular the third right whose best frescoes of Giotto. The gothic high altar is decorated with columns with floral capitals and in the four sails of the vault you can see wonderful frescos of the famous valiant disciple by Giotto, called “Mas-ter of Sails” with the allegory of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, until the apothe-osis Saint Francis. In the right arm of the cruise, the vault is entirely covered with frescoes by Giotto. At the bottom it opens the gothic “Chapel of St. Nicho-las”.
The left arm of the cross reveals interesting frescoes by Pietro Lorenzetti and, in the first chapel on the left, you can note the frescoes by Simone Martini, a masterpiece of mysticism and grace.
The sacristy manifests the great fresco of the “Madonna and Child Enthroned, Angels and Saints Francis and Clare, created by Umbrian artist from the four-teenth century.
Convent and Church of San Damiano
The convent of San Damiano has many structures from the thirteenth-century.
Here St. Francis heard the voice of Jesus who told him to restore the Church (according to tradition in 1205). In the little square, on the right, there is a fres-co from the fifteenth century and, in front, the rustic facade of the Church with a high port.
The interior of the Church has a single nave with a deep choir. On the right you can observe the window from which, it is said, the priest of the Oratory had thrown the money collected by St. Francis from the sale of the fabrics of his fa-ther.
On the high altar there is a copy of the crucifixion that spoke to St. Francis. The original is at the Church of St. Clare.
Temple of Minerva
The temple dates back to the late Republican period. It was erected by quat-tuorviri Gneus Cesium and Tito Cesio Prisco at their expense.
Probably was not dedicated to Minerva (as it was decided following the discov-ery of a statue of a woman) but to Hercules, from which a votive plaque was found.
The facade is surprisingly well preserved, still in original condition, with its six fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, resting on plinths that, for lack of space, were placed on the staircase that leads into the vestibule. In 1539 in his cell with a rectangular plan, it was built the church of Santa Maria above Mi-nerva, further modified in Baroque style in the seventeenth century.
Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
It was built between 1212 and 1305, it was the first public building that was in-stalled in the town square, close to the temple. In its facade were walled the measures for silk, linen and wool, but also the shapes of the bricks and tiles for the construction industry. In the first panel of the cycle of St. Francis in the up-per church you notice that the final part of Torre del Popolo is still missing, it was finished only in 1305. A restoration of 1927 had somewhat offset the origi-nal appearance of the building.
Church of Santa Maria Maggiore
The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore dates back to the XI-XII century, but it was built from the ruins of a building even earlier. The simple façade, which bears an inscription of 1163, is divided into three sections by pilasters. The in-terior is divided into three naves; the nave, with semicircular apse and the sac-risty with the remains of frescoes from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. On the right it is a late medieval sarcophagus of the ninth century. From the crypt (the previous church) a passage leads to the so-called House of Properti-us, where in a cryptoporticus are preserved wall paintings in the Pompeian style. The adjacent garden are the remains of the Roman city walls, in blocks of limestone from Subasio, superimposed from the medieval time. Despite the transfer of the cathedral in San Rufino in 1036, the Bishop’s Palace, on the right of the church, where St. Francis renounced his father’s wealth, it always remained in place.
Church of Saint Clare
The Church of Saint Clare dating back to 1257 repeats the top of the Basilica of Saint Francis. Typical is the front rows pink and white uniform frames with Gothic portal and ring resting on two lions. Elegant rose two laps of columns and arches: the square bell tower and spire was built with mullioned windows and large single. The Gothic Latin cross interior has a single nave divided into four bells arches and contains works of great value as the crucifixion in the apse.
The Rocca Maggiore
Documented for the first time in 1174, the fortress was built as a German feu-dal castle. Frederick of Swabia, the future emperor Frederick II spent some years of his childhood (he was in fact baptized in Assisi in 1197, at the age of three years), in the care of Conrad of Urslingen. A year later, during some pop-ular uprising for independence, the fortress was destroyed by Assisan people. Only in 1367 the Cardinal Albornoz rebuilt the fortress reusing the crenellated walls and outer western parts of the inner walls. In 1458 Jacopo Piccinino re-built the twelve-sided tower and the long connection wall; Pope Sixtus IV re-stored the keep in 1478. The Rocca Maggiore has a structure with trapezoidal walls with corner towers that closes the keep quadrangle where stands the tall square tower of the master which embraces a broad overview.
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli was built in 1569 and designed by Ga-leazzo Alessi. And ‘impressive size (it is the seventh-largest among the Chris-tian churches) and perhaps poorly suited to the dictates of Franciscan simplici-ty, however, it was necessary to accommodate the masses of pilgrims visiting the Porziuncola, the primitive chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli that St. Fran-cis received as a gift from the Benedictines of Subasio.
In the Basilica note “Calvary” by Perugino, various frescoes of Spain and above the entrance to the sacristy, a beautiful “Annunciation of Federico Barocci.” In the crypt note the remains of the “common home”, the center of gathering of children in their early institutional. In the small museum Bernardino is a cross painted by Giunta Pisano and a portrait of the saint dating from the twelfth century.
Eremo delle Carceri
The Hermitage of the Prisons is a convent, built by San Bernardino of Siena in 1400, which is surrounded by dense forest of Mount Subasio. In this place, St. Francis used to retire to pray with his disciples. It is located at an altitude of 791 meters. Very pretty is a little church with the “Crucifixion” of Giovanni di Corruccio and a “Madonna and Child” by Tiberio d’Assisi.