Saturday, June 5, 2010

San Francisco

Jameson woke up at 4:30 this morning (yes, 4:30) and went down for his nap around 8:30 am.  Consequently, we got off to a bit of a late start, but we made it to all our stops nonetheless.  

Our first stop of the day was to San Francisco.  No big deal.  We drove the whole way.  We really went to Assisi to visit Saint Francis' Basilica, but Tucker kept referring to Saint Francis as San Francisco when they were visiting earlier in the week, so we were jokingly calling it San Francisco all day.  It was about an hour drive to Assisi, and, again, lots and lots of steps and hills to get to the town center.  Assisi is one of my favorite towns I've seen so far in Tuscany.  It was absolutely beautiful.  

This was a view of the town from the road.  There were wheat fields (which you can see here) and olive trees surrounding the entire city.

This picture was taken while driving away from the city.  You can see the back of the town and the olive trees at the bottom of the picture.

Assisi didn't have any of those amazing outdoor escalators we've been spoiled with, so we had to hike ALL the way to the city with our own manpower.  I know...rough, right?  Quelle pity.  So we hiked (I say "hike" but it's more like a walk on extremely slanted sidewalks) into and through the town to find some lunch.  I took just a few pictures along the way.

I know the nun picture is kinda blurry but I was trying to be discreet.  It was like the entire Sound of Music cast of nuns walking through the streets of Assisi.  Amazing.  I was really hoping to find some super tacky and amazingly cool nun souvenir-abilia (yes, I just made that up), but everything I could find that was tacky enough were monks.  No respect, I tell ya.  :)

All the buildings in Assisi have these iron bars in the facade.  They sort of work like staples to help stabilize the buildings to prevent shifting, which is prone to happen because the buildings are so old.

This picture is a perfect example of the classic Italian way of building.  This arch probably dates back to the 1300s, and the buildings surrounding it are old as well.  Can you tell how new the tall building is?  I would guess less than 10 years old.  The top two stories looked brand spankin' new next to (and on top of) all these ancient buildings.  In Italy, it's common to just build new buildings on top of or attached to old ones.  You will often see houses that are different colors or have a line down the exterior where a "house" or addition has been connected to the existing older house.

Okay.  I know I went on and on about the Italian firefighters (which I'm still looking out for), but the Italian police are pretty snazzy.  The polizia in Cortona were sporting white leather purses, or satchels (if  you're male and want to justify carrying around a purse by saying Indiana Jones had one), and then the polizia in Assisi get to ride around town in smart cars.  Uber trendy!  Does this mean everyone they arrest gets to ride shotgun?

I know they're hard to see, but the town was just littered with these amazing frescoes.  It's really quite unbelievable to think that someone painted this scene above the doorway approximately 800 years ago.  The lower picture was a painting on a ceiling right off of the main square and across from a Roman temple that you'll see later.  We had to talk through this "hallway" to get to the restaurant where we ate lunch.

After lunch we explored the Piazza San Rufino.  It was one of my favorite piazzas I've seen so far.  I can't tell you exactly what it was, but this plaza was magnificent.  Cars were allowed as through traffic, so it didn't have the benefit of being a closed square like Siena or Venice, and there were quite a few tourists, so it didn't have the small town feel like Montepulciano, but something about it was just so surreal.  Maybe it was the fact that you could stand in the center (in the middle of the road) and see 3 ancient duomos, or maybe it was the Roman ruins in the middle of the square.  I'm sure I'll see many more piazzas that can compare, but right now I think this one is my top.

Right in the middle of the piazza is the Temple of Minerva, which dates from the time of Augustus (63 BC-12 AD) and is one of ancient Italy's best preserved landmarks.

After our fun little photo session, we kept on walking up the street to the Basilica di Santa Chiara and monastery.  This was one of the 3 churches you could see from the piazza, and was constructed in the 13th century.

This basilica had a spectacular lookout view of the city below:

Now that we'd seen everything else in Assisi, it was time for the big thing.  The reason we (and all the other tourists, nuns, monks, and pilgrims) came.  San Francisco's Basilica.  And oh. my. goodness.  This place was nothing short of amazing.  I'm not sure there are really words to describe how magnificent this church and its surroundings were.

For those of us who aren’t Catholic, here’s a bit of history on Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and one of 2 patrons of Italy.  Francis was born and raised in Assisi to a wealthy family, and in 1209 decided to devote his life to poverty and God, and founded The Order of Friars, or Franciscans.  He spent the rest of his life traveling throughout Italy and Europe preaching the word of God and collecting followers.  It is said that while praying during a 40 day fast on Mount Verna, Francis had a vision and then suffered from a stigmata (the 5 wounds of Christ).  He died 2 years later, on October 3, 1226 as a result of the stigmata and an eye disease, of which care would not help.  In July of 1228 Pope Gregory the IX pronounced him a Saint, and the very next day began laying the foundation stone for what is now Saint Francis’ Basilica, and Saint Francis’ final resting place.

This was the entrance to the "basement" of the church, which housed frescoes, artwork, and Saint Francis' tomb.  (If you've heard my weird travels to famous graves, I'm counting this one even though I couldn't take a picture.  There technically wasn't a headstone either, but whatever, it's still a famous dead person.)

This view was absolutely amazing.  The picture is great, but it doesn't do it justice.  You have the lone olive tree in the front, and then just miles and miles of mountains and view from the church which seems to just teeter on the edge of a cliff.

Christer, Jameson, and me standing in front of the church looking back.  This was the view of the city and the grass from the church.  See how steep it is?

After Assisi we drove to a little town called Deruta which is famous for its ceramics.  I got some "souvenirs" and Christine and Christer special ordered a antipasta platter.  They still produce ceramics in the same way and style from the middle ages, and the pottery is beautiful!

Tomorrow is our last day in Tuscany :( so it's a bit of sight seeing and then back to Caneva.  (I love Tuscany, but I'm not even really that sad to leave because Caneva is beautiful too.)  It's like trading in one perfect area for another.

Today my favorite thing about Italy is:  The history.  It's just so completely mind blowing that I could be standing on a structure built during the time of Jesus.  Crazy!

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