A Day Trip Pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy

Rooftops of Assisi, Umbria

If it weren’t for one man, the story of the small Italian town of Assisi would be vastly different. The town would have been relegated to the still prestigious ranks of being yet another awfully scenic hilltop town. But this is not the case and it’s all thanks to the pious St. Francis of Assisi. As a student of European history, I’d come across his name time and time again, seeping into my subconscious and driving me to visit Assisi when I got the chance last December.

Situated only a short distance from the city of Perugia in the heart of Umbria, I decided to make a day trip out to Assisi on the train. True to form, I hadn’t really done much research about the town, but I figured the birthplace of such a prominent figure was bound to have some sights of interest. And yes, there are plenty of attractions related to St Francis, but Assisi turned out to be far less one-dimensional than I could have possibly anticipated. I many not be religious, but what follows was my personal little pilgrimage to the enchanting town of Assisi.

 

Arrival

Umbria Countryside, Assisi

Arriving at Assisi train station, it was either a bus trip or 3km walk up to the actual town. Lacking patience for the bus to come, I decided to head off and make the walk up. Soon I had left the residential area, found myself walking between olive farms and looking ahead into a blanket of fog or smog. I basically had no idea what lay before me or what Assisi actually looked like.

As I continued to walk up, it wasn’t until I got surprisingly close to the town before the fog began to clear and the town came into view. What was particularly striking was the basilica at the town’s western end and the immense, arched foundations that sat beneath it. The sight spurned me on and after not too long, I found myself at the town’s lower gate.

Basilica Assisi

 

St Francis of Assisi

Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi of Assisi

Before I get to the attractions of Assisi, I should probably go back to explain why St Francis of Assisi was so important, shouldn’t I?

Born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in 1182, he earned the name Francis due to a nickname given to him by his father. You can actually visit the house in Assisi where Francis grew up over 800 years ago. Francis had a pretty wild life until his early twenties, when he returned to his birthplace of Assisi and found his spiritual side. His streak for helping the less fortunate and living a humble, frugal life started early on. It was with this theme of poverty that St Francis founded the Franciscan orders, which include the Order of Friars Minor, the Order of Saint Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis. His impact on Catholicism is so great that today he is considered one of the main patron saints of Italy.

Pilgrim Store Assisi

It is because of the teachings and orders of St Francis, that Assisi has become such a popular pilgrimage site. As you walk the lower streets, you’re bound to come across plenty of shops selling religious items and souvenirs. The main attraction however for religious visitors to Assisi is the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, the immense building I spotted upon my walk up to town. The basilica was built to honour St Francis after his death and canonisation in 1228, and several years later, where the saint’s remains were laid to rest.

Unexpectedly, when I arrived outside the basilica, I found armed police and heavy barriers protecting the main entrance. That should give you some idea just how revered and important Assisi is as a pilgrimage destination. It should come as no surprise that due to its great cultural and religious significance, the basilica is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi of Assisi

Heading inside, what really stood out to me was that this basilica has in fact two floors, the Upper Church and Lower Church. Each church has a remarkably different style and aesthetic, the Upper large and roomy, the Lower a little more crypt-like. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take photos once inside the basilica, but the interior is well worth seeing for yourself. I really liked the starry sky they had painted on the Lower Church’s ceiling, given that there’s another church immediately above it. All in all, a memorable attraction even for those that aren’t religious.

 

Streets and Architecture

Streets of Assisi

As a hilltop town, you can bet that you’re going to spend most of your time in Assisi walking up hill. You won’t mind too much though, as everywhere you walk you’re surrounded by elegant and historic stone buildings. Throughout the town, there are plenty of stairways but also some gorgeous arches. Assisi has certainly retained its medieval architecture and with it, its wonderful atmosphere. This is even more impressive when you realise that much of the town had to be drastically rebuilt after the destructive earthquake of 1997.

Assisi Street Gate

Walking through the town’s streets, it’s hard not to be impressed with the effort that went into restoring the buildings. Perhaps the state of the town was most obvious after coming from Perugia, where the streets are lined with worn buildings and faded architecture. This contrast meant that Assisi had a dignified, polished feel to it.

Assisi Stone Street

 

Piazza del Comune

Tempio di Minerva Assisi

While the main focus of Assisi is definitely its basilica, the Piazza del Comune is a short second. The central square is surrounded by some of the most remarkable buildings and architecture of Assisi. For starters there’s the Comune City Hall with its distinctive crenallations and the town shields. Perhaps the most distinctive building in town though is the Tempio di Minerva, due to its classical architecture and history dating back to ancient Rome.

Visiting in December, the piazza was the home to Assisi’s Christmas markets, selling arts, crafts and local produce. Aside from that, the piazza seems to be a popular meeting point with its large fountain, not to mention plenty of places to get food. I particularly liked the porchetta sandwich I had for lunch from La Bottega die Sapori there.

Piazza del Comune Assisi

 

Plenty of Churches

Cathedral of San Rufino Assisi

While the main church in Assisi is the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, there are plenty more to admire throughout town. Probably the second most important is the above Cathedral of San Rufino, a beautiful Romanesque building. The cathedral honours San Rufino, the bishop that converted the town to Christianity in 238 AD and has been buried in the three churches that have sat on this spot over the centuries.

Further proof of the town’s focus on faith are all the other churches to be found in Assisi. Probably the most striking is the Basilica di Santa Chiara with its long, square buttresses. The interior may be a little plainer than the main basilica or other Italian churches but the architecture of the Basilica di Santa Chiara is definitely unusual and eye-catching. You can also spot other church bell towers from its nearby viewpoint.

Buildings and Church Tower of Assisi

 

Sweet Tooth

Confectionary Window Assisi

Walking past the above window, I stopped dead in my tracks. I may not have the biggest sweet tooth but even I couldn’t fight this temptation. After narrowing down my preferences, I went in and came away with a decadent cannoli. A deserved sugar hit after so much walking throughout the day.

 

Rocca Maggiore

Stairs to Rocca Maggiore Assisi

Having first spotted the fortress above the town through the fog when I first arrived, I was keen to make my way up to see it. But to do so, I’d first need to climb some stairs – sorry, a lot of stairs. Thankfully, even the staircases in Assisi are marvellous stone creations and add to the town’s ambience.

Once at the top of the hill, I stood beneath Rocca Maggiore, who’s walls seemed even higher and more imposing up close. The fortress dating back to the 12th century stands proud in spite of the many earthquakes that Assisi has weathered. Because of time and money, I opted not to visit the inside of the fortress but it was open, even in winter. I was content with simply marvelling at its size and character from the outside.

Rocca Maggiore Assisi

While Rocca Maggiore is the main fortress of Assisi, there are extensive fortified walls that run across the hillside towards the smaller fortress of Rocca Minore in the distance. The fortifications of Assisi include its numerous distinguished gates scattered around the lower reaches of town. Finding all of these fortifications were a really cool and unexpected surprise, as it was a side of the town I wasn’t expecting. There really is a lot more to Assisi than just religion.

Rocca Minore Assisi

 

Incredible Scenery

Umbria Countryside View, Assisi

While there are a number of spots among the streets of Assisi where you can find great view points, it’s honestly hard to beat the view points directly beneath Rocca Maggiore. From here you can see so much, weather permitting. I’d caught snippets of countryside earlier in Assisi but from the top there you could look out across the fields right up to the fog/haze.

The view from below Rocca Maggiore also allows you to look down over the rooftops and towers of Assisi, giving you a fresh perspective on the town that you’ve just explored. Looking down makes you realise how steep a hillside the town is on and just how narrow it is across. I easily could have shared plenty more photos from the top, there were simply too many to choose between.

View over Assisi

 

The Walk Back

Assisi View Below

At the end of the afternoon, it was time to make my way back to Perugia. Figuring it was all downhill this time, I chose to walk back to the train station. As the fog had cleared during the day, the stunning view of Assisi came into focus. It was definitely a marked difference from when I had arrived. While I could barely make out any of the city before, I could now clearly see the walls, towers and fortresses of the town as I walked back through the below farmland.

Road from Assisi

 

Tips:

  • Take the train from Perugia main station but there are some buses; timetables at the bus station;
  • Assisi really can be visited as just a day trip but there are plenty of accommodation options if you choose to stay in town;
  • Don’t miss your chance to try the delicious Umbrian speciality of sandwiches filled with succulent porchetta, i.e. roast pork. My favourite!

 


Have you visited Assisi or heard of St Francis before? Which of these spots would you be most keen in visiting first? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I may make a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. 

Why Not Pin It for Later

A destination for pilgrim the world round, the town of Assisi is home to St Francis and much more in the countryside of Umbria, Italy via @travelsewhere

 


This post is part of Wanderful Wednesday at SnowinTromso and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Albom Adventures. Please head on over for more great posts.

Wanderful Wednesday
Weekend

17 Comment

  1. Neni says:

    What a pretty place, I really like the architecture. I would only go to see and takes lots of pictures. Never get enough of those details in design.

  2. Isabel says:

    An aunt visited this town last year and could not stop talking about how beautiful it was. Now I can see why!

  3. OMG how have I never heard of this town! It’s soo beautiful and the history of this Patron Saint is really fascinating! Ive heard of this patron but I’m surprised I’ve never heard of the town! Pinned! #WanderfulWednesday

  4. bavariansojourn says:

    Wow! I am now kicking myself that we didn’t visit as we have stayed quite close to Assisi in the past! Looks so beautiful! #wanderfulwednesday

  5. Anna says:

    It’s indeed a very pretty city! I love the views and the narrow streets. I can guess why the church has 2 spaces (happens to Greece too). First they built the lower church (usually smaller) and when they gather enough money they built the upper church. #wanderfulwednesday

  6. I’ve heard about St. Francis of Assisi at school (the “perks” of a catholic education) but never learned much about the town. It seems lovely though!!

    1. David says:

      I was the same Vanessa, I had heard of him but knew nothing of his home. Thankfully it was enough to draw me there and find out!

  7. Love the way you describe your walk towards the city, I hadn’t realised the station was so far away! Sounds like you thoroughly explored Assisi. I also found the frescoes in the lower church particularly arresting!

    1. David says:

      I hadn’t realised either until I had to walk it haha! Assisi was wonderful and yes those frescoes, ah!

  8. I have never been to Assisi but it looks wonderful. I love towns with lots of churches to see. Rebuilding the town after the earthquake must have been a monumental task.

    1. David says:

      I have a feeling you would really like it Rhonda and sure you would capture some wonderful photos there. Also, I agree the rebuilding must have been quite intensive.

  9. My, what a beautiful part of the world! The scenery is amazing and I love the old buildings. Thanks for all the info about this town, too.

    1. David says:

      It definitely is, thanks for reading!

  10. Assissi does look beautiful! I love the stone walls and cobble stone streets. You’ve captured it perfectly with your photos and description! #wkendtravelinspiration

    1. David says:

      Thanks very much Jim, it really is a wonderful town.

  11. Wow! Assissi is breathtaking! I am adding it to my bucket list, David!

    1. David says:

      Glad you liked it Agness!

Comments are closed.