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whereisliz Assisi - A travel report by Liz
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Assisi,  Italy - flag Italy
6717 readers

whereisliz's travel reports

Searching for the Spirit of St. Francis

  35 votes

Assisi travelogue picture
I have long wanted to visit Assisi, home of one of my heroes, St. Francis, renowned peacemaker and patron saint of animals and the environment. But I had to overcome some trepidation as well. Knowing that the town has been a popular pilgrimage destination since the 13th century, I was afraid that I would find only crowds and commercialism.

Francis had given up wealth and social position to follow his heart, and taught a gospel of peace, tolerance, and non-materialism so revolutionary that it required a Papal decree to keep it from being labeled heretical. But, after 800 years, was there even any trace left of the “real” St. Francis?

As the train carried me deeper into Umbria, and I first caught sight of this picturesque town perched on a hill, I hoped that there still was.

Favourite spots:
Assisi travelogue picture
When I chanced to visit Assisi in June, I didn’t know I would land in town during the flowering balcony competition, a really clever way to encourage residents to beautify their surroundings. Looking sharp, and venturing in to little alleyways paid off with delightful displays of terracotta pots bursting with red geraniums, pink oleander and other colorful blooms. I smiled at the thought that nature-loving Francis would have approved.

I wandered around town, up and down stairs, poking my nose into shops, sighing over the beauty of the endless vistas. I sat on a wall and watched as the rain swept across the valley, drenching the fields below but leaving me dry and windblown on the hill above. Lightning flashed from the clouds, and thunder echoed across the valley.

I chanced upon a tiny chapel where a wedding had recently been. The bricks outside the door were strewn with rice, and candles and flowers decorated the simple interior.

What's really great:
Assisi travelogue picture
As you might expect, Assisi is a town full of churches, each with its own history and attractions. The grandest is San Francesco Basilica, built to hold the body of St. Francis, and frescoed from top to bottom by Giotto and other fine artists.

It’s here you can find Cimabue’s fresco portrait of St. Francis, possibly the earliest existing portrait of the saint, radiating a gentle piety and wisdom.

The many churches in Assisi are worth visiting, and free, and the Assisi combo-ticket allows admission to nearly everything else you’d want to see, including the Roman Forum (walk on an ancient Roman road), the Pinacoteca (a small art gallery), and the Rocca Maggiore (Big Castle, great views).

Assisi travelogue picture
Seeing the relics of St. Francis in the San Francesco Basilica impressed upon me that this was a man who had really lived, not just a myth that had become a saint. His robes were well worn, carefully patched and mended, and revealed just how short (5’4”) he really was. While his personal belongings were very simple, the liturgical items were very fine and of the best materials – Francis didn’t skimp where God was concerned.

On the way out of town, I had just enough time to stop by Santa Maria Degli Angeli, and I’m so glad I did. This huge basilica is built around a tiny chapel where Francis first started his order. It also contains the chapel where Francis died, and a garden of roses, which it is said Francis threw himself into in an attempt to fight off temptation.

Assisi travelogue picture
On the train to Assisi I met another woman, also traveling alone. We began the walk to the hostel together, me lugging my big pack, she rolling her large suitcase. As we ambled further and further from the center of town down a hot, dusty road with no sidewalk, it occurred to us that together we could stay in a room in the center of town for almost the same cost as the hostel. A quick phone call to Camere Annalisa Martini, and we turned around, caught a cab, and met our proprietress.

“Annalisa?” I asked.

“No, not Annalisa, call me Mama!” she exclaimed, enveloping me in a warm Italian hug.

We were thrilled to discover that our room had a lovely view over tiled rooftops and across the Umbiran valley. “Mama” Annalisa even washed all the laundry in my pack for an extra 5 euros.

Camere Annalisa Martini, Via S. Gregorio 6, just off Piazza del Comune, tel. 075.813.536

Assisi travelogue picture
The best meal I had in Italy began with a scrumptious appetizer. Four slices of warm and crunchy toasted bread, each topped with something special: fresh tomatoes and angelic olive oil, braised local mushrooms, creamy artichoke sauce, or buttery melted gorgonzola.

The house made gnocchi were perfect, the local wild boar sausage a savory delight. I can heartily recommend the Taverna dei Consoli restaurant, romantically overlooking the Piazza del Comune.

Other recommendations:
Assisi travelogue picture
As with any pilgrimage destination, there were shops full of souvenirs – for a price, you could get a fat little friar in a brown robe in just about any form you could imagine. But there were also shops featuring works of inspired artistry, and delectable Umbrian specialty foods, wines and sweets.

That evening after dinner, I visited Internet World (v. S. G. dell' Addolorata, 075.81.2327), the only internet access in Assisi, to transfer my digital photo memory cards to cd rom. While it was expensive, the owner stayed late to finish the job, and I really appreciated her efforts.

On the way back to the pensione, I passed by the Piazza del Comune in time to witness an awesome sight: in front of the Roman Temple of Minerva a group of people had gathered -- tourists, locals, nuns, children, elders – many strangers to each other, all forming a great circle in the moonlight. They sang and danced and laughed in spontaneous joy, in praise of the night, of each other, of life itself. With this I knew for sure that the spirit of Francis was alive in Assisi, and in the hearts of those who are drawn to it.

Published on Tuesday November 11th, 2003

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Fri, Jan 26 2007 - 09:37 PM rating by mrscanada

Liz I've been to Assisi and am drawn to St. Francis, even though I'm not Catholic. He was a mystic and had dreams that came true.

Tue, Nov 21 2006 - 09:29 AM rating by hieronyma

Hi Liz,
how wonderful you can tell the spirit of the town. It seemed that it has touched your souL. Thank you.

Sat, Jul 22 2006 - 08:39 AM rating by barcelona

very wonderful report Francisco de Asis. Me give 5 points

Sat, Nov 19 2005 - 09:29 AM rating by alfonsovasco

This report is nice, tender, spiritual, erudit, symphatic, beautiful... I love it!!!
Thanks for giving me the pleasure to read it!

Sun, Oct 23 2005 - 12:38 PM rating by toribio


Mon, Oct 03 2005 - 07:32 PM rating by horourke

Denise and I found this place full of peace and grace.
Your report is full of the wonder and presence that Francis has left in Assisi over the centuries.
The Italian lady you met is the same as a wonderful Italian person my daughter encountered on another pilgrimage at Lourdes.
Thank you for this deeply understanding report. It fulfills all the aims you set out for your travels.

Mon, Oct 03 2005 - 07:08 PM rating by miguelmarchi

I am from Italian origin and you report made me feel nostalgia for my parent’s country. Thank you very much

Mon, Oct 03 2005 - 06:31 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Liz, this is my favourite of your reports!
I made the pilgrimage on foot to Saint James 2 years ago, from the Pyrenees (in Spain is called Camino de Santiago). Now, after reading your report I would like to make another one to Assisi.
You deserve 5 times 5*!

Sat, Oct 01 2005 - 11:49 AM rating by isaacmolina

Liz, how wonderful report!!!
I was in Assisi a few years ago and your report made me remebering my good time there. Thanks.

Thu, Jun 16 2005 - 08:55 AM rating by bear495

I just noticed this wonderful report, Liz. You have talents at writing and photography. It is always a pleasure to view your work.


Sat, Jan 22 2005 - 03:05 PM rating by davidx

Now this is somewhere I really must go. Great report and some fine photos.

Mon, Dec 06 2004 - 05:53 AM rating by badenlac

It is my first time toknow such a lovely place--Assis. Thanks for the author.It attracts my eyesight.The style of the article is natural and kind.In a short,I enjoy this article quite well.

Fri, Oct 01 2004 - 09:01 PM rating by italian-link

Hi Liz,
Nice pictures, and a very nice report on Assisi. You really captured it all well.

Fri, Sep 17 2004 - 05:38 AM rating by saleha

Your report is just luvly...particularly the pictures...thanks a lot for sharing your experience...

Mon, May 10 2004 - 02:46 AM rating by melissa

You have written the most vivid report, great job! I may be moving to Italy in the next year and this is one place I WILL be going to! Thank you, amazing photos!!!!!

Sun, Apr 18 2004 - 01:20 PM rating by travelalain

Once you start reading this report, there is no way back. It's very well written and it makes me want to read more. Very good style, a lot of tips and a very personal view and experience.

Mon, Jan 12 2004 - 12:41 PM rating by willow

I like your style. It brings your narrative alive and envelops the reader. Good job!

Tue, Nov 25 2003 - 03:34 AM rating by anna_moon

Gorgeous pictures, and a very insightful report! I visited Assissi this summer, and was surprised at how nice it is, even with the commercialism. Wish I could have stayed longer.

Wed, Nov 12 2003 - 08:03 AM rating by marianne

A perfect read, very enjoyable. I like your style of describing things
And beautiful pictures.

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