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  • The hill town of Assisi in Umbria is one  of Italy's best-preserved medieval villages.  

  • The ancient buildings are constructed fromlocal stone that has slightly pink color enhancing  

  • the visual beauty of this special place withlovely network of pedestrian lanes to explore,  

  • some of them so steep they are  staircases rather than streets

  • The main reason that most people visit  the town is because it was the home  

  • of Saint Francis, one of the Catholic Church's  most important saints, who is buried here under  

  • the great basilica that was constructed two  years after his death in the early 13th century

  • Later in the program will visit  inside the Basilica of St. Francis  

  • to enjoy its Gothic magnificence and the beauty  of these early Renaissance frescoes all around us

  • But we will show you that is Assisi has  much more to offer the traveler because  

  • it is one of the most beautiful and best  preserved of all of the Italian hill towns

  • The Basilica on the west end of town is located  about 400 meters from the nearest parking lot,  

  • so it's an easy walk straight over there. Howeverthere are many other sites to see in town, as we  

  • will show you on this suggested route that takes  in all those major sites, walking along those  

  • pedestrian lanes to the main piazza, as your first  major destination, exploring some of the nearby  

  • lanes, then continuing to the Cathedral, called  the Duomo, then up the hill to the fortress

  • And then back down and around  through more of those narrow lanes  

  • heading over towards the  Basilica to complete your visit

  • Assisi is in central Italy, a 30-minute drive  from Perugia and two hours from Rome or Florence.  

  • You can also get there by train or bus. And now we get started at the Porta San Pietro,  

  • which is just next to the car parking lot, and  notice there are taxis out front. You could take  

  • a taxi up to the top of the hill to that fortress  right here, and then you could walk down following  

  • our route somewhat in reverse. But walking up is  also most enjoyable as you're about to find out

  • That impressive gateway is part of the original  medieval wall that went all the way around  

  • the town protecting it from attack, and  the wall is still pretty much all there,  

  • as you'll see in this map. The town  itself is just about one kilometer from  

  • one end to the other, easy to walk. Upon arrival inside the town we came  

  • across this interesting street market. It was  apparently for the locals. It was clothing,  

  • a little bit of food and produce, very  good prices from these merchants, and  

  • no souvenirs for sale here. In town you will find  souvenirs and many shops selling fine handicrafts,  

  • leather goods, ceramics, and much more. Right away, you will be impressed by the  

  • beauty of these old stone buildingsso well-preserved and taken care of

  • You'll quickly realize the streets arelittle steeper than they look on the map

  • When you come to Assisi, be prepared to  climb some hills and go up the staircases,  

  • and up the paths, it's steep. Typical of many Umbrian towns,  

  • it was built on a hill, partly to protect  themselves from attackers, with origins  

  • of the town that go back thousands of years. While walking along you'll be tempted to make  

  • some detours into the little side lanes. One little lane after another,  

  • so picturesque in Assisi. Every place you  turn, there's 100 spots like this, at least

  • In the medieval days people would build this kind  of bridge over the alleyway if they wanted more  

  • room for their home, because they had no lawn in  which to extend the dwelling, and there were no  

  • vacant lots inside the walls in which to buildand outside the walls, it was unsafe to live

  • Some of the lanes in town are quiet  residential areas with no shops,  

  • but don't worry, there are plenty of streets  that are filled with stores ready to sell you  

  • fascinating items, such as along busy  via Portica, one of the main streets in  

  • town that will soon take us to the Piazza Del  Comune, the thriving heartbeat of the city

  • This stretch of via Portica, just west  of the piazza, has one of the biggest  

  • concentrations of places to eat. Oh, it's a  great spot for some quick meal, you can get  

  • sandwiches, you can get pizza, obviouslyand pasta and all sorts of great local foods

  • The self-service restaurant is one of those  typical eateries that you're going to find  

  • all over Italy. Just stand at the counter. point  you at r food, pay the lady, and find a table at  

  • the back and sit down and eat. You'll be out of  there in 1/2 hour, enjoying a pretty good meal

  • Which brings us to the main piazza of Assisi –  it's at the crossroads of town, you'll probably  

  • come back here several times in your visit. There is a multilevel fountain with three lions  

  • in the southern side that dates from the 16th  century. It's called the Lions Fountain, but  

  • perhaps a better name for it might be the Pigeons  Fountain. At least they're trying to keep clean

  • You'll get a fine seat for watching all the action  from Bar Trovellesi, either at their street level  

  • portico or upstairs on the terraceopen all day  for good food, or perhaps late afternoon spritz

  • Café Central is another convenient spot if  you just want a coffee or a light snack

  • There are shops and a few hotels nearby and also  some major historic attractions on the piazza

  • The tower is 47 meters high. It's called  Torre Del Popolo, the people's tower.  

  • On the left is Palazzo Del Popolo who  was the administrative leader of town

  • The most fascinating building on the piazza  is this ancient Roman temple. Its façade  

  • is intact and very well preserved with those  six Corinthian columns, each one a monolithic  

  • single piece of stone, and triangular pedimentIt's a bold reminder of the power and beauty  

  • of the Roman Imperial architectureThe piazza was the ancient Roman forum

  • Roman invaders conquered Umbria in the year  309 BC. The Roman Empire greatly enhanced  

  • the city with new buildings and temples, and  marble statues of the gods. Assisi greatly  

  • increased in prosperity during this time, with  its commerce and agriculture growing rapidly

  • One reason the temple  survived more than 2000 years  

  • is that it has been reused in  various ways, and in the Middle Ages,  

  • a church was built behind it that will  surprise you with its dazzling rococo interior

  • Built in the 17th century this church  of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was  

  • dedicated to St. Philip Neri, who is depicted  in a fresco on the vault of the nave

  • During the 13th century, St. Francis preached many  sermons on the steps of an earlier church here

  • Back out on the piazza, there's an  interesting painted arch that we  

  • learned about from a friendly local resident. “You see an arch, and it, go in there and take a  

  • look. That is called the Volta Pina, the painted  arch. Look carefully at it, because it's in the  

  • grotesque style, which is based on the Romanold Roman, things that were done in the grottoes,  

  • and it is a finger in the eye of the Pope of  that time. It was painted in like 1556, which  

  • was the time of the Spanish Inquisition. It wasdangerous thing to do it, put up pagan stuff. Look  

  • carefully at itit's real obscene in places  – apparently was the entrance to the bordello.  

  • The Pope was a bad Pope, and he's the one who  signed the papers that started the bonfire  

  • of the vanities, and everything. Marcelus, the  governor of Assisi, had this thing commissioned,  

  • probably, and when you look at, you'll  think, oh wow, how did he get away with this.  

  • He not only got away with it, but in three years  they sent him to be the governor of Siena.” 

  • Later, Mara will tell us about her cats. You can walk out through the back of the arch,  

  • and then just south of the piazza we find another  beautiful church, Chiesa Nuova, built on the site  

  • of the legendary boyhood home of St. Francis. It  was here that Francis renounced his inheritance  

  • and began his divine evangelical way. Construction  was financed by Philip the Third, King of Spain

  • The little streets around the piazza are an ideal  place to just take a wanderer, kind of an aimless  

  • stroll. You can walk in these lanes just south  of the piazza along Via Bernardo da Quintavalle.  

  • Like all of town, it's a very old neighborhood  with stone buildings, mostly residential,  

  • and this lane is quite level like some of the  others in this central area by the piazza

  • You're always going to notice these  little side staircases as you walk along.  

  • Maybe best to resist some of those temptations  and just keep on going on the level

  • A lane like this is not a place for shopping  or eating, or any spectacular historic sites,  

  • but these quiet neighborhoods give you a glimpse  backstage into the residential life of the city

  • From there you can easily return to the piazza  and continue along to your next adventure  

  • that will take us along via San Ruffino, a major  street leading out from the piazza to the Duomo,  

  • the San Ruffino Cathedral. Then we continue to  the top of the hill visiting the Rocca fortress

  • Via San Ruffino is one of the  most delightful streets in town,  

  • perhaps because it connects the main piazza  with the Cathedral, and all along the way,  

  • it's got shops and restaurantsand beautiful old buildings

  • Notice the paving of the street. This has been  fairly consistent throughout the town. The paving  

  • is perfect. It was laid down with brick and stone  in the most pleasant way, and it's so smooth and  

  • efficiently built that you will never trip or  slip while walking on these beautiful lanes.  

  • It all came about after the horrific earthquake of  1997. The city was partly rebuilt and all of these  

  • lanes were refinished with this excellent paving. There is a high-quality restaurant along San  

  • Ruffino, La Lanterna, classic Italian  cuisine at a fair price with various  

  • homemade pasta dishes under €20. It's only 200 meters from the piazza  

  • to the top of via San Ruffino where you come upon  the Cathedral of San Ruffino, called the Duomo.  

  • This magnificent church is one of  the most popular attractions in town

  • It's 12th-century Romanesque façade is considered  one of the most beautiful of that period,  

  • and features three rose windows and three elegant  doors - their rounded frames cut in pleasing  

  • patterns that are unusually graceful for the  period. Above it all stands the Campanile tower

  • The Cathedral is dedicated to St. Rufinus, the  first Bishop of the city who converted to Assisi  

  • to Christianity in the year 238 and was  later martyred. The interior was designed  

  • in the year 1500, with later additions in  the Baroque style. St. Francis was baptized  

  • here and later preached in the church. From the piazza in front of the church,  

  • we get the best view of the fortress up on  the hill, which is our next destination,  

  • the Roca Maggiore. You'll notice there isslight difference in altitude from the piazza  

  • up to the fortress, and there's no elevatorno escalator. We'll need a little muscle power

  • Looking back down at the Duomo from the  Rocca gives you a little preview of the  

  • great vistas that you're going to find up there. One of the things you want to do in Assisi is  

  • climb up to the top of the hill and getview from the fortress, called La Rocca.  

  • It's a bit of a steep climb. It might take you  10 to 20 minutes to get up there, but they say  

  • the view is worthwhile. So let's go find out. You could take a taxi up here, as mentioned  

  • earlier, and then walk down through all  those lanes we've just seenup to you.  

  • No matter which way, you will certainly  enjoy a visit to this old fortress

  • Once you're inside there is more climbing on  staircases and up inside a couple of towers

  • Construction of this fortress began in the  year 1174, but smaller fortifications were  

  • here for many centuries earlier. After the fall  of the Roman Empire in the late fifth century,  

  • Assisi was sucked into the downward  spiral of the Middle Ages violence,  

  • creating a need for this powerful castlein a commanding position on top of the hill  

  • with the strategic view looking out across the  fields and hills of Umbria, and the town below

  • The Holy Roman Emperor, Federico Barbarosause the fortress to consolidate his power  

  • against those autonomous communes that were  sprouting up everywhere in central Italy

  • Descending the tower, we hadnice surprise with a friendly cat,  

  • who climbed up on my wife and  made himself right at home.  

  • And then it was my turn for  a visit from this castle cat.  

  • The fortress was pretty empty on this day, so  we were his best chance for some good rubbing

  • They even have a snack bar where you  could get some chips and a drink

  • There are several impressive large rooms  inside the fortress that offer reconstructed  

  • themes that are inspired by medieval life. Walking around inside and exploring this  

  • Rocca Maggiore is just as fascinating as  the views that you get looking out from it

  • And now we're heading up the Maschio Towerwhich leads to the highest point in the fortress,  

  • providing the most spectacular  view all around, 360 degrees

  • When you finally climb to the top of  the castle you get a stupendous view  

  • looking down on the Basilica of San Francesco. We'll be taking you on a grand tour inside the  

  • famous Basilica later on in the program. The fortress was destroyed and rebuilt  

  • several times in its history, and then by  the year 1600, it was completely abandoned,  

  • to remain almost intact as one of Italy's  best preserved medieval fortresses

  • Nice view looking down at the Duomo we just  visited and beyond, we see the Basilica di  

  • Santa Chiara, a Gothic church dedicated to StClare of Assis, a devoted follower of St. Francis

  • The fortress is open every day from  10 AM with the last admission at 5 PM

  • That completes our visit, having climbed to  the top of the tower and exploring the rooms  

  • of the fortress. Now, making our way down this  narrow medieval staircase is one last adventure

  • You can see why you need at least  one full day to explore Assisi,  

  • with all of those little lanes and piazzasand restaurants and shops, the castle,  

  • and now we're heading for the grand  climax, the Basilica of St. Francis

  • We've done a lot of walking up hilly  streets and climbing staircases to get here,  

  • but now it's all downhill. And now we can have  some pleasure of watching others climb up the  

  • steps while we go down. Some people develop clever  techniques to help out, such as this lady who's  

  • pushing down on her legs as she climbs up the  steps. And it seems to work pretty well for her

  • We've come down from the Rocca, heading now to  the great Basilica of St. Francis, but first  

  • we'll have a look at this little neighborhood. It's mostly a quiet residential neighborhood.  

  • The kind of place they still sweep the streets by  handmaybe a few little restaurants tucked away.  

  • There's no great historic attractions  along these couple of streets, but  

  • it feels authentic here. And while the main  lanes are connected by some staircase streets,  

  • it's mostly a level neighborhood with  straight lanes that are easy to walk

  • We'll take you down to the busy shopping lane infew minutes, which is always a popular attraction,  

  • but it's nice to get away from the  crowd and enjoy some peace and serenity

  • And here we had a chance to talk with  our friendly local resident again,  

  • who keeps busy taking care of the stray cats

  • So just for wandering, is  there any kind of a route

  • Ahh, just keep going. Just keep going. Keep  going. Just get off the main streets. All roads  

  • then lead to the Basilica of San Francesco. Okay. It's beautiful. It's wonderful in many ways. The  

  • thing I love about it, they cleaned it all upand so it's a bright town. It used to be stucco,  

  • to a large extent, and they took all that down  so you can see the stone again. You can see  

  • the color. So anyway, it's a beautiful placeAnd there are concerts, concerts, free, they  

  • are all freemedieval music, classical music. I got very involved with the stray cat population  

  • here. And the word for that is "gatara" gato is  cat, gatarra is, let's be frank, crazy cat lady

  • Well enjoy yourselves here. Wellthank you so much. It's a great,  

  • it's- nice talking to you- it's a wonderful place.  

  • If you see a sign to San Stephano, go  down and take a look at San Stephano.” 

  • The church is tucked away on one of those tiny  sidewalk side alleys that you could easily miss.  

  • This simple stone church is a stark contrast  to the big churches of town, and its unadorned  

  • Romanesque interior and façade show that  it's one of the oldest churches in Assisi

  • We have now arrived at the home stretch of  the program, entering into Via San Francesco,  

  • the wonderful street that will take us all  the way to the Basilica of that great saint

  • This is the main street of Assisi. It's the  Broadway, the high street, the via Del Corso,  

  • the Champs Elysees, lined with shopsrestaurants, historic sites and some hotels,  

  • and Monte Frumentario, a hospital built in 1267. But feel free to deviate from the main lane when  

  • you see little side alleys such as up to the  neighborhood of Sant Andea, or a little side  

  • stroll, and then back down to the main street. Don't be discouraged by the cheap knickknack  

  • stores filled with miniature monks and plastic  rosaries. There will be some interesting artisan  

  • shops scattered further along. This street  is also a sacred route for the faithful  

  • on their pilgrimage to the divine  burial place of their beloved saint

  • As we walk along towards his basilica, this  is a good place to introduce you to Francesco,  

  • the hero of Assisi, and one of the most  important saints of the Catholic Church

  • His childhood was privileged, born in  the year 1181, the son of a prosperous  

  • silk merchant. Indulged by his parents, he livedhigh-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man

  • He joined a military expedition against Perugia  and was taken prisoner for a year as a captive.  

  • Upon his return to Assisi in 1203 Francis  returned to his carefree life. But then,  

  • a strange vision made him lose interest  in the worldly life. He renounced his  

  • inheritance and chose poverty and simplicity. Now we are approaching the great Basilica,  

  • framed by a long arcade. The Basilica of San Francesco  

  • ranks second only to St. Peter's in  Rome as a point of Catholic pilgrimage

  • Construction was started immediately  after St. Francis's death in 1228  

  • and was completed in 1253, with two churches  in the same place. The lower was built first,  

  • and the upper was constructed right on top of  it, each with their own architectural styles

  • 28 frescoes by Giotto cover the  walls of the upper church,  

  • depicting scenes in the life of St. FrancisGiotto is one of history's most important painters  

  • because he led the transition from the late  medieval style