Assisi is a well-preserved medieval town that is, after the Vatican, Italy's second most-popular religious-pilgrimage destination. Located high on a hilltop 110 mi/180 km north of Rome, it has an air of mystical serenity in keeping with its history. Assisi was the home of St. Francis (the founder of the Franciscan order of friars), and the churches and crypt that bear his name draw a steady stream of pilgrims and sightseers every year.
Although the town was rocked by an earthquake in 1997, much of the damage has been repaired. One of the most severely damaged buildings, however, was the treasured Basilica of San Francesco, known for its vivid frescoes by Giotto that depict the life of the saint. The upper basilica has reopened, and many of the beloved frescoes can be admired again. The lower basilica and St. Francis' tomb are also open to the public.
However, the 13th-century image of St. Matthew by Florentine painter Cimabue remains incomplete. In 2006, Italian officials unveiled the final but incomplete restoration of the fresco, which fell about seven stories to the basilica floor during the earthquake and broke into more than 120,000 pieces. Italian art experts painstakingly restored what fragments they could salvage (about 25% of the total), and the unveiling marked the final piece of the puzzle in an eight-year restoration project.
Other places of interest include the Basilica di Santa Chiara, dedicated to the female wing of the Franciscans, founded by Santa Chiara; a medieval fortress (La Rocca Maggiore); the Piazza del Comune (the old town center), and St. Peter's church. Or just stroll the narrow, picturesque streets and listen to the musicians practicing nearby.
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