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What to see and what to do in Assisi

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Whether your are traveling by train or car, the little majestic Seraphic City, sheltering on the summit of its hill at the foot of green Mount Subasio will catch your eye from a distance. The colossal Holy Friary (Sacro Convento), appearing to push the rest of the village upwards and raising almost to the peak where the castle of Rocca Maggiore sits majestically, marks the south border of the city and can already be spotted from the beautiful valley, spangled with wheat and sunflower fields. The castle is circumscribed by a belt of trees and, once the night descends, the artificial illumination replacing the light of the day makes it look like it is floating in the air. That is the most popular image of Assisi, which you will find in any gift-shop and everywhere on the Web; unfortunately they will never be able to capture the feeling that one experiences when witnessing the scene in person, from that perfect viewpoint, surrounded by sunflowers.

But Assisi needs no celebratory introduction, being it the most famous Umbrian city in the World. It is the city that gave birth to Saint Francis (San Francesco), one of the greatest revolutionaries of the Catholic Church, and to Saint Clare (Santa Chiara), his faithful disciple. Temple of sacredness and spirituality since ancient times, it is also known as “the City of Peace”.

But beware! Let that not mislead you. Despite its redeeming and celestial aura, the city went through very perilous and hairy times. For centuries it endured wars, domestic struggles and plundering. Many great leaders wanted to get their hands on it, including Charles the Great, Frederick Barbarossa, Cesare Borgia and many others. These continuous invasions decimated the population, causing famine and epidemics. But also locals were no less than foreign invaders. The rivalry between the Guelphs, supporting the Pope, and Ghibellines, supporting the Empire, was extremely fierce. Homicides and reprisals amongst the various militant families were the order of the day. As paradoxical as it may sound, in the XIV Century, the Pope interdicted the city from religious sacraments and excommunicated the best part of its population! Walking around the city without bearing a weapon was pure folly! Adding insult to injury, earthquakes were very frequent. Just between the XIV and the XIX Century, forty earthquakes – that left the centre in ruins bringing citizens to their knees – had been recorded.

Like all cities, also Assisi has a dark side, and while visiting it, one can fantasise about what might have happened on its white paved streets and seraphic squares, and in front of its magnificent churches throughout the course of history. The beauty and importance of this place will catch your eye immediately.

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