Assisi Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Assisi

Assisi is located on the western slope of Mount Subasio. It is 1,300 feet above sea level, overlooking the rivers Topino and Chiasicio. It is a walled city with narrow, twisting streets and alleys. It originally was known as Assisium. Successively Umbrian, Etruscan and Roman, it became a Ghibelline commune in the 11th century.

There were clashes with Guelph Perugia. In the battle of Collestrada, a young man named Francesco de Bernardone was taken prisoner. He was held for a year. He had changed. He renounced the world, became a mendicant, devoted to prayer and meditation. He is known today as Saint Francis of Assisi.

Tourists and pilgrims flock to churches, shrines, and palaces in the city. The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is divided into upper and lower churches. The lower church holds the body of Saint Francis.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a church built on the old Temple of Minerva. Underneath the church is part of a Roman forum. The Basilica of Saint Clare, the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, the New Church, Hermitage of the Prisons and San Damiano Church all represent stations in the lives of the saints.

There is the medieval castle of Major Fortress, towering over the city. A Roman amphitheater, piazzas, fountains and museums must be added to the list.

Experience both medieval and modern Assisi. The Calendimaggio Festival occurs in the first four days in May ending on Saturday. It includes processions, theatre, Choirs, cross bows, dancing and flag contests. And there is more. Come and find out.
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Assisi Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Assisi Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Assisi (See other walking tours in Assisi)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco (Lower Square of St Francis)
  • Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery)
  • Via Portica (Portica Street)
  • Museo e Foro Romano (Roman Forum and Museum)
  • Captain of the People Palace and Civic Tower
  • Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
  • Piazza del Comune (Town Hall Square)
  • Chiesa Nuova (New Church)
  • Santa Chiara Basilica (Basilica of Saint Clare)
  • Cathedral of San Rufino
  • Rocca Maggiore (Major Fortress)
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Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco (Lower Square of St Francis)

1) Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco (Lower Square of St Francis)

In the 16th century Fra Ludovico da Pietralunga wrote about the Lower Square of Saint Francis, "It is longer than wide..." He also pointed out the square was lined with arcades sheltering 75 shops which "served merchants." Pope Gregory XI wanted to head off the unseemly stampede of small business into the square by setting up stall space.

The arcade stalls were handy in August during the feast of St Francis. From the beginning the square was a sociable place, serving crowds of visitors coming to and from the Basilica. The square was originally laid out in 1253. It is framed by 15th century porticos with access to San Bernardino Oratory and the Lower Basilica.

The Piazza is an enclosed area, as the good brother said, "...longer than wide..." On the north side of the square there is a steep staircase and a slope leading to the upper square. The lower square is bounded on three sides by arcades and columns. The shape of the square is reminiscent of a Renaissance version of a medieval cloister.

The square is in front of and on a side of the Basilica. It is the best place to view the Basilica and the stunning sight of the Umbrian fields below. For the best first view of the square, enter from the arch over the via Frate Elia.
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Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

2) Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (must see)

Francis died at the age of 44. But two years later, he was canonized in Assisi. On that day, July 16, 1228, Pope Gregory IX blessed the cornerstone of the Basilica and "Mother House" of the Franciscan order. Two years after that, the body of Francis was secretly buried in the unfinished Basilica.

The Basilica dedicated to Saint Francis is actually two churches, one over the other and encircled by two arcades. The churches were designed by Jacopo Tedesco. Actual construction was managed by Brother Elias of Cordona, a follower of San Francis.

The reason for two churches is not clear. The Romanesque Lower Basilica was built on the tomb of Saint Francis in accordance with ancient Christian burial customs. The upper church is supported by the lower church's oversize cross vaults and pilasters.

Saint Francis' body is laid in a sarcophagus under the high altar. The church is decorated with fresoes. In the central nave is one on the life and passion of Saint Francis. There is one on Mary Magdalene by Giotto. Above the altar is a frescoe of the Saint and allegories of poverty, chastity and obedience.

On the presbytery walls is Cimabue's Virgin with child, angels and Saint Francis. On the left wall Giotto has painted the crucifixion. Lorenzetti has depicted the childhood and passion of Christ. Simone Martini has rendered Madonna and child among the saints.

Stairs in the nave lead to the crypt. Here is a plain, unadorned place, lighted by a single oil lamp. Simplicity and austerity were two qualities prized by the saint who lies here.

If the lower church is plain and austere, the upper church is bright and spacious, made for liturgies. It has a nave of four bays and a cross-vault ceiling decorated with gold stars on a blue background. Next to the altar is a papal throne. The choir is provided with 102 wooden stalls with carvings made by Domenico Indovini in 1501.

The upper part of the nave is painted with scenes from the Old Testament and the new testament. In the lower part of the nave are 28 frescoes credited to Giotto. The cuspidate facade has a Gothic portal and a brilliant rose window.

Why you should visit

The spirit of Saint Francis is in every street and every building, but this the heart of Assisi.
3
Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery)

3) Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery)

The Municipal Art Gallery is housed in the Villemani Palace. The palace was built in the 16th century by Vigilantis, who sold it to the Giacobettis, who ceded it to the city of Assisi. It then became the Civic Library in 1893. Now it is home to the Civic Art Gallery. It houses a collection mainly of religious art, including frescoes.

The palace is a Baroque style town house affair. The main entrance is flanked by two columns and topped by a balcony. Inside is where the treasure is. There are vaults covered with 17th century frescoes by Umbrian and Tuscan painters.

Many of the paintings and frescoes are from the middle ages and the Renaissance. They were shown in civic and religious buildings in and around Assisi.

The exhibits include paintings and art saved from areas threatened with destruction or theft. There is a section of the museum devoted to honoring those who took risks in preserving and rescuing Art in Assisi in dangerous times.

There are photographs for instance, of a German military officer and doctor. The doctor got the German occupation army to set up hospitals for soldiers in Assisi. This saved the town from the bombings that were to follow.

There are paintings by Giotto, Puccio Capana, Ottaviano Nelli, Nicolo di Liberatore and Pietro Perugino.

The Museum is located at number 12 via San Francesco. it is open everyday except Tuesday.
4
Via Portica (Portica Street)

4) Via Portica (Portica Street)

This is a short road. It changes its name from Giotto Street to Portica Street and it extends from the Arnaldo Fortini Street to the Town Hall Square. Along the way are shops, bars and cafes. There is a climb involved on the way to the square but there is a really good view of the People's Tower (Torre del Populo).

The street is clean and well kept. It is often crowded but it is not pedestrianized. It's another great street for walking and window shopping but be aware of motor traffic. Besides the souvenir shops and restaurants it also has access to the Foro Romano Museum.

Portica Street is definitely for shopping. Examples are: Portica Sette, souvenirs, gifts; La Bottega del Pasticcere, ice cream; Franchi, crafts; P. Vignati & Figli, stationery, books; Sargetta, leather goods; Tontino, paintings and pottery. When you get to the Town Hall Square, take a rest.
5
Museo e Foro Romano (Roman Forum and Museum)

5) Museo e Foro Romano (Roman Forum and Museum)

Leaving the Portica Street, one comes upon the Town Hall Square. The square is dominated by the facade of the ancient Temple of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. The temple is now the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

The path to the Forum starts from the crypt of San Nicolo. The crypt and the Civic Museum (Museo Civico) share a corridor. Visitors walk over glass covering the original Roman paving stones underneath. On the wall is an inscription celebrating the Quattuorviri, the four Roman magistrates who ruled Assisi.

Finally come to the "Room of the Vaults." The room provides a complete view of the Forum. Archeologists believe the site to be a court containing large parallelepipeds of pink limestone. These were probably for seats for the magistrates. There is also a temple with columns dedicated to the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, sons of Jupiter.

The museum was officially established in 1934 on the site of the church of San Nicolo, which was demolished in 1926. Only the crypt of San Nicolo remains.
6
Captain of the People Palace and Civic Tower

6) Captain of the People Palace and Civic Tower

Emerging from the Roman Forum, enter the Town Hall Square. What do we see on the uphill side of the square? We see the Captain of the People Palace and the Civic Tower. The Palace was built in 1282 to house the Captain's offices. The captain this was done for was one Guido de Rossi. Captain Guido was from Florence. He hung his coat-of-arms on the wall. During the middle ages, the chief administrator of Italian city-state was called Captain of the People (Capitano del Populo).

The Palace was the first public building put up in the Town Hall Square. The facade shows four doors on the ground floor and four windows. The second and third floors also are each furnished with four windows. Guelph style battlements were added in 1927. The palace became a public school in the 16th century. Today it is home to the Carabinieri, a law enforcement agency in Italy.

Close to this imposing edifice is the Civic Tower, also called The People's Tower ("Il Torre del Populo"), it rises to a height of 153 feet above the square. The tower dates to the mid 13th century. It was intended to be the residence of the Captain of the People. It has large lancet windows high up and smaller lancet windows below and a clock.

In the 16th century the Tower became the headquarters of the Guild of Notaries. The Notaries rebuilt the doorway and set their coat-of-arms on display: a book, a pen and an inkwell. The Bell of Praises was hung in the Tower by King Victor Emmanuel III to memorialize the 600th anniversary of Saint Francis.
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Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

7) Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

"Saint Mary Over Minerva" is what the sign says. The church was literally built on top of the the temple of Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom and Peace. Wisdom and Peace prevailed more or less until about 500 AD. Then the Benedictines came. They did some restorations and moved in. They left the facade intact.

The interior was divided into two floors. The upper floor was to be living space and the lower floor became the church of San Donato. In 1538 Pope Paul III declared the temple of Minerva be restored and dedicated to the Virgin Mother, the "true queen of wisdom."

In 1613 the Third Regular order of St Francis made several changes to the church with the aid of architect Giacomo Giorgetti. The interior decorations were renewed in the Baroque style in the 1700s. The facade of the old temple is left intact. Four Corinthian columns tower over the entrance. Inside, the cornices and altar are of terra-cotta and gold.

In the center of the frontispiece of the altar is a painting by Giorgetti showing God the Creator with angels embracing creation. Behind the altar there is an inscription in Latin, "This glorious temple, already dedicated to Minerva, the goddess of false wisdom (now consecrated) to the mother of true wisdom."
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Piazza del Comune (Town Hall Square)

8) Piazza del Comune (Town Hall Square) (must see)

Here is the secular heart of the city where social and cultural life of the town took place. The Town Hall Square is a true Umbrian city square. It is situated where the Roman Forum once stood. It is a rectangular square, connecting to the Corso Mazzini and under the looming Rocca Maggiore.

It was the focal point of medieval Assisi. It has always been a popular venue for gatherings and open markets. Feudal aristocracy erected their residential towers here. Towers that were later replaced with the buildings of the emerging merchant middle-class.

In 1212 the city consuls gained from the Benedictan monks authorization to set up the temple of Minerva as the municipal center of the town. The square was enlarged and by 1305 the Roman temple was flanked by the People's Tower and the Captain of the People Palace. On the south and western sides of the square was the Town Hall.

Besides the monuments and buildings noted there is also the Zubboli Bookshop, since 1870, and the Bar Minerva, a popular watering hole.

Each year the people of Assisi observe the Calendimaggio, a public festival held in May. There are parades in medieval costumes and re-enactments of the ancient feud between the Fiumi and Nepis families.
9
Chiesa Nuova (New Church)

9) Chiesa Nuova (New Church)

New Church was built in 1615 over the ruins of the birthplace of Saint Francis, the house of Pietro di Bernadone. The church was called New Church because it was the newest church at that time in Assisi. In 1613 Antonio de Trejo, Spanish Vicar General of the Franciscans, saw the home of the Saint in ruins and raised funds to buy it.

Pope Paul V blessed the cornerstone brought in a procession from San Rufino Cathedral to the construction site. The church is built in a late Renaissance style. It has a high dome with coffers. The basic plan is Greek Cross, with a nave and transepts of equal length. The inside is has frescoes by Cesare Sermei and Giacomo Georgetti.

The facade is of brick. It has four columns supporting a Doric entablature with an attic gable. The frescoes cover the walls date back to 1621. The stucco decorations date to 1769. There are depicted eight episodes in the life of Saint Francis.

To one side is the cell where Pietro di Bernadone kept Francis in chains to dissuade him from the life of a mendicant. Inside the cell is a wooden statue of the saint in prayer.
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Santa Chiara Basilica (Basilica of Saint Clare)

10) Santa Chiara Basilica (Basilica of Saint Clare) (must see)

Saint Clare died in Assisi in 1253. Church fathers were so impressed with her sanctity she was canonized in 1255. She was laid to rest in the chapel of Saint George.

In 1260 her body was taken to the new Basilica of Saint Clare and buried under the high altar.

In 1850 the tomb was opened and the remains recovered and later the body was ceremoniously transferred to a newly completed shrine within the crypt of the Basilica.

The facade of the Basilica is of horizontal bands of white and pink stone. There is a single wheel-like rose window and a single doorway with an arch above the tympanum. Sculpted lions are on each side of the doorway. The building is supported by oversized flying buttresses.

On the south side of the nave there is the oratory of the crucifix, a chapel that holds the 12th century crucifix said to have spoken to Saint Francis urging him to repair and reform the church.

Go down a passageway into the neo-Gothic crypt. In the shrine one can see the body of Saint Clare. She lies at the east end. At the other end of the shrine are relics of both Francis and Clare.
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Cathedral of San Rufino

11) Cathedral of San Rufino (must see)

Seven people of Assisi were in a tug-of-war with sixty of Bishop Ugone's men over the body of Saint Rufino. The bishop had sought to move the body to Santa Maria Maggiore. The people won. Ugone knew a miracle when he saw one. He rebuilt the Duomo of Rufino and called it a cathedral.

Rufino was the bishop of Amaziah, Turkey. He arrived in Assisi in the 3rd century. He began preaching. He was quickly arrested, a stone was put around his neck and he was drowned in the Chiascio River.

Ugone wanted to rebuild the the little basilica that held the bones of Rufino. This renovation was started in 1140 and it was consecrated by Pope Innocent IV 100 years later.

The square before the church is laid out to create an enlarged perspective of the plain facade. There are three doors with sculptures of lions and griffins. The bas-relief over the doorway shows Christ on a throne, the Madonna and St Rufino.

In the middle of the facade are three rose windows with evangelical symbols around the center window. To the left of the facade is the soaring bell tower, at its base an intact Roman cistern.

Inside are ten altars with statues of the prophets. The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament on the right is Baroque. In the apse is a wooden choir from 1520 and a 19th century organ.

In the crypt, by the high altar, is a 3rd century sarcophagus holding relics of San Rufino.
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Rocca Maggiore (Major Fortress)

12) Rocca Maggiore (Major Fortress) (must see)

How old is Major Fortress? Tradition holds that the top of the hill was once the site of an acropolis, but it was destroyed by the Gothic King Totila in 545. The first reliable date available is 1174, when it was rebuilt by the Swabians as a feudal fortification. Frederick of Swabia resided there as a youth.

In 1198 the castle was destroyed in a popular uprising to keep it from coming under the control of the papal governor.

The fortress was rebuilt in 1356 by Cardinal Egido Albornoz who was busily involved in subjugating the major cities of the peninsula. The fortress was frequently a vital element in military campaigns of one sort or another. Towers and bastions were often renovated and improved.

After albornoz the Rocca was renovated by Biordo Michelotti in 1398, by Piccinino in 1458, by Pius II in 1460, by Sisto IV in 1478, and by Paolo III in 1535.

It was Jacabo Piccinino who built the polygonal northwest tower. It was then finished by Pope Pius II who connected the tower by a corridor to the fortress walls. The castle complex is made with strengthened walls from the pink stones of Mount Subasio. The overall shape is trapezoidal with towers on each corner, enclosing the keep.

The inside of the fortress yields access to the entrance of a round bastion. The bastion was commissioned in 1535 by Pope Paul III. There is a fenced-in yard before the residential rooms of the castle accessible by a spiral staircase. The Rocca Maggiore is joined by its 14th century walls with the Fortress Minor, the keep of St. anthony.

The fortress's towers offer the broadest and evocative views of Umbrian valleys and Assisi nestling at the foot of the hill.

Why you should visit
It is worth it for the spectacular view alone.

Tips
Some climbing is involved. Wear comfortable shoes and carry water.

Walking Tours in Assisi, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Assisi

Create Your Own Walk in Assisi

Creating your own self-guided walk in Assisi is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
St. Francis' Assisi Walking Tour

St. Francis' Assisi Walking Tour

A holy city for Christians, Assisi has been an eternal destination of pilgrimage since the 13th century for those venerating Saint Francis and wanting to the see where he was born, worked, died and was buried. As the birthplace of one of Catholicism’s most revered saints (and one of Italy's two saintly patrons), Assisi holds religion very close to its heart.

The entire city-sanctuary –...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles