Published: December 21st 2011June 2nd 2008
A tight squeeze
In our last must do, most important and most urgent visit there can be no better place to choose than Assisi following in the steps of St Francis. I had thought that it might a tacky place full of nuns and priests on pilgrimage and others coming for the sightseeing. Millions do attend the basilica as an act of faith but many like us for the views across the valley and the frescoes in the chapels.
Parking is excellent. I guess because bus loads come in that they need good parking. It isn’t far to walk up the gates in to the town. There is a long street reaching from the town gates to the square in front of the basilica. The streets are lined with shops, churches and cafes. The street does though feel very welcoming and open. Some shops sell tacky goods which include statues of the Virgin or a phial of holy blest water. Others have more interesting regional gifts. The cafes are divided between those cheap and cheerful and the others which cater for more expensive tastes. Churches hide behind Roman temple frontages. Yes it can be busy but if you pick your time to visit
it makes an interesting stop off point.
The street opens up into a large open tree lined square the Piazza del Comune which affords fantastic views across the valley. It seems a meeting point and a place to talk before entering the dim and dark interior of the basilica. The lower church is fairly sombre and due to the lack of lighting it is hard to see the cycle of frescoes in all their glory. They must have been stunning when they were first completed.
Steps lead down to the tomb of St Francis. This was a fairly humble affair hidden until 1818. Further embellishments took place on a new tomb in the 1920’s . The tomb was guarded and the guards spent time urging silence and pointing to the signs which proudly stated “Silencio”.. Not that anyone seemed to take much notice . Some spoke reverently seeming in awe of being in a special place. Others particularly the Americans were loud in their conversations which echoed around the dungeon like tomb.
The upper church on the other hand was so much more lighter in its construction. Its frescoes by Giotto much more colourful and despite its
damage during the earthquake in the 1970’s it had been restored beautifully.
We missed the Rocca a castle on the hill above the town. Instead ate lunch and moved on to the small town of San Gimignano. Known for its towers it sometimes is called the New York of Italy or the capital of skyscrapers. I was looking forward to this one very much.
San Gimignano is a lovely little town with an amazing skyline which can be seen from miles away. The towers were built in the 12th and 13th century when the rich felt the need to be fortified against their enemies. One man built a tower and his neighbour keeping up with the Jones's built a taller one. Eventually when they couldnt build any higher one family decided to build two towers. They give a characteristic Tuscan feel to the town. Parking is plentiful below the town and the walk up is very different to Assisi. Here the street is darker due to the narrowness of it and the taller town houses. The street opens up onto the main square which is full of shops and cafes. Click, click, click the sound of the cameras
that the Japanese men were using The square is very photogenic with the backdrop of the towers and a well at one end.
A beautiful place and one worth more than one visit.