January 25, 2019
A day in Assisi
A day in Assisi is something everyone should do, at least once in one’s life. If you are religious, reason is quite obvious: Assisi is the hometown of San Francesco, Italian Patron and founder of the homonym religious congregation. Obvious also if you are an art lover, or simply a lover of beautiful things. Even if you are not religious, nor passionate about art, I’m sure you’ll thank me for having suggested you this destination. Everyone should see once in the life the Basilica di San Francesco.
A medieval night in San Gemini
The first suggestion I want to give you is about your arrival in Assisi. Do not stay there the night before. In fact, the centre of Italy is so full of small towns and villages that it would be a sin not to see another of them. My advice is for sleeping in San Gemini. I stayed there by chance and I fell in love with this village. Entering it, a road sign informs you that you are entering “one of the most beautiful village in Italy”: definitely very self-confident, quite conceited.
I stayed there out of season, for a sport event; a lot of restaurants and hotels were closed, so I didn’t have too much choice for accommodation and dinner. Anyway, if you are in San Gemini for dinner, well you’ve got no choice: Taverna del Torchio. In a old, perfectly renovated corner house in the centre of this village, this restaurant welcomes you with its three dining rooms: about 20 people for each dining room to take the atmosphere more familiar. Soft light and walls made of stones will take you back in the Italian Middle Age. The staff of this restaurant in San Gemini is very kind and professional and the chef is absolutely great. I was there with my family two evenings in a row and we tested practically each main course; all were so tasty that we couldn’t find a best one!
Narrow streets of stones
After dinner, take the chance to go for a walk around the narrow streets starting from the main road. It will be a sort of journey into the past: no cars, … almost no people, narrow streets made of stones, perfectly renovated house, with wooden windows. I could hardly believe that only some hours before I was in the chaotic city of Milan and now I found myself in another time, not only in another place.
Where to start a day in Assisi
San Gemini is at about 70 kilometers from Assisi, not so near, but it is completely worth value to stay there for the night before going to the hometown of San Francesco.
So, next morning, wake up early, have breakfast and take the E45 heading north towards Assisi. When in Santa Maria degli Angeli, a small hill rises in front of you with Assisi. Run the few kilometers up to the medieval border walls of this village; park your car in the subterranean parking and start your journey.
Enter the walls through Porta di San Pietro, soon at your right you will see the beautiful Church of Saint Peter. The walls were built in the XIV Century and are perfectly conserved. The Church of Saint Peter is a typical example of the Umbrian Romanesque Architecture. It is one of the beautiful churches in Assisi. Remarkable is the breathtaking panorama over the valley you could see from the green yard outside the church.
Then, go back towards the Porta di San Pietro and take the street in front of you: Piaggia di Porta San Pietro. Souvenirs’s shops, alternating with bars and restaurants will escort you up to the stunning Basilica of San Francesco.
Basilica di San Francesco
The Basilica di San Francesco is the most important complex in Assisi. Looking at the plant, considering how it is built, you soon realize you are in front of something really impressive. In reality there are two churches in one complex. The Basilica Superiore, with the frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue, regarding life of the Saint of Assisi. Some meters below, there is the Basilica Inferiore, which holds the Crypts with the body of the Saint. So, actually there are like three churches in one Basilica. Nevertheless, when you are there, in front of the church, all is perfectly integrated in the environment; all is so natural you can hardly feel the prominence of the complex. It is the perfect metaphors of the Saint: his simplicity was his glorious.
When you enter in the Basilica Inferiore, walk ahead then turn left. The main nave will open in front of you, letting you see the main altar of the Basilica. Again simplicity and, indeed, greatness!
Stay on the right side up to the middle of the nave, then take the stairs and go down in the Crypts. Silence is pervading the air. At the end of the small nave, a circular room, just behind the main altar of the Basilica Inferiore, holds the grave of San Francesco of Assisi.
After the visit, take the stairs on your right and go upstairs, again in the Basilica. Before leaving, turn back to look at the main altar. Whether you are religious or not, there is no doubt the “divine” is pervading this place. No matter how you imagine God, no matter even if you don’t believe in God, here, in this simplicity, you can really feel the presence of the Divine, however you conceive it.
Then, you can go and visit the Basilica Superiore, with all the frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue. From the churchyard outside the Basilica Superiore, take a look at the village. The beautiful green yard between the Basilica and the village suggests the right idea to look at material things: at a distance!
Let’s now resume our journey.
Entering the town
Let’s walk into via San Francesco. Every house has an history to tell, not only the churches, or the Authorities Palace: every house, every restaurant, every shop. One of the thing I like most in my walking on these streets was to take a look at the narrow streets, starting from the main one and going up on the hill, or down towards the valley. There are some corners were, if you stop and silence for a while, you can see Francesco and his Companions, walking beside you. Again, the same feeling of “magic” I felt into the Basilica, in the most religious sense of the term.
Following via San Francesco you will reach the square with the Palace of the City Hall, then go straight on into Corso Giuseppe Mazzini and you’ll end up into Piazza Santa Chiara, with the homonym Basilica: another clear example of Umbrian Romanesque Architecture.
End of the day
Time is passing fastly, when you are all surrounded by all this beauty. Time for lunch has already gone. I suggest you to find a bar and take an aperitif with some Central Italian Wine and a wonderful salami and cheese plate.
Then you can walkabout the streets of Assisi, going back to your parking. Take your car and leave this wonderful place. When in Santa Maria degli Angeli, stop your car by the side of the road. Get out of the car and take a look back towards Assisi and watch this village in the dusk: it is something really stunning.