Thursday, 2 August 2007

Umbria: Part 2

We dragged ourselves out of bed for our second day of driving around Umbria with the goal of seeing only two towns, Assisi and Gubbio. After the previous day's effort of 4 towns this seemed to be a relatively relaxed schedule but Assisi is certainly no minor destination.

Naturally, Assisi is home of the Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi which is a major pilgrimage site within Italy. Aside from this it is also a very pretty town. Before reaching the town itself, we stopped off at the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli, which contains the 9th Century Porziuncola, where the Franciscan order originated, and nearby is where St. Francis died on the floor of his mud hut.

Saint Francis founded the Franciscan order, which was despised by the Papacy (because of its vows of poverty) but supported nonetheless due to its popularity with the people. As a result of this popularity, Saint Francis was canonised almost immediately following his death, and a Basilica built upon the hill where he was buried. The cathedral that was built, however, could hardly be further from the Franciscan ideals of poverty, comprising an upper and lower church and various chapels, all incredibly richly decorated throughout by the best artists of the times. In 1997 an earthquake severely damaged the Basilica requiring two years to piece together the 300,000 pieces that were dislodged.

You can't take pictures inside the Basilica, although our audio tour did strongly encourage us to visit the shop inside the church, which we dutifully did.

While in Assisi we spent a lot of time wandering around the streets and poking our heads into churches (of which there are many). We also wandered up to Rocca Maggiore, a fort built by the popes to intimidate the townspeople, but which also has excellent views over Assisi and the valley over which it is built.

After Assisi we headed north to the medieval town of Gubbio, where we arrived just in time to jump on the funicular to the Duomo above the town. From here you can catch spectacular views over the town, once you calm down from the hair-raising ride up the mountain in the dodgy little lift.

We also arrived in Gubbio at about the right time for a spectacular sunset, and the resulting streetscapes, had us taking many photos. It also meant we couldn't actually go into any of the sites so we contented ourselves with wandering around the town taking in the atmosphere and grabbing a very good couple of pizzas for dinner before heading home.

The trip back into Perugia was slightly less stressful than normal due to my new Italian driving skills; I didn't even flinch as I went the wrong way up a one-way street to perform a highly illegal three point turn around a median strip. Linda is recovering nicely.

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