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Assisi, in the Umbria region of central Italy, is best known as being the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi, but as you will discover there is much else to discover in a visit to the town.
Without doubt your visit to Assisi will focus around the main monument of the city, the Basilica of St. Francis, but be sure to find time to also explore the rest of Assisi, starting in the town centre.
In the Town Square on the northern side of Assisi you can see the 13th century Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo flanked by the “Torre del Popolo”, also begun in the 13th century and completed in 1305.
The nearby Temple of Minerva (1st century BC) was later converted into “Santa Maria Sopra Minerva”, while on the southern side of the square there is the Palazzo dei Priori, built between the 13th and 15th centuries.
San Rufino cathedral and belltower
Walking along Via San Rufino you reach the Cathedral (Church of San Rufino) dedicated to the bishop, a martyr of the 3rd century.
The romanesque cathedral façade has three portals which correspond to the three naves inside, three rose windows placed symmetrically at the portals, and a triangular pediment with a large gothic arch built in the late 13th century.
Next to the cathedral is a bell tower, built on the ruins of a Roman cistern and decorated with blind arches and mullioned windows.
The interior has three naves and was restored in the 16th century. Entering the nave to the right you can see the ancient baptismal font where Saint Francis and Saint Clare were baptized.
Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
In the Piazza Santa Chiara is the Basilica dedicated to the saint, which is an example of Italian gothic architecture in the 13th century, begun in 1257 and consecrated in 1265.
The exterior of the basilica is characterized by three large arches and a simple façade with a portal flanked by two lions and surmounted by a rose window and bell tower.
The interior has a nave and in the apse there is a painted cross, attributed to Giunta Pisano (active from 1229 to 1254).
In the right transept there is a picture of the "Master of Saint Clare", depicting scenes from his life and in the nave on the right a door leads to the chapel of St. George, where there are relics of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.
Note: the wide range of artworks in the basilica is such that we have a separate article: art of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Other Assisi monuments
Another notable religious monument in Assisi is the 13th century church of San Pietro, in romanesque style. The church, built over an existing place of worship, has a façade with three portals, three rose windows placed on vertical portals and a bell tower near the apse; the interior has three naves and it contains frescoes from the fourteenth century.
A structure with a very different purpose is the Major Fortress which was built, according to tradition, before the Lombard conquest. The castle was for many years the residence of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250). Destroyed at the end of the 12th century by a popular uprising, it was rebuilt in the middle of the 14th century for the Papal Legate Cardinal Albornoz and further strengthened by Ugolino Montemarte.
Landscapes and traditions
It is usually said that "Green Umbria", the region around Assisi with its mystic landscapes, invites visitors to meditation and contemplation. The Umbrian landscape is all this, and today it is also strewn with numerous local restaurants where you can taste the recipes of the best traditional Umbrian cuisine.
See also history of Assisi
You can find more local travel ideas in the Umbria guide.