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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

Assisi

Di questa costa…nacque al mondo un sole.

From that slope…to the world was born a sun.

-Dante, Paradiso, Canto XI (l. 49-50)

View of St. Francis Church from the mountain top
View of Basilica of St. Francis from the mountain top

It is too easy, and perhaps even ignorant to say that Assisi is like any other Umbrian town. I could have easily watched Assisi pass by the window of  my train and think of other better known cities like Florence or Siena. But anyone meandering through the intimate streets of Assisi will probably tell you just how memorable and unique this place is.

The trip is a day trip with Professors Jeffrey Blanchard and Lila Yawn. Perched on the mountains of Mount Subasio, this gem retains much of its medieval hill-town charm. The warm Umbrian sun light filtering through secret alleyways, the serene Umbrian landscape, the yellowish cobblestone of the streets and buildings,  and the medieval character of the town all come perfectly together to make this place so unique.

Overlooking the Umbrian countryside
Overlooking the Umbrian countryside from Assisi

As I make my way up the hill to the famous 13th century Basilica of St. Francis, I started a conversation with three Fransiscan priests who also happened to be visiting the town. With their foreign demeanor and accents, I realized that the town was a major pilgrimage site and that the town, although small in size, commands a large cultural influence around the world as it is the founding place of the Fransiscan Order and the birthplace of St. Francis himself.

Basilica of St. Francis
Basilica of St. Francesco

A visitor’s eye is naturally drawn to the main basilica but the exploration doesn’t end there. Close to the Basilica is a gorgeous sequence of piazzas leading to the main basilica of St. Francis overlooking the Umbrian countryside. A majority of the day was spent with Professor Yawn in the main Basilica, where we learned about the development of the Fransiscan Order and the Basilica’s architecture and beautiful frescoes.

St. Francis Church
St. Francis Church
Inside the loggia
Inside the loggia

One of the pleasures of Assisi is exploring the many intimate streets. Unlike Rome, most of the streets here are too narrow to accommodate the width of cars, so the roads are serenely quiet and left to the sounds of local chatter and the ringing of church bell towers.

Walking along the intimate streets of Assisi
Walking along the streets of Assisi

There is nothing quite like traveling to a small Italian town to buy the food specific to that particular region. I took the opportunity to buy Umbrian meat, cheese, and truffles from one of the many local meat stores.

Walking along the streets of Assisi
Walking along the streets of Assisi
San Francesco Church
San Francesco Church
DSC_0080
Church tower in the background

Winding staircases lead you to the some of the most unexpected of places- hidden piazzas, small surprising openings, hills, city walls, and spectacular views of the Umbrian countryside.

i bought umbrian cheese, meat, and truffle
Stairway
Stairway leading to the main piazza

It is of no surprise that the locals describe the region as il cuor verde d’Italia, or the ‘green heart of Italy’.

Overlooking the Umbrian countryside
Overlooking the Umbrian countryside

During the later half of the day, I climbed the hills along the city walls up to Rocca Minore, a small fort residing on top of the hill.

Watchtower
Watchtower view from Rocca Minore

On top of a hill near the Rocca Minore is a medieval courtyard filled with trees–a perfect place to relax and enjoy the view of Assisi from atop.

\Hanging out in a medieval courtyard on top of the hill
Hanging out in a medieval courtyard on top of the hill
Climbing along the city walls of Assisi
Climbing along the city walls of Assisi

Our class climbed to the top of the watchtower with a gorgeous view of the green Umbrian countryside and the city itself-a perfect way to end the day in this beautiful town.

View from the Watch Tower
View from the Watch Tower
View of Assisi
View of Assisi from the mountain top

One of the nice things about these Italian hill towns is their close proximities to one another. I took a personal detour to a nearby Umbrian hill town called Perugia the day before the class trip.

Perugian street
Perugian street

Perugia, the capital of Umbria, is another lovely Umbrian town near Assisi with plenty of intimate alleyways and a wonderful collection of baroque art. Perugia is worth a day trip if you are ever visiting Assisi.

Hidden Alleyway
Hidden Alleyway
overlooking the beautiful umbrian countryside from Perugia
Overlooking the beautiful umbrian countryside from Perugia
Perugia at night
Perugia at night
Arches
Supporting arches
Morning Light
Morning Light
Walking on top of an ancient acqueduct
Walking on top of an ancient acqueduct
Main piazza at night
Main piazza at night

One of the best experiences was waking up early enough to watch the most beautiful sunrise and see the morning light filter through the streets of Perugia. It is a great way to experience these Italian towns because most people are still sleeping and the streets are at their most serene.

Morning Light
Morning light streams through one of the corbel arches near the main piazza
Morning Light
At the main piazza
Morning Light
National Gallery of Umbria
Main Piazza of Perugia during Sun Rise
Main piazza of Perugia during sun rise
Morning Sun filtered through the alleyways
Morning sun filtered through the alleyways
Women heading to early mass
Nun heading to early mass
Perugia in the morning
Morning light

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