Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco and Other Franciscan Sites – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Assisi represents a unique example of continuity of a city-sanctuary within its environmental setting from its Umbrian-Roman and medieval origins to the present, represented in the cultural landscape, the religious ensembles, systems of communication, and traditional land use. The Basilica of San Francesco is an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture. The interchange of artistic and spiritual message of the Franciscan Order has significantly contributed to developments in art and architecture in the world.

Assisi

The city of Assisi is built on the slopes of the hill of Asio, at the foot of Subasio Mountain. The form of the urban settlement is elongated and extends from the south-east towards the north-west. The Roman plan of the city is based on the set of terraces.

The most important event in the history of medieval Assisi was undoubtedly the life and work of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who initiated the Franciscan Order and who was canonized in 1228. His companion, Clare, also later canonized, founded the sister order to the Franciscans. After the canonization of St Francis, it was decided to build a monumental church in his honour. This construction was followed by the Basilica of Santa Chiara to honour St Clare. The construction of the Basilica of San Francesco was started in 1228. The lower basilica is entered through an exquisite Gothic portal; the interior is completely covered with frescoes. The earliest of these date from 1253 and are by an unknown artist, the Maestro di San Francesco. Furthermore, the paintings include allegories attributed to Giotto and his school in the presbytery, the Virgin with a Child on the Throne by Cimabue, and the Crucifixion by Giotto, the paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti and his assistants, and the Chapel of St-Martin by Simone Martini. The upper basilica has a magnificent east front in white limestone, with a large rose window in the centre. In the interior, the walls are decorated with series of paintings relating to the faith and life of the saint.

The Cathedral of San Rufino probably dates from the 8th century; it was rebuilt by Bishop Ugone around 1036 as a cathedral. The west front is a masterpiece of Umbrian Romanesque architecture, connected with the cathedral and the church of San Pietro of Spoleto. The interior of the church was completely restructured by Galeazzo Alessi in 1571 in simple Renaissance forms. The construction of the basilica to honour St Clare started in 1257, under the direction of Fra’ Filippo da Campello. In the exterior the structure is characterized by three large flying buttresses, and close to the apse there is a square bell tower. The plan of the church is based on a Latin cross and the whole interior is painted with a cycle of frescoes illustrating the legend of St Clare by several artists. Originally built outside the city walls, the Benedictine abbey of San Pietro is recorded from 1029; in the mid-12th century it adopted the Cluny reform and it passed later to the Cistercians. The interior is austere, divided in three naves by massive pillars. The Roman temple, traditionally dedicated to Minerva, is relatively well preserved. It was first converted into a church and then, in 1212, into a prison. From 1456 the building was again used as a church, dedicated to Santa Maria della Minerva in 1539.

The Carceri are located in a valley of the Mount Subasio and consisted originally of a series of caves for St Francis and his companions. From the 15th to the early 19th centuries a small convent was gradually built on the site of the saint’s grotto. San Damiano is a monastic complex, essential for the understanding of the religious awakening of St Francis, as well as being the convent of St Clare, where she also died. Santa Maria degli Angeli is a Renaissance church designed by Galeazzo Alessi in the 16th century to protect the original chapel of Porziuncola, the site from where St Francis sent his order to their mission and the site where he died. The three surviving chapels contain important early paintings, and are carefully preserved as religious relics. The Sanctuary of Rivotorto contains a small medieval complex, preserved as a relic and relating to a site of Franciscan pilgrimage.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/990

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