Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis

The medieval city of Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis, founder of the homonymous Religious Order of the Franciscans, was added to the UNESCO  World Heritage List in 2000. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Assisi constitutes a singular model of continuous history that is intertwined with this city-sanctuary's cultural and territorial identity. In particular, the Basilica of St. Francis brings together a number of masterpieces of creative human genius, and is an extraordinary example of the type of architectonic complexity that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture.

Other than being the city of Saints Francis and Clare, as well as the symbol of their messages of peace, Assisi is a very welcoming community and expresses the best of the hospitable Italian spirit. Additionally, the surrounding territory, stretching all the way to the region’s capital, Perugia, offers an infinite array of natural, historic and enogastronomic attractions. 

Architects, bricklayers and stone masons have helped to shape Assisi’s incomparable landscape, yet the historical figure that has long defined its destiny and the locality itself has been, without a doubt, St. Francis, the Saint who talked with the animals. To him is dedicated Assisi’s most important monument, the Basilica of St. Francis, which is comprised of two churches (one Upper and one Lower) and a crypt, dug in 1818. It is the resting spot of the Saint’s tomb, located inside a simple sarcophagus that rests on top of bare rock. 

Cimabue, Giotto, the Lorenzetti brothers, Simone Martini – indeed the greatest artists of the 14th Century, have painted frescoes on the walls and ceilings of the Basilica. The site is an obligatory destination for many, believers and non-believers alike, who appreciate the Franciscan message.

Interior of Basilica of San Francesco - Photo by: John Harper/Stone via Getty Images

The complex is formed by two superimposed and independent churches. The Upper basilica – with its Gothic appearance, slender and luminous, is famous the world over for its beautiful frescoes painted in the late 1290s by Giotto and his School. Twenty-eight panels of the most extraordinarily intense, blue background, they depict scenes from the life of St. Francis, in a narration that is moving and alive. Other Italian masterpieces join those of Giotto, including frescoes by Cimabue in the transept, cross vaults and apses.

The Lower basilica, meanwhile, is certainly darker and more austere, though it is decorated by yet more grand masterworks, particularly from the Florentine and Sienese Schools of the 1300s – Giotto and his inner circle, Cimabue, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti. 

A visit to the Basilica is not complete without a look at the cloister and inside the Museum of the Treasury.

The earthquake of 1997 was the cause of extensive damage to the Upper basilica, the vault of which crumbled in two points, and to the tympanum of the transept: i.e. 1, 400 sq ft of medieval frescoes that were reduced into thousands of fragments. Restoration works began immediately after the catastrophe, and were finished in record time.

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