Let’s discover Assisi and its immense heritage!
At the foot of Mount Subasio, contemplation is at home within the walls of Assisi. This beautiful medieval town is known for being the birthplace of Italy’s two patron saints, St Francis and St Clare. It is evident how the influence of the Franciscan order has shaped the architecture and life of the village, which already had ancient origins at the time when the Romans worshipped their pagan gods.
Visiting Assisi often means making a pilgrimage driven by the need for forgiveness. Yet, this aspect does not exclude admiration for the beauty of art and what it wants to express. Giotto knew this and it was in Assisi that he began his career, putting his name alongside those of Cimabue, Simone Martini or Pietro Lorenzetti. The frescoes and the immense work of these artists have made the Basilica of St Francis and Assisi a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Assisi has been the setting for both recent and distant films, such as the set of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who directed Totò in the film “Uccellacci e uccellini” in 1966. More recent filming turns to the skill of Pupi Avati, with Sergio Castellitto playing Boccaccio in the film “Dante”.
There is art, therefore, but also food and wine, high quality craftsmanship and a vast territory with charming villages you could fall in love with, such as Perugia, Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco, Deruta and Rasiglia.
Precisely for this reason, the itinerary that you will read below will take you to discover the best things to see in Assisi in one day, and then discover what to do and what events not to miss. But first I’ll tell you how to get there…
How to get to and around Assisi
The nearest airports are those of Perugia (at Sant’Egidio, 12 km from Assisi), Rome, Pisa and Florence, from which it is possible to reach Assisi by bus or by renting a car. Numerous regional and state roads connect it to the A1 motorway (Rome-Florence) but also to the A14 on the Adriatic side. If you travel by train, take advantage of the Santa Maria degli Angeli station, which is about 3 km from the centre: Line C of the urban transport system will take you to Piazza Matteotti, in the centre, every 30 minutes.
On the other hand, if you have a car with you, parking will not be a big worry. You can stop at the Porta Nuova car park or you can go directly to the car parks closest to the Basilica of St Francis, including the San Giovanni Paolo II car park or the Comunale (or San Francesco) car park. The most central is the Mojano car park, just outside the walls adjacent to the Basilica of Santa Chiara. But there is also the Matteotti car park in the upper part of town. They are all pay parking, except for the car park near the Rocca Maggiore! In Assisi you get around on foot, although there are many lifts that help with access to the various levels of the town. They are convenient not only for those who can hardly walk, but also for those with children.
Comfortable shoes on your feet and ready for the city tour! 👇
What to see in Assisi in a day
BASILICA OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
It was clear from the death of the seraphic St Francis of Assisi that the basilica would be a “specialis ecclesia”, or Mother Church of the Franciscan order as well as a sanctuary for the remains of Francis. The first stone was laid in 1228, just above the Colle dell’Inferno, a place where the lawless were executed and buried – later renamed the Colle del Paradiso (Hill of Paradise). In 1230, the Lower Basilica was completed, with frescoes by Cimabue, while the larger Upper Basilica saw the participation of Giotto, who was given the task of narrating the story of the saint in 28 frescoes. Other masters of the time were responsible for the enrichment of the Order’s house, such as Pietro Cavallini, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti. Today, the basilica is a destination for the faithful from all over the world, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the artistic marvels it contains.
BOSCO DI SAN FRANCESCO
If you have time to dedicate to nature and are not just passing through Assisi, you can set aside a few hours for your well-being. The Bosco di San Francesco is a FAI property, which is also suitable for children. The walking route passes by the former monastery of Santa Croce. From there, you can reach Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Third Paradise, a place where ethical reflection takes the place of everyday dramas.
INDIOS MISSIONARY MUSEUM AND MUNICIPAL ART GALLERY
Just a stone’s throw from the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, we come across this small museum. It houses a collection of artefacts commissioned by missionary friars who frequented the Amazon. The MUMA is interactive, youthful and tells of the harsh reality of deepest Brazil. It is the exotic you do not expect among the medieval streets of the town!
A little further along the same street, the Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery) enclosed in the Palazzo Vallemani is a stop that won’t take up much of your tour time and allows you to see a beautiful collection of artworks in an equally beautiful historic building.
TOWN HALL SQUARE
Continuing on, you will easily reach the central square where city life still takes place today, as it did centuries ago. The Piazza del Comune, a particular encounter between the Roman and medieval past, tells the story of the citizens who tread the cobblestones every day. The Fountain of the Three Lions in the centre, the Palazzo dei Priori, now the Town Hall, the tall Torre del Popolo flanking the Temple of Minerva (although it is thought to have been dedicated to Hercules). You can take advantage of a stroll through this square to buy a handmade ceramic souvenir or search for unique pieces made by the keepers of beautiful Assisi stitch embroidery.
TEMPLE OF MINERVA
A more detailed visit should be made to this place, sacred since 30 B.C.. It preserves among its columns the ancient devotion of Roman ancestors, later supplanted by Christianity. In the 1500s, this temple became a church dedicated to Santa Maria known as “sopra Minerva”, without altering the façade, which unexpectedly stands next to the medieval bell tower. Beneath the temple, numerous excavations have brought to light the ancient paving of what was once the Roman forum square, which can be accessed from a crypt near the square. A visit to the Archaeological Museum is as important as visiting the Town Hall Square above!
Between the Rocca Maggiore and Rocca minore, in the Porta Perlici district, the remains of an elliptical theatre dating back to the 1st century A.D. now support several houses built in the Middle Ages. The arena is a silent garden, so passing by it is impossible not to stop and watch how time transforms what surrounds us.
CATHEDRAL OF SAN RUFINO
Situated on the square of the same name, Assisi Cathedral is one of the oldest places of worship in the town, with its distinctive “Umbrian” Romanesque façade and bell tower (which can be visited), also in Romanesque style. Inside, the Baptismal Font was the place where Saints Francis, Clare and possibly King Frederick II of Swabia were baptised to the Christian faith. Chapels, frescoes and inlaid wood carvings enrich the interior of the church. In the crypt, a Roman sarcophagus from the 3rd century AD contained the remains of St. Rufinus.
In the Diocesan Museum adjacent to the cathedral, numerous paintings can be viewed, while the Chapter Archive preserves illuminated codices and ancient documents. On the same square, attention should also be drawn to the unique Fountain of San Ruffino, which rests on the walls of the house where St. Clare was born.
THE MAJOR FORTRESS
It defended Assisi from enemy assaults thanks to its privileged position. By walking up the Rocca, you can admire one of the most beautiful views over Assisi, as well as discover the history of the fortress, which hosted Frederick Barbarossa.
THE SANCTUARY OF EREMO DELLE CARCERI
About 4 kilometres from the “Seraphica civitas”, the centuries-old holm oaks of Mount Subasio offered refuge to hermits already in early Christian times. The Sanctuary of Eremo delle Carceri is but a secluded place of meditation and prayer that became the property of the Benedictines in 1400. The forest where the sanctuary is immersed listened to the prayers of the saint and his companions, who used to take refuge in natural caves to devote themselves to connecting with God and creation. Here, St Francis of Assisi preached to the birds that lingered in the branches of the great holm oaks. The Sanctuary of Eremo delle Carceri is well worth a visit, preferably as a stop on a walk to the summit of Mount Subasio, following the Path of St Francis’ Way (but this is if you have more than one day available).
BASILICA OF SAINT CLARE
Near the ancient city walls, lies the body of the patron saint of Italy. In this Gothic-style church, with its pink and white stripes, are preserved some relics of St Clare but also of St Francis of Assisi, underlining how the path of these two souls was devoted to religion at the same time. It is certainly no coincidence that the Crucifix of San Damiano, which spoke to St Francis, calling him back to his mission, is kept within these very walls.
SANCTUARY OF SAN DAMIANO
From the Saba Porta Nuova car park, you can walk to this delightful sanctuary – better if in the cooler hours because the walk back to the centre is uphill! The inner cloister, the Romanesque-style church, the refectory. Everything here is shrouded in silence and prayer. It’s ideal, if you are looking for a bit of peace in the footsteps of the simple life led by the saints.
BASILICA OF SAINT MARY OF THE ANGELS
A few kilometres from Assisi, in the hamlet of the same name, is the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. It is one of the places to which both Francis and Clare were most devoted. In fact, the Saint’s former residence was located right inside the church, later transformed into what is now the Chapel of Roses. Here, frescoes by Tiberius of Assisi recount the granting of an indulgence: the Pardon of Assisi obtained in the small Porziuncola, a small church located in the central nave of the larger Basilica. St Francis often took refuge there in prayer and St Clare embraced poverty here. Every day of the year, indulgences are granted in the Porziuncola to pilgrims from all over the world who ask for forgiveness.
What to do in Assisi
Amidst the architectural beauty of the town, as well as the religiousness that surrounds it, Assisi reserves space for entertainment for young and old alike, taking advantage of the surrounding territory and its precious fruits.
Food and wine are at the centre of the experiences, bringing to the table delicacies such as truffles, cold meats and cheeses, extra virgin olive oil PDO or fine wines including Grechetto DOC, Umbria Rosso IGT, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG or Assisi DOP. You can chat over an aperitif in the centre, enjoying craft beers and platters of cold cuts and cheeses accompanied by the Umbrian “torta al testo”.
If you are looking for pure oxygen and good air, you can opt for a walk among the vineyards of Montefalco, or take advantage of the grape harvest period to participate in this very important moment for wine production. And if you are a lover of sweets and dried fruit, you cannot miss the typical “rocciata”, a dessert rich in dried fruit, figs and plums with the scent of Vin Santo.
The woods around Assisi are the scene of e-bike or trekking itineraries, but can also be explored on horseback. Walking will give you the opportunity to find the best truffles in the area and why not, learn the best food pairings with Umbrian cooking classes. The closer Bosco di San Francesco is, on the other hand, ideal for a walk with the little ones, who can be involved in stories about the life of St Francis of Assisi and his special bond with animals. Educational workshops and para-school courses for children are often organised there, without neglecting the mental well-being of adults between yoga and meditation courses.
Events not to be missed
Spring in Assisi brings with it the cheerful notes of the Calendimaggio celebrations, when the town comes alive with festivity and actively participates in three days of popular songs, dances, theatrical performances and merriment.
The end of summer is marked by the Palio di San Rufino, a competition between the crossbowmen of the Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi to win the silver “balestrina”. On this occasion, the town returns to its medieval atmosphere with banquets, processions and the ancient San Rufino Market. The first weekend in September closes the festivities with the Cavalcade of Satriano, a re-enactment of the route travelled by St Francis of Assisi in 1226, when ill, he returned from Nocera with a procession of knights, passing through Satriano.
Now that you have an idea of what Assisi has to offer, you just have to see for yourself the beauty of this place. I wish you a happy trip to Umbria!