Piety in Paradise
St. Francis’s humanity, humility, and love for nature somehow survive the unashamed commercialization of this small pink-hued Umbrian hill town: The spirit of the young, barefoot monk—Assisi’s favorite son—lives on.
The enormous basilica built in his honor (which would have mortified him) was a medieval architectural feat and is still considered one of the engineering marvels of that period. In the early 13th century, Giotto covered much of the upper and lower basilica with remarkable frescoes, the first to break with the static icons of the Byzantine school.
His masterpiece depicts the life of St. Francis in twenty-eight scenes. A devastating earthquake in 1997 caused extensive damage not only to the structure itself but to the priceless artwork. A remarkable degree of restoration was accomplished in time for Italy’s Jubilee celebration in 2000, but painstaking repair will continue for years.
Most tourists visit Assisi in an afternoon; the stillness and beauty that so moved the young St. Francis are most apparent in the evening and early morning. Consider spending the night at the comfortable family-run Hotel Umbra. Housed in a 15th-century building that rests on ancient Roman foundations, its back rooms afford serene views of the Umbrian Valley and the charming sound of birdsong.