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Assisi, a town in Umbria known for its strong connection to the Franciscans.
The spellbinding town of Assisi stands on the western slope of Monte Subasio, whose pink colored stones were used to build many Franciscan buildings; famous all over the world for being the place where St. Francis and St. Clare were born in 1181-1182 and 1193-1194, it is also home to the mother church of the Franciscan Order: the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Assisi was founded by the Umbrians around 1000 BC and conquered by the Etruscans about five centuries later; by the Battle of Sentinum, it passed into the hands of the Romans (295 BC) and became part of the Duchy of Spoleto in the early Middle Ages. In the 12th century, the flourishing town turned into an independent Ghibelline commune and was involved in a series of battles with Guelph Perugia until annexation to the Papal States (16th century); in 1818 and 1850, the remains of St. Francis and St. Clare were recovered and Assisi became one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Italy and the world. Few people know that the town sheltered over 300 Jewish refugees from September 1943 through June 1944: disguised as friars and nuns, they were kept hidden in subterraneans and basements and never deported to Nazi concentration camps.
The first stone of the Basilica of S. Francesco d'Assisi was laid by Pope Gregory IX himself on 17 July 1228, two years after Francesco's death; completed in 1253, it comprises the upper church, the lower church and a crypt, where the remains of the gentle friar were interred in 1818. Today available for visit. It is Assisi's most notable landmark and one of the greatest repositories of Early Renaissance fresco painting; although heavily damaged by the dramatic earthquakes of 1997, it was thoroughly restored and reopened to public, thanks to funds from the Vatican.
The most beautiful and most important attractions to visit in Assisi are presented below.
After the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, what to visit?
The Basilica di Santa Chiara (St. Clare) was built in the 13th century and houses the remains of Santa Chiara d'Assisi – friend, follower and protégé of St. Francis – founder of the Order of Poor Ladies; it has a beautiful facade embellished with a wagon wheel rose window, massive lateral buttresses and a simple Gothic interior.
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli was constructed between 1569 and 1679 and enshrines the Porziuncola – the Romanesque little church where young St. Francis understood his vocation and chose to renounce the world in order to live in poverty; it is one of the largest sanctuaries of the Christian world and is much venerated as the place where Francesco died on 3 October 1226.
Some replicas of the Porziuncola chapel have been built in San Francisco, California – Hanover, Massachusetts – Steubenville, Ohio – Oak Brook, Illinois and the Brookland neighborhood, Washington, D.C.
Also known as the Duomo di San Rufino, Assisi's cathedral was built in the 12th century, partly over a Roman cistern; it is well worth visiting for its impressive Romanesque facade featuring friezes, griffins and lions and it is believed to be the site of the ancient Roman forum. St. Francis, St. Clare and many other Franciscan original followers were baptized in this church.
Just outside the walls of Assisi is the Convent of San Damiano, mainly known among pilgrims as the place where St. Francis received his miraculous calling in 1205 and where St. Clare died in 1253; it is a lovely oratory, simple and peaceful, less crowded than the other Franciscan sites but nevertheless an important stop on the pilgrimage to Assisi.
The Carceri Hermitageis perhaps the most fascinating place of Assisi and rises on the green slopes of Monte Subasio, about 3,5 km away from the holy town centre; formerly a small oratory, it is well worth visiting for its Medieval architecture but makes also a good departure point for magic walks in the woods. In 1205, St. Francis used to come here to pray alone in a cave; in the centuries that followed, many other buildings were added, forming the striking complex we can all admire today.
Every stone of Assisi emanates a bright aura, it is a very special place where you can really perceive a strong energyall around you; besides being the undisputed home of loving St. Francis and St. Clare, it is also rich in Roman ruinsand dominated by a massive medieval fortress.
If you enjoy a bit of a walk, there’s a great view of the town and of the Umbrian countryside to be had from the Rocca Maggioreabove Assisi. You can easily reach this medieval fortified structure (that underwent various renovations through until the 16th century) with a 20 minute uphill walk. From here you can see Lago Trasimeno, the fourth largest lake in Italy, which we highly recommend stopping at on the way home, either for a photograph or for a lake-fish lunch at one of the many trattoriein the towns that line the lake.
Assisi is a unique destination in the area as it is still a pilgrimage destination. Catholics from all over the world visit this place steeped in the spirit of St. Francis, including numerous nuns and friars. It gives the town a rather unusual feel, as many shops cater to this audience, selling religious souvenirs and comfy sandals (if Francesco were alive today, he would be wearing brown Birkenstocks).
In the past it was only a pilgrimage destination but today it is a destination for lovers of art, history, architecture, nature, lovers of good food and wine, lovers of relaxation. The city of Assisi offers an important choice of hotels, hostels, airbnb, apartments, private rooms in the convents to stay in Assisi. Many popularize this city as the city of peace and love.
What do I want to tell you? Assisi is a unique place, a small village that offers many emotions for every visitor.
What to taste in Assisi?
-Truffles (You’ll find them shaved on grilled meats, used to flavor cheeses and salami, scrambled into eggs, formed into dumplings, preserved in spreads and sautéed with butter to make a heavenly pasta sauce.) The typical Truffle plate in Assisi is Strangozzi pasta. Don't miss this.
-Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Umbrian EVOO wins a lot of awards. Ranging in color from rich, golden yellow to luminescent green, the five distinct growing areas offer a variety of taste profiles with ever-present notes of spice and herbs. )
-Pecorino & Caciotta Cheese (From sweet and creamy to cave-aged and sharp, Assisi serves up a variety of Pecorino (sheep’s milk) and Caciotta (cow’s milk) cheeses to nibble on with a glass of local, dry wine or at the end of your meal before dessert. )
-Prosciutto di Norcia is an Umbrian staple from the town of Norcia, a place so famous for its butchery products that the term “Norcineria” is synonymous with quality meats and butchery products not only in Umbria but also all over Italy. Norcia is famous also for production of different salami, capocollo, guanciale.
-Porchetta (Tracing its ancient origins to a city just outside of Rome, this savory, herb-packed boneless pork roast takes center stage as a street food that owes its unique central Italian flavor to a type of wild fennel that only grows in Umbria.)
-Torta al Testo (This traditional Umbrian flatbread has long been associated with “Cucina Povera". Today it’s still made according to a simple recipe though the “testo”—in ancient times a stone or brick tile has been replaced by a round, griddle-like pan that’s used to cook the bread on a cooktop or over an open flame. It’s often served “farcita” (stuffed like a sandwich) with various meats from Norcia and cheeses. )
-Kisses from Assisi (typical almonds cookies from Assisi served with sweet wine Passito from Umbria).
What to drink in Assisi?
Umbria may be one of Italy’s smallest producers in terms of quantity, but the country’s “green heart” offers wine and food pairing options for an entire meal — from an easy-drinking starter to a dessert with finesse.
This is Corrado’s Umbrian wine guide.
- Grechetto is a variety of Italian white wine of Greek origin. The grapes are grown throughout central Italy, especially in the Umbria region. Straw yellow in color, the nose brings hints of almond intertwined with ripe fruit and floral sensations. Fresh and well balanced on the palate. This wine goes perfectly with fish dishes and white meats or medium-aged cheeses.
-Montefalco Bianco foresees Grechetto as the main vine (in quantities greater than 50%) flanked by Trebbiano (20-30%) and a part of other non-aromatic white grapes. Deep straw yellow in color, it stands out for its vinous and fruity aromas. Pleasantly dry in the mouth with fruity notes, easily recognizable and appreciable for its good structure. Suitable for important aperitifs, it goes well with white meats and fresh cheeses.
-The Trebbiano Spoletino is a native grape of Umbria. Trebbiano Spoletino is a fresh and aromatic, full-bodied and balanced wine. It goes well with seafood appetizers, fish carpaccio, raw seafood, structured seafood first courses, structured fish main courses and white meats.
-Orvieto Classico Superiore is a DOC white wine obtained by mixing a minimum of 40% of Grechetto with 20-40% of Trebbiano and up to 40% of other non-aromatic white grapes. It is a great Italian alternative to raw Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio / Grigio. Orvieto wine is typically a fruity, dry white with aromas of lemon, crunchy apple and juicy acidity. Excellent with spaghetti carbonara or with pici cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper).
-Sagrantino di Montefalco 100% Sagrantino aged almost 3 years. The most important DOCG of Umbria is this very particular red grape that grows around the town of Montefalco. Sagrantino di Montefalco appears to have the highest polyphenol (antioxidant) content of any red wine, anywhere. With its high tannins, Sagrantino wines can age for more than 30 years. Sagrantino di Montefalco is deep opaque with notes of black plum, cocoa powder, blackberry, violet, vanilla and sage. On the palate it is decisive with black and mineral fruits. Enjoy it with aged cheeses, roasted or braised wild boar.
- Montefalco Rosso A red DOC blend composed of 60–70% Sangiovese, 10–15% Sagrantino and 15–30% of other varieties. With the addition of Sagrantino, Montefalco Rosso has a deeper color, more tannin and fruit richer in plums than many other Sangiovese-based Italian wines. It also benefits from the added fruitiness of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Many producers experiment with oak aging to make Montefalco Rosso delicious upon release. On the palate it is decisive and spicy, with medium-high tannins and fruity-juicy acidity. Excellent combinations are first courses with meat and cured meats. It is perfect with a barbecue.
-Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG red wine produced with 50-70% Sangiovese, 15-30% Canaiolo, up to 10% Trebbiano and other local red grapes including the local Ciliegiolo garpe. Being a Riserva, the appellation regulation requires it to be aged for at least 3 years in the cellar, with a minimum of 6 months in the bottle. These wines offer elegant red fruits and floral characteristics with ample aging potential. This is a wine to keep in your cellar for a minimum of 5 or 6 years. The wines are bright semi-transparent ruby red with notes of raspberry, strawberry, leather and potpourri. The tannins are bold with a pungent acidity. To be enjoyed with elaborate meat dishes or aged cheeses.
-Montefalco Passito obtained from 100% partially dried Sagrantino grapes. These wines explode with aromas of wild berries and hazelnut, with the sweetness to balance the rigorous tannin of Sagrantino. Just great with a dark fruit jam tart (especially blackberries). Excellent with dark chocolate and Baci di Assisi.
-Muffato late harvest sweet wine made from Grechetto and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Golden yellow to amber, with an intriguing nose from honey to ripe apricot jam, candied fruit and the mysterious touch of mould. On the palate it is rich, sweet, long and silky, balanced by a good acidity. Its perfect marriage is with pecorino cheese, blue cheese like Gorgonzola and short pastry desserts, or dry cookies.
We look forward to seeing you in Assisi.