Bus days are not my favorite days. Probably because we spend the day on a bus. Today however we did get to have a nice stop in Assisi.
The town itself is really picturesque, set high on a hill with views of the surrounding countryside. You walk up a couple of pretty steep streets to get the courtyard outside St. Francis Basilica. Once we went into the basilica we were greeted by the singing of a monk who was leading a small mass. The ceilings were high in this room, but not as high as some I’ve seen, but they are beautifully decorated. Interestingly, there are places where the fresco has faded but they haven’t been replaced. At this basilica they’ve decided to let things wear down and not to restore them. They want to keep the original, and not cover it with new materials.
Many of the walls contain frescos with bright blue backgrounds; this is made out of lapis lazuli, a rare mineral. To have so much of it shows how rich this church was. There is also a lot of gilding on the ceiling, the artist did this by taking the gold coins given in the offering and pounding them down to be applied to the ceiling.
We headed down to where the tomb of St. Francis resides, this area is much humbler. Simple brick walls with no adornment and soft lighting. Such a contrast!
Turns out the first room we were in was only the “Lower Basilica”, and the Upper Basilica is even more grand! Now those were some high ceilings! This is also where the Papal throne resides. Here they have the oldest stained-glass windows in Italy. And the first use of forced perspective in frescos. I really do wish I could have taken pictures, because you can’t describe it. Time to google folks! There has got to be some pictures out there!
A learned a couple of stories about Assisi I hadn’t known before. Back in the third century the Roman army would come to town and recruit all the single boys to join them. They never recruited married men because, as our guide said, “Even the Roman Empire is afraid of an Italian housewife.” One of the priests in the town didn’t like that they were taking away all their young men, and since the Romans didn’t take married men he secretly married them all off. The next time the army came through there was no one to recruit, so they stopped coming. That guy was St. Valentine! Whaaaa?!?!?! Okay, so I’m sure a lot of you knew that story, but I didn’t and thought it was cool.
The next story is probably even more familiar to folks because there have been movies made about it, but again it’s the fist time I’ve heard it. Back during the Nazi occupation, the town hid 300 Jews in the empty space between the upper and lower basilicas. They all knew they wouldn’t be able to do that forever so one family that had a printing press started secretly printing counterfeit paperwork for those in hiding. They were able to get all 300 the new paperwork and they returned to their homes and lives. Only one Nazi found out about it, and kept his mouth shut, helping them in the end. Really cool story!
We had a little bit of time in the town after that. To look around and find lunch. It was incredibly windy up there, but the views made it totally worth it!
Back on the bus for more hours…
Then we arrived in Rome! I came to Rome almost 14 years ago, but its called the Eternal City for a reason! It feels so familiar to be here! Our hotel is just down the road from the Forum, and across from St. Peter in Jains. I visited St. Peter in Jains, and saw Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. This is the piece of art that Michelangelo thought was his greatest. When he finished with it, he threw his hammer at it and yelled, “Why don’t you speak?” because he thought it looked so lifelike. What do you think?
Personally, I just really dig Pope Julius II just lounging around up here.
I’m off to an all-tour dinner. And tomorrow, we go to the Vatican!