The Basilica of San Francesco was started in April 1228, the year St Francis was canonised and only two years after his death. There are actually two churches, one on top of the other. The first which now effectively serves as a crypt was completed in 1230 and the finished building was consecrated in 1253.
The Basilica was badly damaged in a 1997 earthquake, killing four people in a major second shock when they were examining damage from the first shock. The restoration was completed in a remarkably short time and there few signs now that it ever took place.
This is not the place – nor do I have the knowledge – for a full description of the building. But it is the location of a remarkable range of frescoes including a complete cycle of pictures describing the life of St Francis which were painted by Giotto and his workshop. These pictures can be seen here. They represent a defining moment in the evolution of Western art from the medieval to what we now call the Renaissance period. viewed today many of the pictures look strikingly modern and contemporary.
Assisi is wonderful town, packed with gems. The Basilica is the brightest gem of them all and well worth building a trip to Italy around. We had been warned that Assisi and the Basilica would be packed with tourists. It was busy certainly but when we visited the Basilica on a Thursday in late May there was plenty of space to enjoy its contents. The more practical problem is that there is simply far too much to absorb in a single visit.
Obviously, we shall have to go again!
PS: For the best views of the Basilica it is worth climbing up to the Rocco Maggiore, the fortress which dominates the town, and going along the 100 metre passage to the polygonal tower overlooking the Basilica and much of the town.