Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis, one of Italy’s most admirable patron saints. Over 5.5 million pilgrims, art lovers, and tourists make the journey to this UNESCO World Heritage site each year.
Churches of Assisi
Dating back to 1000BC Assisi is inextricably linked to religion. The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most important religious pilgrimage sites in Italy. Local shops sell religious art, jewelry and crafts. Walking tours include museum worthy art collections in the 10 churches and Basilicas of Assisi.
Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary the Greater), Cathedral of San Rufino, Basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare), Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels), Chiesa Nuova, Santo Stefano, Eremo delle Carceri, Church of San Pietro (St. Peter) and Church of San Damiano.
With so much focus on the church, it’s natural for non-Catholics or less religious tourists to wonder, is Assisi worth visiting?
Why Assisi is Worth Visiting in 10 Photos
Here are our top 10 photos of Assisi in winter, and four reasons why yes, Assisi is worth visiting. Even if you don’t give a fig leaf about religious art.
4 Reasons Assisi is Worth Visiting
There are currently 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Italy. Understanding why Assisi is one of them can go a long way to helping you decide if Assisi is worth visiting.
1. Assisi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Religious pilgrims have journeyed to Assisi for centuries to see the Basilica of San Francesco (where St. Francis is buried) and the Basilica of Santa Chiara (to see the tomb of St. Clare). Yet, for non-Catholics like myself, much of what makes Assisi worth visiting lies outside the churches and Basilicas.
2. Location! Assisi, Italy on the Map
Assisi is located in Central Italy, in Umbria between Perugia and Spoleto on the slopes of Subasio Mountain. Assisi’s high hilltop location gives visitors a unique birds-eye view of Umbria.
Peek-a-boo views from inside Assisi’s historic walls, hint at the rolling landscape below. To get the best views, you’ll have to hike up a bit. Exit the Porta Perlici, the original gate of the city located close to the Anfiteatro Romano and head up, up, up to Rocca Maggiore Castle for the best views of Assisi and the countryside below.
I know I said 10 images but I never can resist a few more! Like the one below that shows the views from Rocca Maggiore Castle of Assisi, Italy.
3. Rocca Maggiore Castle
The Rocca Maggiore Castle Fortress dates back to 1173. Legend has it in 1198 the townspeople threw Conrad I von Urslingen (the count of Assisi) out of the castle and tore it down in a revolt. Legend has it the fortress was then neglected until 1362 when Cardinal Gil Albornoz had it rebuilt.
The Rocca Maggiore Castle and the surrounding fortress is an imposing example of 14th century military architecture. Commanding views of the Tescio River Valley stretch from Perugia to Spoleto and can be seen from the Castle Keep.
A walk along the square fortress walls to the Castle Tower feels a bit like being in a Zeffirelli film. Mainly because some scenes from “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” were actually filmed here!
4. Assisi is a Charming Picturesque Medieval City to Explore
There are no canals with gondolas, no colosseums, no leaning towers. Instead, Assisi offers a glimpse at a different side of Italy. The side Italians know and spend their weekends exploring to find this little trattoria or that little shop to recommend to friends.
Each town is a little bit different but the pattern is much the same. Wander cobblestone streets. Enjoy views of the surrounding countryside. Appreciate the balance of preservation and patina. Sit for a long lunch with a bottle of wine. Walk some more. Pop into a church to see museum quality art. Walk some more. Admire regional architecture. Hear the church bells chime. Realize it’s time for aperitif before dinner.
One of the best parts of visiting Assisi is getting lost while exploring the historic city itself. It feels as if life just woke up from an extra long nap in Assisi.
Italy’s picturesque walled towns are paradise for photographers like my Husband. Constantly intrigued by textures, colors and trees that take back what people and time leave behind.
Avoiding the Crowds in Assisi
Visiting Assisi in the off-season (October to early May) helps ensure the charm of this well preserved medieval city can be fully appreciated without the hassle of summer crowds. For introverts who don’t mind bundling up, Assisi has a magic charm in winter.
Fair warning though, it does get very windy on the walk up to Rocca Maggiore Castle! This photo is from the steep walk up to see Rocca Maggiore Castle at the exact moment the clouds broke and warm sunlight fell down to us, making it one of the more magical moments of our day in Assisi.
Yes Italy has Rome and Tuscany and Venice but for religious pilgrimages, art or Italian lifestyle lovers, Assisi may well be the perfect day-trip. Assisi is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a historic medieval walled city, home to a giant castle and offers the best panoramic views of Umbria. It’s no wonder Assisi has millions of tourists visiting each year! Still, the reason Assisi is worth visiting is because despite everything else it maintains all the charm of an Italian hilltop city, perfect for an easy yet unforgettable day trip.
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References Plus Other Bloggers Takes on Assisi
- Inside Assisi, Italy – Umbria’s Jaw Dropping World Heritage Town – Walks of Italy
- The “Rocca Maggiore” Fortress – Assisi – Umbria Tourism Board
- One Day in Assisi – Madonna del Piatto
- 5 places of St Francis of Assisi to visit in one day – Alitalia