There are certain sacred places that touch the soul, taking you away from the mundane and the worldly into a state of blissful contemplation. This is particularly true of Assisi. Here, St Francis was born, lived, was baptised, walked through the lush green valleys, found refuge, heard the voice of God while meditating in silence, met Clare, died and left his aura. Perched on the hill, with the plains below and Mount Subasio climbing steeply above it, the mere sight of Assisi in the pink light of sunset is enough to send the souls of pilgrims to Heaven. It is in this mystical hour, when the sound of visitors' footsteps fades away and the city is shrouded in sacred silence, that the true spirit of St Francis of Assisi can be felt most intimately.
A city of peace; an eternal city. In Assisi, St Francis left a human and artistic legacy of inestimable value. His life has inspired an entire culture, and works of art which are admired all over the world. The Basilica was built in his honour, and along with the church and Convent of St Clare, it has significantly altered the urban layout. The Church of St Damian, the Porziuncola and the Carceri hermitage are other places associated with St Francis, inside and outside the city walls. However, the city's origins date back to the Roman era, when it was a flourishing municipality. To describe them, we need to go to the heart of the town, and appreciate the harmonious beauty of its hidden corners, the silence of its alleyways and the precious intimacy of its less famous churches. In the central Piazza del Comune are the Temple of Minerva, which bears witness to the early centuries of the empire, and the Palazzo del Capitanowith its tall Tower of the People. From here, you can easily climb up towards the Cathedral following the grid plan of the ancient Roman city, which once had a theatre and a small amphitheatre. Again from the square, you go down to visit the church of Santa Chiara, which houses the crucifix that spoke to the saint. From the nearby Santa Maria Maggiore, an ancient Romanesque cathedral, walking along Via San Francesco, you come to the marvellous Basilica. In the lower church, the starry blue vaults, brightened by frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto, Martini and Lorenzetti, convey a mystical atmosphere. The upper church is a sudden explosion of light and colour, from the wonderful Giotto cycle depicting the life of Francis. Assisi is the destination of an endless pilgrimage that brings millions of faithful to its streets. But this does not detract from the charm of its locations.