Things to see
in Assisi (Back to
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Basilica di San Francesco
and art lovers make straight for the Basilica di San Francesco
(daily 6.30am-7.30pm; free), one of the most overwhelming
collections of art outside a gallery anywhere in the world.
Started in 1228, two years after the saint's death, and financed
by donations from all over Europe.
Here we can see Giotto and the Cavallini frescos. The
complicated floor plan and the low-lit vaults were intended to
create a meditative introspection - an effect added to by
brown-robed monks and a ban on photography. Francis lies under
the floor in a crypt only brought to light in 1818 after 52 days
of digging. He was hidden after his funeral for safekeeping, and
nowadays endures almost continuous Masses.
Frescoes cover almost every available space. Stilted early works
by anonymous painters influenced by the Byzantines sit alongside
Roman painters such as Cavellini, who with Cimabue pioneered the
move from mosaic to naturalism and the "new" medium of fresco,
the students from the Sienese School, Simone Martini and Pietro
Lorenzetti , whose paintings are the ones to make a real point
Martini's frescoes are in the Cappella di San Martino (1322-26);
every detail follows his drawings, adding up to a unified scheme
that's unique in Italy.
Lorenzetti's works, dominated by a powerful Crucifixion,
are in the transept to the left of the main altar. Vaults above
the altar itself contain four magnificent frescoes, with
colourful allegories of the virtues on
which Francis founded his order: Poverty, Chastity and
The big feature in the right transept is Cimabue's over-restored
Madonna, Child and Angels with St Francis. The Upper
Church, built to a light and airy Gothic plan shows Giotto?s
dazzling frescoes on the life of St Francis. Francis
Preaching to the Birds and Driving the Devils from Arezzo
are just two of the famous scenes reproduced worldwide on cards
Interesting to see are the cloisters, accessible from the rear
right-hand side of the Lower Church, and the Treasury reached
via the apse of the Lower Church that contains a rich collection
of paintings, reliquaries and general religious clutter given to
the Franciscans over the centuries.
Basilica di Santa Chiara
Construction work on the church and adjacent convent of St
Claire began in 1257, three years after the saint's death and a
year after she was canonised.
The church dedicated to St Claire occupied the site of the
church of San Giorgio, where St Francis had been buried before
his remains were moved to the basilica in 1230. The wooden
"Crucifix? in the Cappella del Crocifisso is alleged to have
spoken to St Francis in San Damiano, ordering him to repair the
church. Relics of St Francis and St Claire are kept behind the
grate. The chapel contains a fresco by Puccio Capanna (1340-46):
"Enthroned Madonna and Child with St Claire, St John the
Baptist, the Archangel Michael and St Francis", as well as other
frescoes of the school of Giotto and Lorenzetti.
The right hand transept contains a panel with the "Life of St
Claire?, by the so-called Maestro di Santa Chiara (late 13th
century), as well as frescoes depicting St Claire and Biblical
scenes by an artist known as the Maestro Espressionista di Santa
Chiara (first half of the 14th century). The "Crucifix? has
also been attributed to the Maestro di Santa Chiara (1280-90).
The crypt was built between 1850 and 1872 and Restored in
neo-gothic style in 1935, it houses the body of St Claire,
discovered in 1850.
Records of this building date back to 1174, when it was erected
as a German feudal castle.
The Emperor Frederick II of Swabia spent several years of his
childhood here in the care of Conrad of Urslingen, and was
baptised in Assisi at the age of three in 1197. In Conrad's
absence, the people of Assisi rebelled and destroyed the castle.
The castle remained a ruin until 1367, when Cardinal Albornoz
rebuilt the fortress and in 1458 Jacopo Piccinino, then lord of
Assisi, erected the twelve-sided tower and the long curtain wall
connecting the castle to the city.
In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV restored the castle's keep, while between
1535 and 1538 Pope Paul III built the round tower near the main
Temple of Minerva
Built in the late Republican period in the 1st century BC, this
temple was erected by the quatorvirates Gneus Cesius and Titus
Cesius Priscus at their own expense. When a female statue was
unearthed here it was thought the temple had been dedicated to
Minerva, although the subsequent discovery of a votive plaque to
Hercules makes it more likely that the temple had been dedicated
In 1539 the inner sanctum of the temple was transformed into the
church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, with further
alterations added in the Baroque style during the 17th century.
Palazzo Capitano del popolo
Built between 1212 and 1305, this was the first public building
to be erected in Piazza del Comune.
The facade of the building contains the measures for silk, linen
and wool, the outlines of bricks and roof tiles used in
Restoration work carried out in 1927 considerably altered the
original appearance of the building.
Is in the town quarter of Porta Perlici, a town gate of the 12th
century with a double inner arch and door-posts in Umbrian and
Roman blocks. Here there are the remains of the structure of
the Roman Amphitheatre of the 1st century A.D. A
garden occupies the area of the former arena, while the only
remain is a travertine arch.
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