December 16, 2013 – Assisi

Today had its ups and downs mainly because there are no level streets in Assisi. You are either walking uphill or downhill, steeply up or downhill. There is no question that we are really going to feel this tomorrow.

We start out on the lower level of the Basilica San Francesco. Built in the 13th century, it is adorned with frescoes of its namesake, St. Francis, who lived and worked in Assisi. The audio tours are not available because it is not the high season for tourists. We are happy that there are few tourists but wish we could have the audio tour. Some pay audio phones are stationed in the church and they relate the story of the frescoes in the lower church. There are also some chapels that are painted by Giotto.

Approach to the lower basilica of San Francesco
Approach to the lower basilica of San Francesco

Upper basilica
Upper basilica

The artworks in the upper basilica are a little later and Giotto is doing the bulk of the frescoes but there is one notable one by Cimabue. John makes lists of questions we need to find answers to later in the day when we have access to the internet. Both Sarah and I feel frustrated not being able to lay our hands on the information that we need immediately. Why is St. Francis in a red chariot? Inquiring minds want to know. We go outside and see an elaborate manger scene with lifesize models. Later I find out that in 1221 St. Francis was the first one to ever stage a manger scene.
Manger scene from the upper basilica of San Francesco
Manger scene from the upper basilica of San Francesco

While we are walking UP the street to our next church, San Stefano, we happen across an art museum. John asks the ticket taker what is inside. Medieval art, he says. We are all into that. So we spend an enjoyable 45 minutes looking around in this little museum. We see a painting of St.Julian killing his parents. What? Something else to look up later. Then we come across a little Oratorio (Oratorio Pellegrini) worth ten minutes of our time. Finally we finish our slog UP to San Stefano.

The church of San Stefano is a single aisle bare little church built at the end of the 12th century. It is said that the bells of San Stefano ran spontaneously when St. Francis died.

John  and Sarah entering San Stefano
John and Sarah entering San Stefano

Sarah photographing the apse of San Stefano
Sarah photographing the apse of San Stefano

We pass by the Chiesa Santa Maria Minerva. This church has the exterior of the Roman temple celebrating Minerva that it was.
St. Maria Minerva
St. Maria Minerva

By now it is lunchtime. We try to decide whether to go have lunch or climb the really steep hill up to St. Ruffino first. Lunch wins! John has read of this restaurant, Trattoria degli Umbri. It is supposed to be good. It does not disappoint.

After lunch we climb the steep hill to San Ruffino. Uh oh, closed until 2:30. We take some pictures outside. John and I know that we won’t climb up here again. (Sarah does take the hike again later in the afternoon and gets to see the inside of the church. She wants to see the museum but she gets there at 4:10 and the museum closes at 4:30 and they won’t let anyone in after 4. No exceptions!)
San Ruffino
San Ruffino
The fort above Assisi as seen from the Cathedral of San Ruffino
The fort above Assisi as seen from the Cathedral of San Ruffino
A lion in front of San Ruffino eating a person
A lion in front of San Ruffino eating a person

It’s all downhill from here. Steeply downhill. We next visit the Church of St. Clare, founder of a group of nuns and devotee to St. Francis. It is a heavy Romanesque church with thick flying buttresses.

John goes off to move our car and Sarah and I continue on to the Church of Mary Maggiore.
There’s no one inside except us not even anyone to tell us not to take pictures.

The streets are so steep. Our last church is at the bottom of a hill. Our information says it is not to be missed. So we struggle down to the Church of St. Peter. What a bust! There is really nothing to be seen inside.

Later we have dinner at Ristorante da Cecco. It is enjoyable but we are tired and there is only one more hill to climb to get to bed.

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