15 Assisi sights worth seeing
Assisi is a commune located in the province of Perugia, in Umbria, central Italy. It is known as the city where St. Francis lived and prayed. For this reason Assisi is usually seen as a spiritual place, yet the attractions of Assisi, will appeal to any tourist with a passion for art, culture, as well as mesmerizing scenery!
St. Francis Basilica
St. Francis Basilica.
Assisi’s most famous and probably most impressive landmark is the Basilica of St. Francis. It’s also practically the largest structure in the area – it’s so massive that you can see it from a mile away. The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the true jewel of Assisi.
Construction of the basilica began immediately after the death of St. Francis in 1228 and was officially completed when the Upper Church was completed in 1253. It is divided into two tiers, called the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and no matter which one you visit, you will see incredibly beautiful frescoes. The Upper Church, or Basilica Superiore, is decorated with 28 frescoes by Giotto (who helped create them by members of his school), which are the main artistic attractions of the church.
Each fresco is a scene from the life of St. Francis. Although painted centuries ago, the frescoes are still fabulously vivid. The Lower Church, or Basilica Inferiore, contains frescoes by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti and Simone Martini, who were heavily influenced by the works of Giotto.
There is also the crypt of St. Francis, the monumental tomb of St. Francis of Assisi. While the Upper Church creates a sense of celebration of beauty and life, the dark rooms and meager decorations of the Lower Church reflect the spirit of St. Francis and his Franciscan order.
Address: Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Monastery of Eremo delle Carceri
The Monastery of the Eremo delle Carceri.
Located on the wooded slopes of Mount Subasio, this monastery is surrounded by caves where St. Francis and his followers prayed and meditated on spiritual matters. The isolated places where the prayers took place reverberate with the same tranquility today as in the time of St. Francis, although they are now surrounded by religious buildings.
Here tourists also have the opportunity to walk to the grotto of St. Francis, where he prayed and slept on a stone bed in his last years. There are several hiking trails through the oak forests around Eremo.
As you walk, note a number of bronze statues of St. Francis (one of them on the ground, without sandals) and two monks, Ginepro and Leone, looking out at the constellations. Eremo is about 4 km east of Assisi. It takes an hour to get there and a little less to get back down.
Address: Eremo Delle Carceri, Via Eremo delle Carceri, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Monastery of San Damiano
Monastery of San Damiano.| Photo: wikimedia.
To the southeast of the city center is the small monastery of San Damiano, founded by St. Francis. The first abbess of this convent was Saint Clara, who died here in 1253; she was canonized two years later.
San Damiano is considered the place where St. Francis received the message from God to “go forth and restore my home. He took this message literally, rebuilding the little church with his own hands. It was a favorite resting place of St. Francis and his followers.
It is said that he composed his famous “Hymn to his brother the Sun” right here, on the little flower-covered terrace in front of the monastery. Here you can visit the church, the monastery with frescoes from the early 16th century by Eusebio di San Giorgio and its gardens. The San Damiano complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address: San Damiano, Via San Damiano, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
About four kilometers west of Assisi, in the small village of Santa Maria degli Angeli is a massive domed Renaissance church that bears the same name as the village. It was built between 1569 and 1630 over the oratory of St. Francis (Porziuàncola) and the cell in which he died.
After the earthquake of 1832, the church underwent a reconstruction (specifically of the choir and nave buildings) and a new facade was added in 1925-1928. To the east of the sacristy there is a small garden in which, it is said, after the act of the saint’s penance the roses lost their thorns.
Nearby is the Cappella delle Rose with beautiful frescoes by Tiberio D’Assisi, which from 1518 depict scenes from the life of the saint. For hikers, the sanctuary offers a good half-day excursion which can be combined with a tour through Rivolato, another pilgrimage site associated with St. Francis.
Address: Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli, Piazza Porziuncola, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Perugia, Italy.
Basilica di San Rufino
The Cathedral of San Rufino.
The Cathedral of San Rufino or the Cathedral of Assisi is a favorite destination for pilgrims because of its connection to the life of St. Francis. The cathedral boasts a beautiful Romanesque facade with three rose windows. It was built on top of an old Roman cistern in the 13th century, the interior began to be reconstructed mostly from the 16th century.
Here you will find the fountain where St. Francis and St. Clara were baptized. The cathedral was named after St. Rufinus, who converted Assisi to Christianity in 238 AD and was later martyred. It is said that his remains still rest in a Roman sarcophagus inside the cathedral.
Address: Cathedral of San Rufino, Piazza San Rufino, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
S. Clara Basilica
S. Clara Basilica. | Photo: Thomas Doyle / Flickr.
The Basilica di Santa Chiara is dedicated to Saint Clara of Assisi, the founder of the Clarisse, now known as the Order of Saint Clara. After she died in 1260, her remains were taken to the church and buried under the high altar.
Her tomb was discovered again in 1850, and eventually her skeleton was moved into the temple in the new crypt of the basilica. From the outside, the basilica is notable for its horizontal bands of pink and white stone and for its bell tower, which is the tallest bell tower in Assisi.
Inside, you will see the white walls of the dimly lit nave, although up until the 17th century they were covered with frescoes. Elsewhere in the church, frescoes dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries still remain. To the south of the nave is a small chapel that houses a 12th-century crucifix that legend says spoke to Francis of Assisi. The main altar is surrounded by a colonnade of 12 polygonal columns, which date back to the 15th century.
Address: Basilica di Santa Chiara, Piazza Santa Chiara, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Rocca Maggiore Castle
The Castle of Rocca Maggiore.
From Piazza San Rufino through Santa Maria del Rose you can walk up to Rocca Maggiore, a picturesque castle that sits high above the city. It was originally one of several fortresses built along the city walls, which were later rebuilt in 1365 by Cardinal Albornoz.
Sometimes in his youth, Emperor Frederick II stayed here. This castle is where you can get a good idea of building techniques and panoramic views.
A long wall, extending from the main part of the castle, passes into a tower, which is used as a watchtower and which can be climbed to view the area. The tower and the castle are connected by a tunnel. The walls are buried in greenery, which used to be gardens (gardens were grown in case of siege). Inside you can see figures dressed in clothes typical of the nobility of the 14th century.
Address: Rocca Maggiore, Via della Rocca, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Temple of Minerva
Temple of Minerva (right). | Photo: Benjamin / Flickr.
The ancient columns of the Temple of Minerva rise above the medieval Piazza del Comune. This temple was built with private donations from two wealthy locals during the reign of Augustus in the first century B.C.
When Rome converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD, this pagan temple – along with many others throughout the empire – was abandoned. By the sixth century, a community of Benedictine monks requisitioned it, and between 1215 and 1270 the building was the headquarters of the Commune of Assisi; even later it became a prison.
Returned to use as a Christian place of worship by the mid-16th century, the church was again restored by Pope Paul III and dedicated to the Virgin Mary before being given to a community of Franciscan monks. Today the original Corinthian columns and the pediment form the façade of the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (literally “Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva”), which was built in 1539. The interior has been completely renovated – it was made in Baroque style by the local architect Giacomo Giorgetti a century later.
Address: Temple of Minerva, Piazza del Comune, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum
Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum.
The Roman Forum is a relatively new landmark of Assisi . The forum is entered through the Romanesque crypt of the church and the passageway, an ancient Roman street. Roman capitals, sarcophagi and other ancient artifacts are on display here. Among the excavations you can see the base of the temple, a large cistern, fountains and statues. The excavations and artifacts are complemented by video presentations.
Address: Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum, Via Portica, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Piazza del Comune and the Palace of the “Captain of the People
Piazza del Comune. | Photo: Benjamin / Flickr.
Piazza del Comune is the main square of the city. It was the same in Roman times, when there was a forum in this place. Along one side of the square are the Temple of Minerva and the 47-meter high Popolo Tower from 1303.
It was built to house the family of the Captain of the People, whose residence was the Palace of the “Captain of the People. This building, which was also the seat of the local government, dates from the second half of the 13th century.
In 1926 it underwent a major restoration, which resulted in the interior being decorated with paintings representing medieval crafts. At the other end of Piazza del Comune there is a fountain with stone lions. This square is still the “heart” of local life, you can find stores and cafes in the neighboring streets.
Address: Piazza del Comune, Piazza del Comune, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Church of Santuario di Rivotorto
Church of Santuario di Rivotorto.| Photo: wikimedia.
About five kilometers south of the city center is the site of the first Franciscan community. Here you can see the rough stone shelters where the first followers lived and worshipped in the early 1200s.
This sanctuary church is built over the surviving shelters, where you can see the table used by St. Clara and other artifacts of the time. The modest and primitive furnishings reflect the principles of simplicity adopted by St. Francis and his followers. If you are walking from Assisi, do not forget to watch the clock, as the church is part of the Franciscan community and is open only during certain hours.
The address is Santuario del Sacro Tugurio di Rivotorto, Via del Sacro Tugurio, Rivotorto, Perugia, Italy.
Chiesa Nuova Church
Chiesa Nuova Church. | Photo: wikimedia.
Despite its modest white façade surrounded by four simple Doric pilasters, Chiesa Nuova, or new church, is one of the most historically important churches in Assisi, founded on the site of St. Francis’ home and birthplace.
The church had stood on this site since the 14th century, but the modern structure dates back to the early 17th century, when it was reconstructed again under the patronage of King Philip III of Spain.
Since then, this church has become an important attraction for pilgrims. The most notable features of Chiesa Nuova’s Renaissance style are the colorful frescoes by Cesare Sermea and Giacomo Giorgetti that adorn the interior of the church, as well as the adjoining museum and library, which provide a deeper understanding of the unique history of the place.
Address: Chiesa Nuova, Piazza Chiesa Nuova, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Franciscan Monastery and San Pietro
Church of San Pietro.| Photo: dvdbramhall / Flickr.
On the edge of the hill to the northwest rises the Franciscan monastery, founded shortly after the death of Francis. It was already inhabited by monks in 1230, but it took so long to build such a large building that the styles of different eras can be traced.
As a result, the complex, built near Mount Subasio in pink and white stone, was a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The Romanesque bell tower was completed in 1239 and the courtyard and the outer passage, which offers magnificent views, were renovated by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). The monastery has an art museum, created with donations from pilgrims.
To the south of the monastery, beyond the main entrance to the historic part of the city, stands the church of San Pietro, which boasts a beautiful doorway and three graceful rose windows. Massive columns divide its nave into three parts. It was originally built as a Benedictine abbey just before 1029, then in the middle of the 12th century it accepted the reform of Cluny and later passed to the Cistercians.
Address: Abbazia di San Pietro, Piazza San Pietro, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Pinacoteca Comunale Gallery (Municipal Art Gallery)
Gallery Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery).
Palazzo Vallemani houses the city’s art collection, much of which belongs to the decommissioned churches and monasteries of Assisi. The collections include a large group of frescoes from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as paintings on wood panels and canvases dating from the 14th-17th centuries.
The most important works are Giotto’s Maesta, as well as paintings by Pietro Perugino, Puccio Capanna, Ottaviano Nelli, Andrea D’Assisi and Nicolo Di Liberatore. The collection entitled “Museum of Memory, Assisi 1943-1944” tells the story of the 300 Jews who were rescued from the Nazis by the Franciscans.
Address: Pinacoteca Comunale Palazzo Vallemani, Via San Francesco, Assisi, Perugia, Italy.
Via San Francesco
Via San Francis. | Photo: wikimedia.
Any tourist who finds himself in Assisi cannot fail to visit the street named after the city’s most famous saint. Via San Francis will lead pedestrians through landmarks that will tell the fascinating past of Assisi.
On this street is Palazzo Giacometti, a palace dating back to the 17th century that houses several interesting manuscripts, such as the Bible of St. Louis of Toulouse with wonderfully decorated miniatures and the earliest example of Italian literature, the Praise of Creation by St. Francis. And in the Oratory of the Pilgrims you can admire impressive frescoes and works of Italian art and medieval architecture.
What to see in Assisi?
Assisi is not at all the city of one day as it is sometimes thought of. A pleasant walk around the Umbrian town might last a couple of hours, but to really get to know Assisi and its history, see all the places of worship for the pilgrims and enjoy the beauty of the place, half a day is definitely not enough.
Italians themselves often come to Assisi from other regions for a weekend, and have time to join the beautiful – for example, by looking at the frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica of St. Francis – and just wander the streets, watch the sunset and have dinner in the best restaurants with breathtaking views of the endless valleys. In this article we will briefly describe the main attractions of Assisi and its museums.
Assisi at sunset / Photo: shutterstock.com
St. Francis Basilica
Its construction began two years after St. Francis died, when he was canonized. The astonishingly beautiful basilica was erected in record time, in just 25 years, on a site chosen by Francis himself – it used to be where criminals were executed. In the lower basilica are buried the saint and his disciples, as well as Giacoma de Settesoli, a Roman aristocrat and close friend of Francis, who repeatedly helped him in his good works. The Basilica is of great interest to art lovers thanks to the frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and Pietro Cavallini.
In 1997 the Basilica was seriously damaged by an earthquake that destroyed 130 square meters. meters of frescoes and part of the vaults, killing four people. It took two years of restoration work to restore the frescos and reopen the basilica to the public.
Tip: Before visiting the Basilica, pay attention to the opening hours. From March to October, the Upper Basilica opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. (the last entrance is at 6:45 p.m.), the Lower Basilica is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition, the entrance to Francis’ tomb is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. only for private prayers in solitude. From November to February, the Basilica closes at 6 p.m. Confession is possible during the following hours: weekdays at 7.30, 12.30, 15.00 and 19.00. On Sunday – 7.00, 13.00, 14.30, 19.15. Please note that the Basilica is strictly forbidden to take photos and security guards are watching.
S. Chiara Basilica
This Romanesque-gothic church was built just after the death of St. Chiara, a follower of Francis, who also abandoned her wealthy family and became the founder of a convent. In the basilica rest the most important relics for the Catholic world: Chiara’s body and the Crucifix of St. Damian, on which, according to legend, Francis heard the call from above to build the church.
Near the Basilica you will find a cozy, panoramic square, where sitting by the fountain is a must for every tourist in Assisi.
Tip: Like every church in Italy, the Basilica has its opening hours. Throughout the year in the morning it is open from 6.30 to 12.00, in the afternoon the Basilica reopens at 14.00 and closes at 18.00 in November to February and at 19.00 in March to October. On Mondays and Fridays, access to the body of the saint is only possible from 9:00.
Basilica di San Rufino
This is the main cathedral in the city, as St. Rufino is the patron saint of Assisi. As early as 412, there was a basilica on its site, in which the saint’s vestments were kept. The cathedral was built around the eighth century and is a classic example of a Romanesque church, although it has been restored and rebuilt several times, changing its appearance until the sixteenth century. Its facade, full of allegorical figures of lions and griffins, is very interesting, each of which carries a special meaning.
Tip: Keep in mind that the museum at the cathedral is closed on Wednesdays. The cathedral has a lunch break from 1 to 3 p.m. and closes at 6 p.m. all year round. However, you may not be allowed inside a half hour before closing time.
The New Church (Chiesa Nuova)
Built on the site of St. Francis’ parental home. The church as we see it today was built in the XVII century in the Baroque style, on the site of a medieval church of the XIV century. Inside, there is a small cage in which, according to tradition, Francis’ father locked him up, not wanting to let his son leave home and preventing him from going to God. You can also see the door of Francis’ family home there. Consider the frescoes depicting the persecution of the first Christians – depictions of such cruelty are rare for Assisi. Near the church in a small square is a sculpture of the saint’s parents, installed in 1984.
Tip: Like all churches in Assisi, the Chiesa Nuova closes at 6 pm. After its visit, I suggest exploring the square nearby and walking down the winding streets to see the city’s most popular alleyways.
Church of San Pietro
Was built in the 10th century by Benedictine monks. In the 13th century it was rebuilt in a modern late-Romanesque appearance. The interiors of the church include tombstones of noble Assassians from the 14th and 15th centuries and a splendid triptych of the Madonna with Child and Saints by Matteo di Gualdo.
It is noteworthy that this is the last church in Assisi built by non-Franciscans, since at the end of the XIII century an edict came into force prescribing that only members of the Franciscan order had the right to build churches and abbeys, as well as to receive donations of land.
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Not in Assisi itself but on the way to it, in the town of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It was built about 110 years in the 15th and 16th centuries on the site of a tiny chapel built by St. Francis. The chapel itself, Porziuncola, is preserved inside the Basilica and is a place of worship for pilgrims. It was to Francis himself: it was here that he spent hours and days in solitary prayer, and where he died surrounded by his followers. Inside the Basilica there is a garden with thornless roses and white doves.
Tip: Opening hours are 6:15 to 12:40 and 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. Every Saturday at 9:15 p.m. the rose garden opens and a procession with a statue of the Madonna walks through town.
Eremo delle Carceri.
A sanctuary near Assisi, founded on the site of a mountain hermitage where St. Francis spent his days in solitude and prayer, as well as in self-abuse. After the saint’s death, many hermits came here and lived for long periods in the cold mountain caves. In 1400, the hermitage expanded and is now home to two monastic orders, the Franciscans and the Clarisse. To this day, pilgrims seeking solitude come here, but Eremo is also open to tourists.
Tip: From April to November, Eremo is open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:15 p.m. From November to April, it closes with sunset. It is about a 5 km walk from the city. It is forbidden to take pictures and it is highly undesirable to talk and make noise loudly in the Eremo area. You can extend your walk by walking along the mountain paths, which offer beautiful views of the valleys. There is a fee to enter.
Church of St. Damian
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
According to legend, St. Francis, while praying to the cross, heard the call to rebuild the church. The young man was not yet estranged from his family at the time, which allowed him to sell the expensive cloths of his father, who was a merchant, and a horse. With the proceeds he began to rebuild this dilapidated church brick by brick. Subsequently, the convent of St. Chiara was added to it. The church will not amaze you with the decorations and decorations, but many note the very special atmosphere of wonder that reigns there.
Tip: Unlike the other churches, this one doesn’t open to visitors until 10:30 am. From 12 noon to 2 p.m. there is lunch. At 6:00 pm the church closes. Please note the opening hours of churches in Italy, as tourists often complain that they have never been able to visit a particular basilica because “it was always closed.
Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
A Christian church built on the site of a Romanesque pagan temple. It was erected in the 16th century in the central square of Assisi. There is still no definite opinion as to whom the ancient Romans worshipped in this temple: according to one version, Minerva, according to another, Hercules. In the 17th century, the church was decorated in Baroque style. Its main feature is the perfectly preserved antique columns at the entrance and the remnants of a pagan temple, which can be seen at the altar. The German writer Goethe visited Assisi just to see this unusual church with his own eyes and was completely captivated. The writer stood in tears before the columns of the temple of Minerva, while passing by the Basilica of St. Francis with complete indifference – a genius, what can you take from him…
Tip: You can also visit this church in the afternoon, during lunch hours. Opening hours are from 7:30 to 19:00 daily except Saturdays and Sundays (on these days the church is closed from 12:30 to 15:30).
Late medieval defensive fortress that dominated Assisi for more than 800 years. The first mention of Rocca was made in 1173 but since then it has been destroyed and rebuilt. It was most seriously damaged during a popular uprising in 1198 – the inhabitants of Assisi turned against the Duke Corrado di Urslingene. In the 15th century was built observation tower and a narrow corridor leading to it, still open to tourists. Inside the Rocca you can see pictures of medieval life and walk through all the tiny doors and corridors. Frederick I Barbarossa and Frederick II lived in this fortress during their childhood and adolescence. You can go up to the fortress on foot and just walk around, taking beautiful pictures, or go inside and look at the museum. Be sure to go to the observation tower! Unless you suffer from claustrophobia, the corridor leading up to it is not for the faint of heart.
Tip: You can reach the Rocca on foot from the center of Assisi, following the signs. Opening hours: November-February: 10.0-16.30. March: 10.00-17.30. April, May, September, October: 10.00-18.30. June-August: 10.00-20.00. Ticket price: 5 euros, children under 5 years old free of charge. Tickets can be bought up to 45 minutes before closing time. On December 25th and January 1st it is the weekend.
To visit museums you can buy a VISIT CARD, which includes a visit to 12 museums in Umbria, including the five museums of Assisi.
Diocesan Museum and Crypt of San Rufino
Was founded in 1941 and contained the most important treasures of the Cathedral. For a long time the museum was semi-closed to the public and opened its doors only by special request. After the earthquake in 1997 and restoration work in 2006 were opened underground premises of the Cathedral. Now the museum consists of 12 rooms with 300 exhibits, restoration laboratory, historical archives and a large library.
In the underground part of the museum you can see the remains of the Roman forum. The underground museums are a real salvation in July and August, when it is very hot in Umbria. All lovers of history, its mysteries and riddles will appreciate the museum. Tip: Do not plan to go to the museum on Wednesday – it is closed. The ticket price on other days is 3.5 euros. December 25 and January 1 – weekend.
St. Francis Basilica Treasury
The Saint Francis Treasure Trove contains much of the Basilica’s treasures that were left after the grandiose sacking of the city by Napoleon’s troops (almost 400 kg of silver objects and other valuables were stolen). The museum collection includes paintings, sculptures, ancient manuscripts and fabrics. This museum is interesting for those who like everything beautiful – the priests of Assisi have always had good taste. Tip: Keep in mind that the museum is only open from April to October, from 10.00 to 17.30. Weekends are Easter Sunday, September 15 and October 4.
The Missionary Museum (MUMA)
Started in 1973 as a result of the Capuchin monks’ charitable missions in the Amazon. The exhibit is a virtual journey to a distant country; visitors can see the flora and fauna of the Amazon, folk art, and hear the music of the land. The museum is usually very popular with children, they love to look at the figures of animals and frightening masks of the inhabitants of a distant country. Tip: Note that the museum is closed on Mondays. An audio guide, including one in English, is available at the entrance.
Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum
The underground museum was founded in 1904, its basis were the ancient Roman exhibits found during excavations in the 18-19 centuries: funerary urns, tombstones, statues. In 2008 the museum was opened in a renewed form. The visitor will find himself right under the Piazza del Comune and will see a real Roman forum, a temple dedicated to the Dioscurians and other places of particular importance in ancient Roman Assisi.
This museum is simply a salvation on a hot summer day, because there is a pleasant coolness in the dungeon. Also, it’s fascinating to get to know the Romans away from Rome! Tip: Keep in mind the museum’s opening hours: from November to February 10.30-13.00 / 14.00-17.00, from March to October – 10.00-13.00 / 14.30-18.00, from June to August – 10.00-13.00 / 14.30-19.00. Ticket price: Euro 4, children up to 5 years old free of charge.
Pinacoteca – Palazzo Vallemany
This former mansion of an aristocratic family from Assisi now houses an art gallery with frescoes by Giotto, Perugino, Alunno and other masters from Umbria and central Italy. Art lovers, don’t pass by! Tip: Note that the museum is open all days, but with a lunch break. The ticket price is 5 euros.
Museum of Memories
The exhibition is located inside the Pinacoteca and tells the story of the 300 Jews rescued within the walls of Assisi during World War II. Photographs, objects and scraps of memories tell the story of Assisi priests who helped Jews who came to this holy city from all over Italy in search of help. A special place is given to the printers of Brigzi, who printed forged documents for the Jews. The exhibition is presented in both Italian and English and occupies four rooms, including a video. Tip: The Museum’s opening hours coincide with those of the Pinacoteca.