Assisi Retreat

Assisi 2

Panoramic View of Umbria from the Basilica di San Francesco.

At the mention of Assisi one cannot help but to associate it closely to St. Francis (1182-1226), a venerated religious figure in history and a famous son of hers. He dedicated himself to imitate the life of Christ and also had a great love for nature. An often recounted story tells of how St Francis stopped during a journey to preach to birds that filled the trees on either side of the road. Thus most figurines and statues of him often depict him and the birds together.

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The majestic and imposing Basilica di San Francesco sitting on top of Mount Subasio supported by 53 Romanesque arches and powerful buttresses.

The Basilica was started 2 years after the death of St. Francis to mark his canonization in 1228. It was designed by a follower of his, Brother Ella Bombadone and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

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Olea europaea, an evergreen tree or shrub native to the Mediterranean.

Olive is a major agricultural product in the Mediterranean region where copious amounts of olive oil is produced and exported. Olive oil has long been considered sacred and was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece as well as burnt in sacred temple lamps as well as the ‘Eternal flame’ of the original Olympic Games. Over the years the olive has become a symbol of peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power and purity.

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Via Frate Elia, on the ascent to Basilica di San Francesco.

The walled township of Assisi may be quite small but the streets are relatively steep and it might take a longer time to walk then expected. It is however, a very pleasant place to visit and it is not overcrowded except on festival days. Traffic is closed to non-residents and all vehicles have to be parked at the lots at Porta San Pietro near Porta Nuova or beneath Piazza Matteotti.

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Monks from the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor commonly known as the Franciscan Order.

St. Francis of Assisi founded the men’s ‘Order of Friars Minor’ and the women’s ‘Order of St.Clare’ and the ‘Third Order of St. Francis’ for men and women who were not able to live the monastic life but were practising itinerant preachers.

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The Lower & Upper Basilicas and the portico seen from the Lower Plaza of St. Francis.

The unique design of the Basilica encompasses 2 levels; with each being consecrated as a church. Basilica inferiore refers to the Lower Church and Basilica superiore, the Upper Church. Within the Lower Church, halfway down the nave are steps descending to the crypt where the remains of St. Francis is interred. The interior is a little dark but you will see a central nave with several side chapels with their semi-circular arches.

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The ornate Gothic rose window set in the tympanum of the ‘Basilica inferiore’ ~ Lower Church.

This Rose window is considered by some to be ‘the eye of the most beautiful church’. The Basilica is virtually like a museum as it contains numerous frescoes painted by late medieval painters of the Roman and Tuscan schools. Painters like Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti were commissioned to complete the frescoes and the range and quality of the works makes the Basilica an important venue that demonstrated the development of Italian art of this period.

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Stairway that leads from ‘Basilica inferiore’ to ‘Basilica superiore’.

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‘Basilica superiore’ ~ The Upper Church of Basilica di San Francesco.

The Upper Church is an important example of the early Gothic style in Italy. In contrast to the Lower Church, it is bright and spacious. The frescoes painted by Cimabue have deteriorated badly and suffered due to the damp and decay but some others have remained and are still visible.

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Interior of the early Gothic Upper Church.

The Upper Church consists of a single four bay nave with cross-vaulted ceiling bordered with patterns of crosses and leaves, a transept and a polygonal apse. The four ribbed vaults are decorated alternately with golden stars on a blue background and paintings.

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View of the Lower Plaza of St. Francis from ‘Basilica superiore’

The cloisters leading to the Friary Sacro Convento with its imposing walls that towers over the valley, looking more like a fortress. The pink and white stones used in the construction were quarried from Mount Subasio itself and because it took a long time to be completed the architectural style became a intermingling of Romanesque and Gothic. Friars have been living here since 1230 but the Belfry which was constructed in Romanesque style was finished only in 1239.

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The rolling plains of Umbria in central Italy.

Umbria is landlocked and characterized by its sweet and green hills and medieval hill towns like Assisi and Spello that has significance in historic as well as modern Central Italy. It is today appreciated for its landscape, traditions, artistic legacy and influence on culture and agriculture focused on mainly tobacco, olive and vineyard cultivation and 45% of Italy’s Black truffle production from Valnerina, a valley township in the mountainous part of Umbria.

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Interesting Candy coloured Ribbon pastas!

I love my pastas but I am not sure if these colourful ones would really help to whet one’s appetite.

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A delightful little shop to browse & pick up cute souvenirs along Via San Francesco.

Via San Francesco leads to the Piazza del Commune and it has many interesting artisan shops to pop into, touristy as it may be.

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Charming nooks & corners lie in wait to be discovered.

It is easy to see why Assisi has been named the ‘crown jewel of the medieval hill towns’.

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Now, this is what a pretty window should look like!

An interesting bit of trivia for you! Assisi stages a Wall-Garden Competition every June during late Spring. It would be a fantastic time to wonder around the tiny alleyways to view the splendid flowering balconies.

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Piazza del Commune

This square is the central fulcrum of Assisi and people converge here for a cuppa, people watching or to enjoy typical Umbrian cuisine after visiting the sights in this medieval hill town. Close by is the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo built during mid 13th century, the adjoining Torre del Popolo ~ People’s Tower built in 1305 as well as the Palazzo dei Priori . The fountains with the 3 lions in the southern side of Piazza del Commune has been here since the 16th century.

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Palazzo dei Priori or Town Hall.

The construction of the Town hall began in 1275 and was completed in 1471 but a large section of it was rebuilt in the 16th century when structural problems surfaced. Today it still serves as the municipal office and houses the municipal picture gallery, the Pinacoteca Communale which features Renaissance art, frescoes from Giotto’s school as well as local exhibitions.

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Piazza Santa Chiara

At the end of my walk, we visited the Basilica of Santa Chiara which has massive lateral buttresses, a beautiful rose window and a simple Gothic interior which was begun in 1257. The remains of St. Clare, the namesake saint is buried here and within the church are frescoes and paintings dating from the 13th century.

The sunny skies and cool weather made the visit to amazing Assisi a memorable one. I honestly did not expect for this medieval hill town to have this much to offer but her rich history, interesting art and culture and the captivating views left me in total awe!

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