This beautiful medieval town, with its geranium-hung streets, lovely views, and fountain-splashed piazzas, is heir to the legacy of St. Francis, patron saint of Italy and the town's favorite son. The 12th-century monk founded the Franciscan order and sparked a religious revolution.
The town is an important pilgrimage site (the third most visited pilgrimage site in Italy) and hosts many religious conferences and festivals. The Basilica di San Francesco is perhaps the most visited sight in Umbria, housing the saint's relics and Giotto's renowned fresco series of St. Francis's life.
Local ruins provide a view into Assisi's Etruscan and Roman roots, while grand palaces and majestic rocche (castles) from a later era tower above tile roofs.
Sadly, the town suffered serious damage during the earthquake of September 1997, but restoration was relatively swift and many splendid sites can be seen today.
All of Assisi's religious festivals involve feasts and procession. An especially long dramatic performance marks Easter Week. On Holy Thursday, a mystery play re-enacts the Deposition from the Cross, and traditional processions trail through town on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Assisi welcomes spring with the Festa di Calendimaggio. A queen is chosen and dubbed Primavera (spring), while the upper and lower quarters of the city compete in a musical tournament. Ladies and knights overtake the streets crooning amorous melodies in celebration of the young St. Francis, who wandered the streets of Assisi singing serenades at night. Legend says that it was on one of those nights that he encountered a vision of the Madonna della Poverta' (Lady of Poverty).
The Festa di San Francesco (October 4) kicks off in Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli, the site of St. Francis's death. Each year a different region of Italy offers oil for the cathedral's votive lamp, and traditional dances and songs of that region are performed.
Although settled since the Iron Age, Assisi emerged as a town in the 6th century BC, and maintained a distinct culture into the 1st century BC. Renamed Asisium by the Romans, it produced the poet Sextus Propertius, and St. Rufino evangelized the inhabitants in 238 AD.
Part of the Lombard Duchy of Spoleto, the city came into prominence again in the Middle Ages as another of Umbria's battling comuni, firmly on the side of the Ghibellines, although in 1198 it rebelled against the Duke of Spoleto and defied its nominal lord, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
One of the city's greatest claims to fame is being the birthplace in 1182 of Giovanni di Bernardone also ca lled St. Francis, patron saint of Italy. At the beginning of the 16th century, Assisi was included in the Papal State until it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 with the rest of Umbria.
Assisi boasts stinchetti and rocciata. The first is made with marzipan in the shape of small leg bones (also called ossa di morto, "dead's bones"), and are usually prepared in early November for All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Rocciata is a roll of sweet pasta filled with almonds and chopped walnuts, dried fruit, apple, sugar, and cinnamon.
Assisi's array of nut breads and sweets includes the mouth-watering torrone (a sweet nougat of almonds and egg whites) and the divine brustengolo (packed with raisins, apples, and walnuts). In addition, the Capucine nuns make a simple, traditional sweet known as serpentone.
A newly created DOC zone centers around Assisi. One of its interesting wines is a dry, white Grechetto, Umbria's finest white variety. While visiting Assisi, sample Rosso, Rosato, and Biano di Assisi DOC wines.
The burial place of St. Francis, this basilica was begun in 1228, two years after the saint's death. Over the next century, its Upper and Lower Churches were decorated by the foremost artists of their day, among them Cimabue, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Giotto. In particular, Giotto's frescoes on the Life of St. Francis are some of the most renowned in Italy. The basilica, whose architecture dominates Assisi, is one of the great Christian shrines and receives vast numbers of pilgrims throughout the year.
Assisi's main square, it's dominated by the columns of the Tempio di Minerva, a Roman temple-front from the Augustan age. The Palazzo Comunale, opposite, is home to the Pinacoteca Comunale, an art gallery with works by local medieval artists.
While the exterior shimmers with pale stone, the interior is pink and white and a beautiful example of early Gothic architecture. It's also the burial place of St. Clare, Francis's companion and the founder of the Poor Clares (an order of nuns). One of its chapels contains the crucifix that is said to have bowed its head and ordered Francis to "Repair God's church". The crucifix was originally in San Damiano, a church set amid olive groves south of the Porta Nuova.
Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, it has a superb Romanesque facade. Inside is a small museum of paintings, and there are archaeological items in the crypt. From the Duomo, Via Maria delle Rose leads to the Rocca Maggiore (rebuilt in 1367), a much-restored castle.
On Piazza San Pietro, San Pietro is simple and carefully restored 13th-century Romanesque church. The nearby Oratorio dei Pellegrini, a 15th-century pilgrims' hospice, contains well-preserved frescoes by Matteo da Gualdo.
The Chiesa Nuova boasts some beautiful art and architecture, featuring high domes, a rounded central apse, and a heavily frescoed interior
Select a city below by clicking on a drop-pin or explore region by clicking:Explore Region
Assisi is Umbria’s most famous town. This beautiful medieval town is the birthplace of St. Francis, patron saint of Italy. The 12th-century monk founded the Franciscan order and sparked a religious revolution. The Basilica di San Francesco contains the saint’s relics and the Giotto’s renowned fresco series of St. Francis’s life.
Gubbio is located in the northern part of Umbria. The beauty of its twisting streets and terracotta-tiled houses is enhanced by the imposing Apennines. Every one of its inhabitants’ homes has a medieval origin, and the city itself is protected by medieval walls. The ruins of an amphitheater attest the Roman’s origin of the town.
Perugia is the capital city of Umbria. It is an intensely colorful place with some of the most authentic medieval streets in all of Europe. The biggest name in local industry is Perugina, purveyor of Italy's finest chocolates. Perugia host to one of Europe's most celebrated jazz festivals every summer.
Spoleto lies on the slopes of Mt Subasio in the south of Umbria. The city’s urban planning was completed in Roman time. Thick walls and a magnificent gorge surround Spoleto, and fine medieval and Roman monuments sit along the streets. Since 1958 every summer Spoleto hosts the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds), an annual music and opera festival.
Situated between Rome and Florence, the beautiful medieval town of Orvieto is an easy stop for those looking to explore the countryside, and a convenient base for exploring Umbria and southern Tuscany. Celebrated internationally for it efforts, the town preserves its traditions, in art and architecture, as well as lifestyles.