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yuliangpang Assisi - A travel report by yuliang
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Assisi,  Italy - flag Italy
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yuliangpang's travel reports

Assisi-My 11th Report on Via Flaminia

  10 votes
Page: 1 2
My excursion to Assisi seemed to be not easy, because it was embarked upon with so many perplexing questions. I should say the trip was a spiritual struggle more than any physical achievements, the more I am contemplating, the more I am confused.

St Francesco Piccolino, the birth place of St. Francis
St Francesco Piccolino, the birth place of St. Francis
Assisi brought me back to the well-known Poem in China, An Eulogy to My Humble House by Liu Yuxi (772-842) in Tang Dynasty, which is considered as one of the masterpieces of Tang Poetry and is nationwidely adopted by the testbook for the Chinese middle school. I found two English versions from the website, but each one has its own pros and cons, therefore I would like to put them all here for your considerations. One translation reads " Not height but immortals make mountains famous. Not depth but dragons make waters mysterious. Only my fragrant virtue overbrims this humble house". The other one is a little bit longer, but more easily readable, "A mountain needn't be high; It is famous so long as there is a deity on it. A lake needn't be deep; It has supernatural power so long as there is a dragon in it. My house is humble, But it enjoys the fame of virtue so long as I am living in it".

Assisi is such a place in all the senses as described by the Chinese Poet. It is built on the mountain, not too high, and it is well-known but all the fame comes from one deity, Francis, the so called patron saint of animals, the environment and Italy. His houses, both the birthplace, San Francesco Piccolino and the burial place, Basilica di San Francesco, are quite humble, but they attract millions of tourists every year to come. The Rough Tour Guide to Italy says the same thing, "Had the man (St Francis) not been born here in 1182 the town wouldn't be thronged with tourists and pilgrims for ten months of the year, but then neither would it have the Basilica of St Francis, one of the greatest monuments to thirteenth-and fourteenth-century Italian art. Besides St Francis, Assisi is also the birthplace of St. Clare.

The fame of Francis has overshadowed Assisi's own history. Its earliest settlement can be dated back to 1000 BC, first by Umbrians, then by the Etruscans, Romans, Lombards, but most times has kept under the jurisdiction of papal jurisdiction.

Favourite spots:
Basilica di S. Francesco, where the fame of Assisi all comes from
Basilica di S. Francesco, where the fame of Assisi all comes from
The map of Assisi marks 36 places as tourist sights, three of them, Eremo delle Carceri, San Damiano, Santuario di Rivotorto are out of town and a little bit far, therefore I chosed to focus only on those places that could be easily accessed on foot. It is not necessary to explore all the sights one by one, but those sights are not neglectable.

1. Basilica di S. Francesco

You may not tend to agree with me if i said everybody who came to Assisi only for Basilica di S.Franceso, but you can only agree with me if I said everybody who was already in Assisi would definitely go to Basilica di S. Franceso. The UNESCO site is comprising of two parts, the lower and upper church. It has both an elegant apperance and an splendid interior. Just look at the rose window, you may well understand how this building was delicately created. Geting inside, you will be stroke by a world of frescoes, almost every space available is covered by frescoes. The basement of the church houses the tomb of Francis.

What's really great:
Rocca Maggiore
Rocca Maggiore
[continue]The upper and lower church are well connected, there are stairs at the end of each of them leading to the other. Photos are forbidden, but I saw so many people could not help taking pictures even the guards were just a few steps away.

But what really stroke me was the big word "pace" (peace in English) on the great lawn before the church. Today Italy is enjoying peace and providing refuges for those who are suffering from war, how you ever even asked yourself this invaluable peace in Italy has come from such a long way, many wars were caused for religious reasons? How much we have already paid for our religious beliefs? The castel (Rocca Maggiore) standing at the far end of your sight will tell you that.

2. Rocca Maggiore

The castle overlooking the Basilica di San Francesco is called Rocca Maggiore (great Castle, probably took the name from the comparison with another small castle, Rocca Minore, which is just standing at the opposite hilltop).


Basilica di San Francesco from Rocca Maggiore
Basilica di San Francesco from Rocca Maggiore
Rocca Maggiore was a medieval moment, built in 1367. The ticket 5 Euro, a little bit expensive, if you think it has nothing inside, just offers you a better position to appreciate the panaroma of the town, particularly the basilica of San Francesco. You may find some ways to save your money actually, because somewhere at the foot of the castle also offers you a perfect position. Inside, it is a museum with nothing, just an exhibition of pictures. Anyway, there is long walls with a tower at the end, to get the tower you need to across the tunnel formed by walls at two sides. it is very interesting and proves to be best position for photographing the Basilica of San Francesco.

For me the castle is serving a powerful testmony to show how much military forces are needed to defend the so called religionous belief. We claim we have the freedom in religion, but it is achieved under the protection of the awesome castle, as we enjoy the peace today, but it is guaranteed only by guns.

Cattedrale di San Rufino, Duomo of Assisi
Cattedrale di San Rufino, Duomo of Assisi
3. Cattedrale di San Rufino

Though Basilica di San Francesco is the postcard of Assisi, but it does not serve as the Duomo (main church). Assisi's duomo is called Cattedrale di San Rufino (St. Rufinus). It has a Romanesque facade with three rose windows and a 16th-century interior. It also houses an underground mesuem, Museo Capitolare, and an crypt, displaying a handful of great paintings. It is also a good place to see the intricacy of the Roman architecture. But my favorite was the candle tray as shown in the picture, sheding soft lights, adding right atmosphere for the advent of a peaceful new year. I am wondering how many people around the world are still fighting for it outside this small church.

4. Basilica di San Chiara

Like Basilica di San Francesco, it was built for memorizing another saint from Assisi, Chiara or Clare in English, Francesco's companion who founded the order of the Poor Clares, the female wing of Franciscans. It has a splendid outlook and austere interior.

real center of Assisi, Piazza del Comunale
real center of Assisi, Piazza del Comunale
[continue] There is a quite big square before the church, offering a wonderful view for the surroundings, you may also find the Rocca Maggiore, the blue dome of duomo, the olive grove and the terrace of the buildings. But the best place to have a panaromatic view of the church is behind it, in the direction to Porta Nouva. I also managed to find another ideal position for photographing is behind the oppositing church, Santa Maria Maggiore, where a perfect balcony was offered, few people came there.

5. Piazza del Comunale

Piazza del Comunale is the real center of Assisi, which houses seveal main sights, including Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, Chiesa di S. Maria Sopra Minerva, Palazzo Comunale. Just behind the Palazzo Comunale, you will find Chiesa Nuova. Chiesa di S. Maria Sopra Minerva has a well preserved facade from the first century and claims to be the most ancient church in Assisi. What's stunning for photography is the skyline of the bell tower beside it.


San Francesco Piccolino, the birthplace of Francis, humble place isn't it?
San Francesco Piccolino, the birthplace of Francis, humble place isn't it?
6. San Franceso Piccolino

Behind Palazzo Comunale, there is a small road leading to San Franecso Piccolino, the birthplace of Francis, which stands in the vicinity of the center. As the first picture of this report shows, it looks very humble. I have only two things to say. One is putting into doubt the legitimacy of saying that Francis was born in very wealthy merchant family and used to live a debauched life before his conversion to Christian and devotion to a life of poverty. But the sight shows that his family was not as rich as you expected, I think it would be more proper to say he was born in a family of Middle Class. The other thing that I would like to point out is that If we put Francis into the Chinese or Indian culture, he can not be counted as a saint. What he championed is nothing new in the Buddism, I even tried to find his counterpart in the Buddism system. He could only be counted as a Ku Xing Seng ( Chinese name for a monk) or Sadhu.


Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli
Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli
At least one thing I can not challenge at San Francesco Piccolino is the conclusion from the Chinese Poem that I introduced at the very beginning, it says that"Confucius once said:'How could we call a room humble as long as there is a virtuous man in it?'" Therefore in that sense, Francis is at least a virtous man, isn't it? But there is very few thing about the character of St. Francis. I had another thing in mine mind, that is Francis is advocating a life of poverty, is it against the historical development or at least the current trend, because all the governments around the world are struggling to kill poverty?

7. Basilica di San Maria degli Angeli

This is the biggest architecture that I have ever seen in Assisi. It is just within the footsteps from the train station. It was built on the remains of the Porzuincola, a tiny chapel that was effectively the first Francescian monastery, but today it does not have anything to do with the Francescan ideal.


Other recommendations:
View of the Basilica di San Francesco from Porta San Pietro
View of the Basilica di San Francesco from Porta San Pietro
This is my second time to Assisi, but my first experience in Assisi proved to be a disaster, because I went there in the summer time, It was so crowded everywhere, therefore I just had a very quick stroll, but after I finished I did not know where I had been, the only thing that I could not forget from my first experience was that I had to wait for a long queque to see the tomb of Francis. Therefore, the first recommendation that I give is to avoid those seasons, winter time before or after Chrismas holidays would be a smart choice than the summer time.

You are not necessary to stay in Assisi overnight, because it is in the vicinity of a day trip from some big cities, such as Rome, Perugia. This is the way that I saw how people explore Assisi.

Published on Friday January 2th, 2009

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Sat, Jan 24 2009 - 07:47 AM rating by gloriajames

great report and brought back memories for me... when i was there about 5yrs ago!

Thu, Jan 08 2009 - 07:25 PM rating by bootlegga

Excellent as always!

Thu, Jan 08 2009 - 02:46 PM rating by davidx

I went in the summer - a very similar experience to yours - and a similar outcome. This is an excellent report. I feel Trevi coming up soon and it's quite a favourite of mine!

Wed, Jan 07 2009 - 05:39 PM rating by orlen

They should invent a 6 star rating, just for you. I loved the references to China, and your evaluation of Assisi's sights.

Tue, Jan 06 2009 - 07:13 PM rating by krisek

Yuliang, I enjoyed this report. It had some brilliant references, great descriptions and was provocative (although this can be risky). Being a saint is just a concept in certain Christian religions, which assumes (or somewhat acknowledges) that a person went to Heaven... Also, to my best knowledge, none of the key religions condone violence, murder or war. It has always been the politicians, you know. And sadly not all governments aim at eradicating the poverty these days - Zimbabwe? I have never been to Assisi as it has always been rather low on my priority list. I can see that if I decide to go, it would better be in the winter time ;) Many thanks for some good pointers.

Fri, Jan 02 2009 - 09:56 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Wow Yuliang, you wrote your best report, so far!
I like it very much.
IWhile reading it I remembered at once another excellent report on Assisi by globo member whereisliz (Searching for the Spirit of St. Francis), which is one of my favourites.

(Btw, I hope to visit soon, as a pilgrim, the Abbey of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy).

Fri, Jan 02 2009 - 06:00 PM rating by pesu

Marvellous pics, Yuliang. In my opinion defending a religion hasn't been the real cause for waging wars ever but it has always been an appropriate 'justification'. Let's hope, pray and work for it that one fine day peace might win at the end.

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