Assisi, a medieval city built on a hill, is the birthplace of Saint Francis, closely associated with the work of the Franciscan Order. Its medieval art masterpieces, such as the Basilica of San Francesco and paintings by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and Giotto, have made Assisi a fundamental reference point for the development of Italian and European art and architecture.
Assise, la Basilique de San Francesco et autres sites franciscains (dossier d'inscription)
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (i): Assisi represents an ensemble of masterpieces of human creative genius, such as the Basilica of San Francesco, which have made it a fundamental reference for art history in Europe and in the world.
Criterion (ii): The interchange of artistic and spiritual message of the Franciscan Order has significantly contributed to developments in art and architecture in the world.
Criterion (iii): Assisi represents a unique example of continuity of a city-sanctuary within its environmental setting from its Umbrian-Roman and medieval origins to the present, represented in the cultural landscape, the religious ensembles, systems of communication, and traditional land-use.
Criterion (iv): The Basilica of San Francesco is an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture.
Criterion (vi): Being the birthplace of the Franciscan Order, Assisi has from the Middle Ages been closely associated with the cult and diffusion of the Franciscan movement in the world, focusing on the universal message of peace and tolerance even to other religions or beliefs.
Assisi represents a unique example of continuity of a city-sanctuary within its environmental setting from its Umbrian-Roman and medieval origins to the present, represented in the cultural landscape, the religious ensembles, systems of communication, and traditional land use. The Basilica of San Francesco is an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture. The interchange of artistic and spiritual message of the Franciscan Order has significantly contributed to developments in art and architecture in the world.
The city of Assisi is built on the slopes of the hill of Asio, at the foot of Subasio Mountain. The form of the urban settlement is elongated and extends from the south-east towards the north-west. The Roman plan of the city is based on the set of terraces.
The most important event in the history of medieval Assisi was undoubtedly the life and work of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who initiated the Franciscan Order and who was canonized in 1228. His companion, Clare, also later canonized, founded the sister order to the Franciscans. After the canonization of St Francis, it was decided to build a monumental church in his honour. This construction was followed by the Basilica of Santa Chiara to honour St Clare. The construction of the Basilica of San Francesco was started in 1228. The lower basilica is entered through an exquisite Gothic portal; the interior is completely covered with frescoes. The earliest of these date from 1253 and are by an unknown artist, the Maestro di San Francesco. Furthermore, the paintings include allegories attributed to Giotto and his school in the presbytery, the Virgin with a Child on the Throne by Cimabue, and the Crucifixion by Giotto, the paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti and his assistants, and the Chapel of St-Martin by Simone Martini. The upper basilica has a magnificent east front in white limestone, with a large rose window in the centre. In the interior, the walls are decorated with series of paintings relating to the faith and life of the saint.
The Cathedral of San Rufino probably dates from the 8th century; it was rebuilt by Bishop Ugone around 1036 as a cathedral. The west front is a masterpiece of Umbrian Romanesque architecture, connected with the cathedral and the church of San Pietro of Spoleto. The interior of the church was completely restructured by Galeazzo Alessi in 1571 in simple Renaissance forms. The construction of the basilica to honour St Clare started in 1257, under the direction of Fra' Filippo da Campello. In the exterior the structure is characterized by three large flying buttresses, and close to the apse there is a square bell tower. The plan of the church is based on a Latin cross and the whole interior is painted with a cycle of frescoes illustrating the legend of St Clare by several artists. Originally built outside the city walls, the Benedictine abbey of San Pietro is recorded from 1029; in the mid-12th century it adopted the Cluny reform and it passed later to the Cistercians. The interior is austere, divided in three naves by massive pillars. The Roman temple, traditionally dedicated to Minerva, is relatively well preserved. It was first converted into a church and then, in 1212, into a prison. From 1456 the building was again used as a church, dedicated to Santa Maria della Minerva in 1539.
The Carceri are located in a valley of the Mount Subasio and consisted originally of a series of caves for St Francis and his companions. From the 15th to the early 19th centuries a small convent was gradually built on the site of the saint's grotto. San Damiano is a monastic complex, essential for the understanding of the religious awakening of St Francis, as well as being the convent of St Clare, where she also died. Santa Maria degli Angeli is a Renaissance church designed by Galeazzo Alessi in the 16th century to protect the original chapel of Porziuncola, the site from where St Francis sent his order to their mission and the site where he died. The three surviving chapels contain important early paintings, and are carefully preserved as religious relics. The Sanctuary of Rivotorto contains a small medieval complex, preserved as a relic and relating to a site of Franciscan pilgrimage. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The Roman plan of the city is based on the set of terraces, the construction of which started in the north-eastern part of the town (close to San Rufino), then extending toward the west. Culturally, the region belonged to Umbria but was on the border with Etruria. Abundant archaeological evidence, in fact, shows that the city's foundation relates to the Umbrian phase, being later taken over by the Romans. The Roman monuments include the Temple of Minerva dating from the 1st century BCE to the time of Augustus, as part of an important sanctuary in the forum area, as well as theatres, bath-houses, and other public buildings. The ancient city walls were about 2300m long, enclosing some 55ha with vast green areas. The extent of the settlement and the fact that it was granted the status of municipium in 89 BCE demonstrate not only its role as a religious centre but also its political and economic significance. From the 3rd century CE, the city shows little evidence of construction until the beginning of the new millennium. Even so, the site continues being associated with religion, and the development and diffusion of Christianity are elements that deeply characterize the scenario, also closely associated with the ancient rituals and therapeutic treatments linked with water. The first Christian martyrs were killed in water, according to a legend, Bishop Rufino being one of them.
After the period of the barbarian invasions, which caused a considerable reduction in population, the regional layout of Assisi is characterized with the affirmation of Christianity, involving ancient sites associated with water and martyrdom. Water in fact becomes the symbol of life after death and its control takes on a liturgical nature. The territory is marked by the linkages between monastic and religious centres, settlements (eg San Vittorino, San Benedetto), and hermitages (eg Le Carceri). The region was subject to profound changes from the 11th and 12th centuries with the change of land ownership from important patrons to the classes of artisans and merchants. It also meant new types of cultivation and deforestation in view of new dynamism in development. A series of castles were built on the margins of the valley, and others were developed as centres of pastoral culture in the mountain region. In addition, there were new rural settlements, including the characteristic Umbrian building type of tower house, which remains a feature of all Assisi iconography until the present day.
Through the period from the 11th to the 14th centuries, the ancient town of Assisi was subject to important changes. The development focused on four main points: Piazza del Mercato, Murorupto, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Rufino. The market becomes the centre of noble families, as well as having various churches (San Nicolo, San Paolo, Sant'Agata). The bishop's citadel was built close to the ancient cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Rufino became the new cathedral in the 11th century, rebuilt in the 13th century. The walled area was enlarged in 1260 and 1316, showing an increase in population.
The most important event in the history of medieval Assisi was undoubtedly the life and work of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who initiated the Franciscan Order, one of the most influential monastic orders in the Christian world, and who was canonized in 1228. Francis was born in Assisi and, although he travelled a great deal, some of the key references to his faith are in Assisi, including the grottoes of Le Carceri, San Damiano, and the Porziuncola, where he died. His companion, Clare, later canonized, founded the sister order to the Franciscans. After the canonization of Saint Francis, it was decided to build a monumental church in his honour, involving the Church of Rome as well as the City of Assisi. This construction was followed by the Basilica of Santa Chiara to honour Saint Clare.
The construction of the Basilicas of San Francesco and Santa Chiara represented a new input to the urban form of the town, and gave the relatively small medieval settlement a completely new physiognomy. This included the development of the main square over the former forum area with the Temple of Minerva. The construction of the Basilica of San Francesco, in particular, changed the earlier Franciscan symbol of humility into an exaltation of the figure of the saint, and the order thus affirmed its mission in the world. The city walls were once again enlarged in the 14th century, when also the fort, La Rocca, on the top of the hill was rebuilt as part of a series of castles to protect the interests of the papacy in the region.
The social and political events from the 15th to the 18th century left their traces in Assisi, in the form of new construction and improvements in management and draining of arable land. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Assisi was involved in wars with Perugia and in conflicts with Guelphs and Ghibellines, and the city suffered from sacks and fires. Through this period, however, the symbolic importance of Assisi in relation to Saint Francis continued. The first detailed town plan that has survived till today dates from 1599, by Giacomo Lauro, indicates Assisi as the patria of Saint Francis. In the late 15th century the most important urban project was the construction of the public squares in front of the Basilica of San Francesco,. In the 16th century Galeazzo Alessi designed the large basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli down in the valley, and it became a shelter for the Porziuncola of Saint Francis. He also restructured the cathedral of San Rufino and designed the tabernacle for the lower church of the Basilica of San Francesco. In the 17th and 18th centuries the city continued developing and a number of noble families built their palaces in the Baroque style. This period also included the church of San Francesco Converso by Giacomo Giorgetti in the 17th century.
In the 19th century, the discovery of the bodies of Saint Francis and Saint Clare gave new vigour to construction activities, including the restructuring of the convents of S. Damiano and S. Maria di Rivotorto. There were also some changes in the centre of Assisi, including the new postal offices in the Piazza del Comune. After World War II the renewed interest in Assisi provided an incentive for the protection of the historic town and its surroundings. In 1954, Assisi received the first conservation master plan in post-war Italy. At the same time, the entire municipal area became subject to nature protection. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation