The birthplace and home of Saint Francis of Assisi was a beautiful city, fully enclosed in medieval walls with gates that still shut at night to protect the town within. Fully surrounded by olive trees, there are 10 olive trees to every citizen of Assisi (which is a lot). The town was immaculate – I didn’t see a piece of rubbish anywhere and it was obvious that the residents were totally dedicated to preserving this city.
We walked through the town and unfortunately only had a few hours here. Our tour guide was a local and explained the life and lessons of Saint Francis and we passed through his birthplace, family home and the Basilica dedicated to his work and teachings which also holds his tomb. Most of the basilicas we visited don’t allow photos inside the interior, but the exterior of the basilica was stunning overlooking the countryside of New Assisi down below.
After our tour guide left us we wandered back up through the town and were gone within an afternoon. If you’re travelling near Assisi, I would highly recommend stopping to walk through this town. Not much is said about Assisi compared to Rome, Sorrento, Florence, etc. but for me it was one of my favourites. Not to mention the fruit purée ice blocks and tiramisu meringue cakes we ate on our way back to the coach.
Another city dedicated to a Saint that we visited was Siena – dedicated to Saint Catherine. A particularly relevant city to me as in high school my house was dedicated to Saint Catherine as well (a fact that only hit me when we were in the cathedral) zzzzzz. Saint Catherine’s remains are actually inside of the city – though only one of her thumbs and her head. They aren’t replicas or models either, they are her actual mummified remains. Imitating Jesus she starved herself for most of her life to mimic his suffering, so when she died at the age of 33 she was still the size of a child. You can tell by the size of her thumb and head that she was incredibly small. Very strange to be looking at the real remains of her body. Her head is basically fully intact, although is displayed quite far inside the walls of the church, so a bit difficult to see.
Not only the home to Saint Catherine, Siena is known for the horse race it puts on each year. The neighbourhoods in the city are each represented by an animal and there is some serious medieval rivalry between the groups. A really good explanation on the race and the houses is here if you’re interested. Everyone really gets involved in the neighbourhood rivalry and there are banners and shields representing the different houses down every single street. Siena was quite similar to Rome in a way, with cobbled streets and lots of pottery, souvenir and leather shops (thank you Siena for the one thing I had been hunting for in Italy – a leather handbag).
Both Assisi and Siena were small cities still totally dedicated to their respective saints after all these years. A day is all you need in each, well worth passing through and taking a walking tour if you can – they were both beautiful.