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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

p782 Assisi

Assisi (anc. Asisium), a town and episcopal see of Umbria, Italy, in the province of Perugia, 15 m. ESE by rail from the town of Perugia. Pop. (1901) town, 5338; commune, 17,240.a The town occupies a fine position on a mountain (1345 ft. above sea-level) with a view over the valleys of the Tiber and Topino. It is mainly famous in connexion with St. Francis, who was born here in 1182, and returned to die in 1226. The Franciscan monastery and the lower and upper church of St. Francis were begun immediately after his canonization in 1228, and completed in 1253, being fine specimens of Gothic architecture. The crypt was added in 1818, when the sarcophagus containing his remains was discovered. The lower church contains frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto and others, the most famous of which are those over the main altar by Giotto, illustrating the vows of the Franciscan order; while the upper church has frescoes representing scenes from the life of St. Francis (probably by Giotto and his contemporaries) on the lower portion of the walls of the nave, and scenes from Old and New Testament history by pupils of Cimabue the upper. The church of Santa Chiara (St. Clara), the foundress of the Poor Clares, with its massive lateral buttresses, a rose-window, and simple Gothic interior, was begun in 1257, four years after her death. It contains the tomb of the saint and 13th‑century frescoes and pictures. Santa Maria Maggiore is also a good Gothic church. The cathedral (San Rufino) has a fine façade with three rose-windows of 1140; the interior was modernized in 1572. The town is dominated by the medieval castle (1655 ft.), built by Cardinal Albornoz (1367) and added to by Popes Pius II and Paul III. Two miles to the east in a ravine below Monte Subasio is the hermitage delle Carceri (2300 ft.), partly built, partly cut out of the solid rock, given to St. Francis by Benedictine monks as a place of retirement. Below the town to the south-west, close to the station, is the large pilgrimage church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, begun in 1569 by Pope Pius V, with Vignola as architect, but not completed until 1640. It contains the original oratory of St. Francis and the cell in which he died. Adjacent is the garden in which the saint's thornless roses bloom in May. Half a mile outside the town to the south-east is the convent of San Damiano, erected by St. Francis, of which St. Clare was first abbess.

In the early middle ages Assisi was subject to the dukes of Spoleto; but in the 11th century it seems to have been independent. It became involved, however, in the disputes of Guelphs and Ghibellines, and was frequently at war with Perugia. It was sacked by Perugia and the papal troops in 1442, and even later than that continued to be the prey of factions. The place is now famous as a resort of pilgrims, and is also important for the history of Italian art. The poet Metastasio was born here in 1698.

See L. Duff-Gordon, Assisi ("Mediaeval Towns" series, London, 1900). For ancient history see Asisium.

[T. As.]


Thayer's Note:

a In 2000, the official census figures put the population of Assisi township at 25,464 inhabitants.


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Page updated: 16 Nov 03