This past December, my family and I visited the region of Umbria for 11 days. During that time, we based ourselves out of Perugia, and one of the nearest towns is Assisi. Assisi is a UNESCO world heritage site known for the magnificent medieval architecture and for being the birthplace of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy, founder of the Franciscan order and one of the most popular Catholic saints in history.
Up to today, the town still bears testimony to the iconic saint’s lifestyle.
The town is located on a slope of Mount Subasio at approx. 400 m height. It is entirely built in white and rose stone of Mount Subasio, and its look is characterized by narrow, steep and winding alleys which have managed to preserve their charm and beauty over the years. Here are the top 5 things to do in Assisi!
The St. Francis Basilica
The St. Francis Basilica is one of the most important Pilgrimage destinations in Italy and the world in general. It is an amazing jewel in the city built in the 13th century in honor of St. Francis. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000 and is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. Having being completed in 1253, it is the oldest Gothic church in Italy.
Actually, it is composed of two Churches, the upper one and the lower one. The interior of the Upper Church is an important early example of the Gothic style in Italy. Both churches are decorated with frescoes by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools. There is also a crypt where the remains St. Francis are interred.
Need a private tour guide? Here is a 2 Hour Walking Tour I recommend!
While here, you can take some time to view the crypt of St. Francis on the lower level and also take a guided tour of the church to learn about St. Francis as told through the magnificent frescos created by Giotto. There’s also a shop where you can find everything about St. Francis. Given its significance as well as magnificence, this is definitely a place to stop by and it’s a perfect spot to sit and reflect on all around you.
The Temple of Minerva
The temple of Minerva is an ancient Roman building facing Piazza del Comune and Palazzo Dei Priori. It is located on one Italy’s most amazing piazzas. In 1539, it was converted to serve the Christian faith, and it now houses a church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The two have been in existence for more than 2000 years now, and the temple bears testimony to the Roman civilization which acquired Assisi in 295 BC and later made it a Roman municipality.
The church inside is a bit little but still lovely with a bright blue theme, and also contains wonderful paintings and frescos throughout the walls and the ceiling. You can look up at the back, and you will see some beautiful organ pipes. When you visit, you’ll get to walk through the centuries at this church built over the even older ruins of the temple of Minerva. You will also get to see the lighted statue of Mary above the altar. This place is definitely worth spending a few minutes and enjoying the peace and quiet.
The Roman Forum
This important archaeological site is situated in the area between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum. In ancient times, the forum used to be the fulcrum of any activity, be it commercial, political, or religious. Today, it’s mostly known for being a huge tourist attraction, with guided tours taking place after every 15 minutes.
You can be able to see the spectacular Roman Columns that are so well preserved in a beautiful square, and they happen to hide a church behind the columns. Both the structure and the church are magnificent and their age and durability just amazing.
Exploring the Roman Forum is quite a thing to do while in Assisi. It gives you a good picture of the ancient building techniques in such a well-preserved ruin. One thing to behold is the remarkable contrast. The exterior is ancient, worn, and 100% classic roman while the interior is 100% Italian baroque and it just takes your breath away with its lush beauty.
Rocca Maggiore is a medieval fort built in in the 12th century, and it sits on a hill far above Assisi. It is an imposing bastion that looms over the hill town, and it was meant to intimidate any potential invaders. Now, it is an oft-expanded, pillaged and rebuilt hill-fortress offering 360-degree views of Perugia to the north and the surrounding valleys below.
To get there, you have to hike from Assisi. Though it can be a bit of a challenge, it is not hard if you take your time and enjoy the breathtaking views. While here, you can have spectacular views of the Spoleto valley and Assisi itself. This is simply the best view of Assisi from above, and you won’t regret climbing all way up. It is one of the best spots outside of central Assisi where you can enjoy a breath-taking view of the area whilst visiting another historical building. You can go there in the evening to have stunning views of the sunset.
Eat at Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba
Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba is located in a corner, just a small distance from Piazza del Comune and Cathedral of San Rufino. The restaurant has about 40 seats, but in the summer you can enjoy your food and drinks from their flower-filled terrace. The restaurant boasts a cozy, friendly atmosphere with delightful, friendly and helpful staff. Their hip service and sophisticated presentations make it a favorite for locals who in turn recommend it for tourists.
The restaurant offers traditional Italian cuisines that have been added a modern twist to makes it more delightful. The menu is varied and interesting while the food is delicious and creatively freshly produced. The wine list is also very good, and the staff usually do an excellent job in helping you pick a local wine.
Eating at Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba is definitely a real treat that you should not miss while in Assisi. If you are in Assisi during the on-season, remember to book early as space is limited. You don’t have to book during the off-season.
Bonus: Visit Santa Maria della Angeli
South of Assisi on the SS 75, is the small village of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This is where the enormous domed church of Santa Maria degli Angeli is found. This church was built in the 16th century and is the 7th largest church in the world. It is the place where St Francis spent some time during his life in order to listen to the word of God and founded the Order of Friars Minor in 1209.
Actually, the church was built over his oratory and the cell in which he died. The church is made famous by that small church inside, which is actually fascinating. It’s usually said that this is the place where St. Francis received his calling to follow the Lord Jesus.
Outside, you find the rose garden where he performed his miracle. The roses there are believed to have been thornless since an act of penance by the saint. Adjacent to this garden is the Cappella delle Rose with fine frescoes by Tiberio d’Assisi, from 1518, depicting scenes from the saint’s life. Visiting Santa Maria degli Angeli provides an opportunity to learn more about St. Francis life and it’s well worth a side trip.
Though only a small town with about 3,000 inhabitants, Assisi is a great tourist attraction site and 4 to 5 million visitors throng the town each year. It also has several great sites outside the city walls that are frequented by pilgrims. If history and faith are your thing, then there’s everything to see in this city!
Here are five unique tours I recommend in Assisi:
- Authentic Hands-On Cooking Class
- Traditional Umbrian Cooking Class with Lunch
- Half-Day Medieval Cooking Class and Lunch
- Umbrian Hills Wine Tasting Tour with Lunch
- Truffle Hunting with Lunch
Did you enjoy our 5 things to do in Assisi, Italy! Leave us a comment below!