Assisi is the spiritual capital of Umbria. It is an unexpectedly charming place that takes way longer than expected to explore and absorb its atmosphere. Pilgrimage place from long time the town developed and lives around the saintly personalities of St Francis and Santa Chiara. Their two churches are in opposite parts of the town connected by a set of roads sided with charming old buildings made out of stones.
When you see the town from afar St Francis complex looks absolutely impressive. It looks like a very large compound till you get closer and you are surprised to realize that most of it is the huge building of the church itself. But it is not just a church but three of them, one on top of each other. The underground is dedicated to St Francis’ tomb that stands in the middle surrounded by the four monks’ tombs he was traveling with, a very serene and meditative place. On top of it is the lower church with impressive frescoes by many famous masters like Cimabue and Lorenzo, who worked here around the time of the church construction. A realistic painting of St Francis done 50 years after his death that shows also the stigmata, first recorded saint to have them, is one of the most pointed out frescos. All the ceilings and walls are painted with vivid and dynamic scenes, in a special blue characteristic for the churches of Umbria. Parts of the frescoes are missing affected by earthquakes but in Italy is not allowed to repaint the missing parts. They are restored but just with unpainted plaster. The chapels are numerous and all have frescoes on their walls.
On top of the lower church is the upper church, built just 100 years after the lower one around 1200. It has a long nave painted on sides by Giotto with scenes from the life of St Francis. Being stacked like this is not surprising that the churches were affected during earthquakes, the last major one collapsing a part of the upper church killing 4 people inside.
Near St Francis church is a remarkable new museum, MUMA, about the missionaries in the Amazon, a real treat in modern museum building. The road that goes across the town is a enchantment at almost every corner being something to take shots. Old houses, painted old chapels, town gates dating from the Romans, narrow alleys getting lost on stairs towards the top of the hill, shops and flowers all over enchant the many pilgrims coming here. Because the town is flooded by religious pilgrims, many nuns and monks roaming its streets and praying at each possible place.
At the end of this long road is the church of St Chiara, a large white stone complex that has in the crypt the tomb of the saint contemporary with St Francis. If you go towards the top of the hill you arrive in the large square of St Ruffino, built in the same architectural style as the previous two churches from where a short walk brings you to the top rock where the citadel overlooks the town.
Outside of the town St Maria dei Angeli is a huge church. It was built so large to incorporate inside the original church that St Francis rebuild when he heard God talking to him. It stands in the middle of the colossal nave, a tiny and gentle construction made out of stones, with painted saints on an wood altar.
Assisi is a jewel of a town. The streets are so charming that you easily lose yourself strolling through them and time flies.
We hardly pulled ourselves out of Assisi, very late and drove close by to Spello, a charming Umbrian town full of flowers that adorn the walls of the stone houses. The town is up on a hill accessed by extremely narrow stepped alleys that wind up and down passing charmingly through buildings. It is a charming town perfect for exploration with no particular places to visit. We walked the alleys till we decided to have dinner on a top terrace admiring the Umbrian hills in the sunsets.