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Magical, mystical Assisi

  • Magical, mystical Assisi

    Assisi remains a spiritual place apart, despite the crowds. By car, Assisi is only 30 minutes east of Perugia but lives in its own rarefied world. The approach to Assisi reveals St Francis’ Basilica rise about the perpetual Umbrian haze, with the towering peak Mount Subasio looming beyond. The blissful sense of peace makes our humdrum world feel forgotten. The austere Basilica di San Francesco is perfectly situated for sunsets. Inside, the Upper Basilica is adorned with Giotto’s famous fresco cycle on the Life of St Francis, restored following the 1997 earthquake. Instead, the Lower Basilica reveals a jigsaw puzzle of frescoes, including scenes of uplifting sweetness by Simone Martini, where even the horses seem to smile. As if in reproach, the sternly didactic vault frescoes remind pilgrims of the monastic virtues of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience. The crypt where St Francis is buried is a significant pilgrimage site, attracting sandalled, prostrate pilgrims.

    Beyond this spiritual hub, Assisi is almost too picture-perfect. Flower-bedecked balconies give way to secret gardens, with the scent of roses and wood-smoke permeating the air. The forbidding Rocca Maggiore, looming above the town, formed part of a string of towers guarding Assisi. No churches can live upto San Francesco. Even so, the striking Romanesque Duomo reveals a three-tiered façade and sculpted central portal, decorated with lions and griffons. Below the Duomo stands Santa Chiara, dedicated to the founder of the Order of the Poor Clares, the female wing of the Franciscans. The pink-and-white façade boasts buttresses that are decidedly feminine in their generous curves.

    For a sense of the solitude and spirituality that suffused the lives of St Francis and St Clare, head to a spiritual retreat on the outskirts of Assisi. Il Bosco di San Francesco, St Francis’ Forest, represents a rural landscape quietly shaped by over 800 years of history. From woodland to olive groves and enchanted glades, this still feels like St Francis’ domain, inviting us to explore our relationship with nature and God. The trails meander around the slopes of Mount Subasio behind the Basilica of Saint Francis. The 64-hectare area of woodland trails is beautifully kept by the FAI, the Italian heritage body, the equivalent of the UK’s National Trust. The visitor centre is housed in a Benedictine monastery, the Convento di Santa Croce. Traditional Umbrian fare, such as truffled pasta, is served on the terrace of the neighbouring Osteria al Mulino, a converted mill.

    Address: Tourism in Assisi: Piazza del Comune, 06081 Assisi
    St Francis’ Forest, Il Bosco di San Francesco
    Web: https://www.fondoambiente.it/luoghi/bosco-di-san-francesco

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