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The adventures of the Mel

The amazing Assisi (part two)

ITALY | Saturday, 2 October 2010 | Views [717] | Comments [2]

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Unfortunately the first thing we noticed was the plethora of tourist buses and accompanying tourist swarms. Fortunately the second thing we noticed was that these swarms were heading toward their individual buses and away from the town! Woohoo! Yay for arriving mid afternoon and day trippers.

We headed into the hilltop city via one of its stone arches and slowly made our way up through the steep winding streets of Assisi. I found it a little similar to Venice, though the streets are wider; almost wide enough for a car. And when I say almost wide enough, what I mean is cling to the sides and suck your stomach in when a car goes past. How on earth they navigate through those narrow streets is beyond me. Sure, my spatial skills suck, but that’s kinda ridiculous.

As the streets wind their way up into the centre of town the stone buildings loom over them, punctuated by their shuttered windows and warm archway openings. Many buildings are exploding with tourist wares or advertising food in English, so even when you encountered a quiet street you are sadly reminded that you are in a highly frequented tourist area. But despite this, Assisi is still remarkably beautiful. You don’t feel like the locals resent the tourists like they do in Venice. It might have something to do with Assisi being named the spiritual capital of Italy. The first thing that strikes is the ubiquitous presence of monks, dressed just like you would imagine that they dress. Some of them are dressed in black rather than brown, for a reason that I don’t know. Irrespective, they wander around Assisi (and Santa Maria degli Angeli for that matter), young and old, living and touring. There is also, unsurprisingly, a large presence of a variety of nuns and a smattering of priests. Indeed, the piety around the place – even from ‘normal’ tourists – is quite remarkable.

We worked our way up and up, mostly trying to avoid the crowds. This was not overly successful, as the first place we hit was the central square, Piazza del Comune. Here you can find the Temple of Minerva, sadly converted to a church inside but still eye-grabbingly pillared on the out. Towering over this (haha) the Torre (tower) del Comune. When we entered the piazza there was some kind of performance going on with people dressed in white (complete with white face make up), some on stilts, all under huge umbrellas with cascading lace curtains, and one playing music. Not too sure what they were doing – I don’t think they were busking because after performing for a while they wandered off down a different street.

We continued wandering the streets, continually greeted by amazing landscape views, whether over a ledge, peeking between two buildings or right in front of you. Just incredible. We were also taken by the large number of....I’m not sure what to call them. Metal (presumably iron) hanging bits? You know, the iron sculptures that lamps hang from. I am having a brain melt. Anyway, many of these depict dragons and are quite beautiful.

The first church we hit was the cathedral of San Rufino. In here, apparently St. Francis and St. Clare (two key spiritual figures) were both baptised. Although interesting, I didn’t find the churches anything special and unfortunately since I’m writing this about four days after it happened I am finding it difficult to remember each church separately. I do remember a beautiful set up of candles, but that’s about it I’m afraid. Ooh, they also had confessional boxes and I think it was set up for a wedding the next day.

From here we worked our way to the main cathedral, the Basilica di San Francesco (St. Francis), built around 1230, a few years after the death of St. Francis. You approach the church via a massive courtyard lined by an arched covered walkway to either side. The facade is reasonably spectacular to behold, but, being the damned heathen that I am, it didn’t exactly evoke awe or reverence in me. Inside, like in most of the other churches, no cameras were allowed so I have no photos for you. We were just catching the beginning of mass so we didn’t stay in the lower church for long. We made a quick trip down into the basement where the tomb of St. Francis was, but everybody was busy being very pious and involved, so we made our way back out.

We moved into the upper church which I found more interesting to look at its fresco-lined walls. We sat for a while and then moved on, making our way back out. Part way through it started to rain. Not the nice soothing pitter-patter rain, but OH GOD ITS COMING DOWN rain. We rushed into the nearest church, which happened to be the Basilica di Santa Chiara (St. Clare). We didn’t really get time to admire the pink and white facade as we barrelled in amongst dozens of others seeking refuge from the pouring rain. We walked first into the smaller chapel where we sat down for some time in an attempt to not look like we were escaping from the rain. It helped that I was hit with massive stomach cramps at that point so I looked like I was bent over piously, murmuring and such. Didn’t really help that I let out a reasonably loud ‘Goddammit!’ right behind a nun. Yeah, she got up and moved. I reckon I’ve gotta get points for that or something. Tess could not stop laughing – apparently it was the funniest thing she’d seen all day.

Downstairs you could see garments and instruments used by both St. Francis and St. Clare, as well as read about the life of St. Clare. We did this for long enough that the rain had stopped, and so we moved on out.

From here we made our way down, out of Assisi and back toward Santa Maria degli Angeli and our wonderfully warm hosts, Lanfranco and Marcella. We did stop for dinner at a place that they recommended and it was fantastic. I’m glad I do speak a little Italian because they didn’t speak a word of English and their menus were all in Italian, so we spent some time translating to decide what we wanted. I had an amazing parmagiana (who says it was supposed to be an appetizer? Pfft) and Tess bulked up her iron stores with a mixed grill. After this we pretty much came home and collapsed....to repeat the trip again the next day!

Nothing to report from it though – having seen most of the sights the day before we essentially just strolled around the streets, trying to find different and more secluded areas over the course of a few hours. It was still beautiful, that’s for sure. 15 km or so later, and we were back home to relax again. I had more lengthy conversations with both Lanfranco and Marcella, and although we hadn’t decided that night, Tess and I thought that we might head out and visit somewhere a bit different the next day rather than taking a rest day. Which leads into my next post.

Walking around Umbria photos.




"My spatial skills suck".....I'll remember that line at an appropriate time in the future.
I think we should head back to Assisi for more than one day - we didn't see all the things that you did - and it doesn't seem that you saw what we saw!

  Peter Oct 6, 2010 6:12 PM


Okay, I know I've just finished Terry Prachett's latest book, but I swear you're describing Ankh-Morpork and The Unseen University is looming over you. How else would vehicles get down those lanes?

  Sally Oct 11, 2010 6:39 PM

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