Wanderings in Assisi

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.”

The Counsels of the Holy Father St. Francis, Admonition 27
assisi street

On my second weekend in Perugia, I decided to stay closer to town to see what sort of nightlife was around me. The previous weekend I saw nothing of my temporary home as I headed to Florence to get my fill of artistic culture and eat some new food. At the time I was working from 2am to noon, so I didn’t see much of the town’s life — feels a little odd having dinner when everyone else is just getting out of bed. To satisfy my desire to see the town, I only took a day-trip to Assisi, which is just a couple stops away. It was a bit of a religious pilgrimage for this non-religious traveler born into a different religion.

rocca maggiore

As I got off the graffiti-covered train, I found what I hoped to be the bus stop that would take me up into the hills of Umbria to the town — the walk up with the sun beating down would be too exhausting for an enjoyable day of tourism. While waiting for the bus, a Danish backpacker approached asking whether it was the bus into Assisi — we chatted while waiting and spent the day wandering the town as neither of us had a set plan of what to see; I only had a list of a few sights in town without a route to take me anywhere. He was also staying in Perugia, so we met up again later that day for drinks.

rocca maggiore
This hallway in Rocca Maggiore was not intended for claustrophobes

As we reached Assisi, we headed up to the top of the hill to Rocca Maggiore. This medieval castle dates back to the late 12th century. It was expanded and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries — a few popes even commissioned construction. The castle attracts fewer tourists than the actual town, probably because fewer people want to make the trek up the hill and climb the narrow medieval staircases within it.


There isn’t much of great interest inside Rocca Maggiore, but it provides some amazing views of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside. There are a few exhibits with replicas of clothing, weaponry, and artwork, but nothing as interesting as the countless history museums throughout Italy. There’s also a long, narrow hallway that leads to the highest point of the castle for the best views — the hallway is narrow enough to make it difficult if two people are passing each other.

Heading into the town helped us cool off in a bit of shade after the walk up the hill in the sun.

temple of minerva
Temple of Minerva

As we wandered through medieval streets toward the main square, we found the Temple of Minerva, which was converted into a Catholic church in the 16th century — the facade of the ancient Roman temple is beautiful, but the interior is uninspiring.

Basilica of Saint Francis
Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

From the Temple of Minerva, we headed to Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, the main attraction for tourists to the town. The basilica was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000.

Interior of the Basilica of San Francesco
Interior of the Basilica of San Francesco

After visiting so many churches around Italy, I was exhausted (much like the temple fatigue I feel around Asia). The Basilica of St. Francis is, fortunately, a more inspiring church to reinvigorate tourists who have visited more than a few too many in their time around Italy. The paintings from the floor to the ceiling are beautiful.

Basilica of San Francesco
Friary at Basilica of San Francesco

The crypt houses the remains of St. Francis. The murals in crypt are more interesting and detailed than the ones in the church — they appeared to be more recent — but photography is not permitted in the crypt (it’s supposedly not allowed in the church either, but everyone was snapping pictures).

Assisi from Rocca Maggiore

While waiting for the train back to Perugia, my new Danish friend and I stopped off at McDonald’s for a McBeer (that wonderful €1 can of Peroni that for some reason was €3 when I got to Venice). While on the train, he asked if we had reached Perugia station and the woman next to him answered in Italian that it was. Having heard her speak Mandarin on her phone when we first got on the train, I thanked her in Mandarin and asked where she was from. She froze and slowly asked in English if I just spoke Chinese. I laughed and answered in Mandarin; I said goodbye and we headed off into town where I introduced the Dane to a craft beer bottle shop that sold Mikkeller Beer Geek Bacon, which is a wonderful beer that tastes more like coffee than bacon.

After a hot day of walking around Assisi and then enjoying a strong dark brew, we purchased some lighter beer and sat out in the main square of Perugia with the locals and tourists to watch the nightlife.

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